What are tapas?
Tapas (pronounced ‘TAP pass’) are Spanish snacks, ranging from very simple, slices of cheese or ham, to exquisite mini dishes like deep-fried anglerfish cheeks or smoked tuna with rosemary oil. The chef has complete freedom with tapas and takes advantage of this. From small local tapas bars to modern starred restaurants, the concept of tapas is used creatively everywhere.
Tapa means ‘lid’ and there are many stories about the origin of the snack. The story goes that on a windy day, King Alfonso the Wise, used a slice of ham as a lid on his glass of sherry, to prevent dust from blowing into it. Another story claims that when he was ill, the king was advised by his doctor to eat small meals, accompanied by glasses of wine. This went so well that the king had a law written: from now on, local restaurants always had to serve something tasty with their wine. Since all this took place in the thirteenth century, no one can be sure how it happened.
We do know that tapas reappeared at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Andalusia, where they were served in the form of a slice of bread or a slice of sausage on top of a glass of sherry. Since then, tapas have become a worldwide phenomenon. In Spain it even has its own verb: tapear, going out to eat tapas. Whether it’s a quick drink and a snack with a colleague, or an extensive meal with a group of friends, tapas have become an integral part of the Spanish social life.
Did you know?
Tapas were originally free. There are still authentic tapas bars where that happens, including in Madrid, Almeria and Granada. If you order a drink – beer, wine, sherry – you get a complimentary tapa. You can still order tapas from a menu, though, which you have to pay for.
How to make tapas?
The best known tapas are:
calamari – squid rings
croquetas de jamon – ham croquettes
gambas al ajillo – garlic prawns
jamon, queso and chorizo – ham, cheese and sausage
patatas bravas or allioli – fried potatoes in tomato and/or garlic sauce
pan con tomate – bread with tomato
tortilla – potato omelette
How to eat
To make a whole meal out of tapas in Spain, order some larger portions or raciones for the group. Raciones are placed in the middle of the table and shared.
A (preferably alcoholic) drink is a must with tapas.