Highlights of Madrid Tapas Fair 2012

VIII Fería de la Tapa de Madrid

Pop Rocks, Chocolate & Mayonnaise? Hits and Misses at this Fun Event.

picture taking
People take pictures at the Madrid Tapas Festival.

Tapas Fairs usually suck.

I’m sorry to break the bad news, but it’s true. Over the past few years I’ve been to at least two or three different tapas fairs each year, as well as participated in various tapas routes (where you go from bar to bar). Most of the time the food presented is really mediocre. It’s either:

  • The cheapest thing they could make, covered in a bizarre sounding sauce (to be “innovative”)
  • Trying way too hard to be fusion food (even when their particular restaurant doesn’t even do fusion food)
  • Quite delicious, but barely visible because it is so small
  • Already out– meaning you get an even more mediocre substitution.

But the eighth annual Madrid Tapas Fair was a whole different experience. I had heard it was good from many different sources, so I checked it out on its last night. Expecting the usual fare and a crowded, hot venue, I was surprised when this was not the case. Held in the enormous Palacio de Deportes, there was plenty of space, tables to eat at, and employees were constantly cleaning tables to make more space. We went with 20€ in our pocket and spent 17€, and we left absolutely stuffed– we had even left some unfinished tapas along the way.

Here is a look at some of the delicious tapas we tried at this year’s Madrid Tapas Fair. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Madrid Tapas Fair
Mahou sponsored the tapas fair.

The concept was easy. 1.20€ per token, and each token could be used to buy a tapa or a small Mahou beer (una caña). If you wanted a larger bottled beer, it cost 2 tokens. They also gave out a great booklet filled with each bar and the three tapas it offered, described in detail. We circled our “must-tries” and made our way around the room.

Carrillera Tapa
Pincho Carrillera by Pinchos El Cano

Our very first stop was already impressive. It was a large serving of delicious stewed pork cheek (carrillada or carrillera de cerdo) and a bit of potato puree. Covered in a rich sauce, I could have eaten this all night.

Top: Cervecería Cervantes: Tosta de Setas & RTE. La Plaza: Pincho Solomillo                                                                            Bottom: Méson La Alcarria: El Placer de la Alcarria & Explosión de Sabores

Next, it was pincho time with a variety of good sized tostas (toasted bread with toppings) from various bars. We started with a delicious tosta with grilled mushrooms, serrano ham, and a creamy alioli sauce– perfection. Next, is one of my favorites of the night, perfectly grilled pork tenderloin, covered in a creamy carbonara sauce and bits of bacon, then drizzled with a Pedro Ximénez reduction (a sweet dessert wine). It worked surprisingly well and it was difficult not to order another one!

One the bottom left you can see another tasty tosta– this time it was a mix of Spanish charcuterie, such as chorizo and morcilla, covered with marinated  piquillo peppers and hard boiled egg. Fatty, but delicious! Finally, we tried the last tosta of the moment, a strange concoction of tuna, potato and some sort of fruit (maybe pineapple) smothered in mayonnaise and then “enhanced” with orange colored white chocolate shavings and pop rocks. Its name didn’t lie– it was an explosion of flavors– but unfortunately, not in a good way!

Mahou tapas fair
People enjoy the Mahou sponsored fair.

Throughout the fair, we were able to eat at little tables set up in the center. There was always one or two available and the staff did a great job busing the tables before people even left them!

Spanish Tapas
Le Pain Quotidien: Cold Pumpkin Cream with Almond Foam Lizzarán: Reconstructed Spanish Omelet with Salmorejo and Ham Malvasía: Bull’s Tail and Sweet Potato Tosta

Here I chose to try some of the more innovative sounding tapas, and, as usual, I was disappointed. The pumpkin cream was too thick and sweet to be a soup, and not sweet enough to be a dessert. The almond foam was strange and tasted nothing like almonds. The tortilla (Spanish omelet), normally one of my favorite dishes, was ice cold and had a terrible texture and ketchup-like salmorejo. But the last picture– bull tail and sweet potato— was incredible. It was pure comfort food and something I plan to make at home next winter.

Four tapas
Top: El Esquinazo de Veregara: Albóndigas & Bar El Paraíso: Gazpacho con Bogavante                                                                   Bottom: Bucay Café: Capricho de Bucay & Ostradivarius: Pulpo a la Brasa

We were already so full, but our tokens had to be used! We tried some great meatballs and a delicious and refreshing gazpacho with bits of lobster and a basil infused olive oil. Later, we used our last tokens tasting a concoction of fried potatoes, pork loin and tomato cream sauce, and, lastly, some grilled octopus.

Overall, the fair was certainly a success. The tapas were a great mix of innovative and traditional, the prices were cheap and the portions were generous. I only wish it had lasted longer to have been able to return again and try everything we didn’t have room for the first time!

Have you been to a tapas fair in Spain? What did you think? 


  1. I wish we had tapas in the U.S., it’s such a fantastic idea…all we have are stale peanuts 🙁

    What I don’t understand is how exactly these bars make a profit while doing this: they’re already not charging very much for drinks and now they’re going to throw in what amounts to a free appetizer with every drink?! I don’t see how they can make money doing that.

    Anyway, that sounded (and looked–nice pics, as usual) wonderful, thanks for sharing.


    1. Hey Andrew, tapas are sometimes free and sometimes not. In Madrid, you generally pay for tapas and the ones at the fair cost 1.20€ (a great price!) but could be much more expensive some places. In cities like Granada, however, nearly all tapas are free, but they give you whatever they feel like!

      1. Ah ok, I understand now, so they’re basically selling appetizers with drinks and it just happens to be much more popular in Spain than in the U.S., gotcha.


  2. Yummy! Those look so good! I hate it when tapas are so tiny it’s like literally eating one bite. those look more substantial! I wish I could have gone! We have a really similar carrilleras pincho in Logroño, one of my favorites.

  3. Yum-ME! All the food looks delicious. I love all your photos and how you add multiple within one frame. Glad this time around, it was a good tapas fair!

  4. The pictures and the descriptions are amazing! You brought these tapas to life for me, all the way in Canada. Can’t wait to get to Spain in July and taste some of these amazing goodies.

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