Difference between tapas, pintxos, and raciones: a handy food glosary
What is the difference between tapas, pintxos, and raciones? I had this matter in the pipeline after the post I wrote recently about how to order tapas like a Spaniard. There is a bit of misunderstanding about what tapas is when we talk about food in Spain. I´m sure you have heard these terms but are they all the same? Well, it´s not the same but can be similar and depends on the serving style and the portion size.
The general idea about tapas is that it´s a small portion of food that is shared. I heard this definition thousands of times in my events as a private chef in England. I never corrected it as it´s not wrong in general terms but is not the accurate definition when you talk about the specific type of food. You are probably now more confused than before, right? Well, let´s see the difference between tapas, pintxos, and raciones so you will know what you want to order next time you are in Spain.
Tapa, an individual bite
In general, a tapa is a bite you don´t share. What???!!!! Yes, normally you don´t share a tapa because it´s an individual portion. It´s a small bite that we have with a wine or a beer. In terms of size, it´s more than a mouthful but bigger than a canapé.
Tapas are the bites you can see displayed along the bar in a Tapas place.
You order, eat, drink, and go to the next tapas bar to order another round. A kind of tapas bar crawl. That´s the idea. We normally have a tapa standing up, next to the bar, because it has to be something quick to move to the next place.
By the way, tapa means “lid” in English. Why we use that word for a type of food is another story that I will write about on another occasion.
Pintxo in the Basque Country
Pintxo (or pincho) is the word for Tapa in the Basque Country. Some people say the pintxo is more elaborated than a tapa but I don´t agree. I´m from a region in Spain near the Basque Country and we have very elaborated and amazing bites but we call it tapas, not pintxos.
Pincho (pintxo in euskera, Basque language) means stick. In the Basque Country there is a long tradition to serve the tapas or pintxos with a cocktail stick -like in the picture above- hence the name. If you have been in San Sebastián, for example, the bars are full of plates with tapas/pintxos and each one has a cocktail stick. The barman can easily grab the pintxo you choose and serve straight to your plate. Also, you should keep the sticks as the barman charges you according to how many cocktail sticks you have which corresponds to how many pintxos you ate.
Racion, a dish to share
Here it is! That´s what we share! A racion – literally a portion in English- is a dish that is big enough to be shared with your friends. Sometimes the dishes offered as a racion (or raciones in plural) are not always displayed on the bar but on the menu and they are prepared fresh.
We normally order 2 or 3 different raciones to share to make a meal and, normally, have them sitting down. I say “normally” because everything is subject to change. Don´t forget you are in Spain and we love improvising.
And check the menu as some places offer “media racion” or half portion.
What kind of food can you order as a racion? Patatas bravas, pulpo a la gallega (octopus), mussels, prawns, huevos rotos, meatballs, etc.
Now you will be wondering, can I order a tapas like a racion or a racion like a tapa? The answer is: “depends”. Depends on the dish and above all, depends on the place. My recommendation, always ask the waiter who will clarify.
The difference between tapas, pintxos and raciones is just a matter of the kind of dish and the size of the portion. However, what doesn´t change is that going out to “tapear” is a social activity regardless of ordering tapas, pintxos or raciones.