Spain: Tapas alfresco

Andrés Cala
A shared meal in Templo de Debod park, Madrid.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

MADRID – This relaxed and sunny metropolis of 3.2 million people dotted with terraces, bars, and blustery streets, is adapting to bad times.

Its economy is in freefall and unemployment on the rise. The latter reached almost 12 percent rate at the end of the first quarter of 2009, still better than the 17 percent rate for the entire country, which doubles that of its European peers.

Tabletops are increasingly empty despite attractive price cuts for menus and spring temperatures settling in. But that doesn’t mean the tapas culture is threatened. Madrilenians have just moved their feasting outside to the parks.

Whether it’s overlooking the Royal Palace or the city lights, any patch of grass is good for groups to share drinks and food. Even executive-type loners are heading to the sunshine with boxes of home-cooked lunch to save on daily meals.

Traditionally, the tapas bars swarm with crowds seven days a week, especially after work and on weekends. There are more such bars per capita in Spain than just about anywhere else. That fact follows a Mediterranean socializing trait: “work to live” instead of “live to work.”

And in Madrid, for less than $2 you get a drink and tapa (mini appetizer) to share, from nuts and olives to elaborate canapés. (In many parts of Spain, tapas come at a price.) To be honest, a lot of places seem to have also simplified their tapas dishes lately, serving peanuts instead of cured ham, for instance.

And it is nice to share the sunset with dozens of people outside on the grass.

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