Where: Throughout Spain & parts of Mexico
History: Ham slices to keep flies off drink led to the ultimate bar snacks
Dishes: Olives, crisps, salsas, cheese pastries and even bull’s testicles!
Serving Suggestion: Eat with an alcoholic drink, especially wine and beer
Tapas is part of the Spanish way of life. Whenever you go to a bar and buy a drink, you’ll be served small portion of food – anything from a few nuts or a bowl of olives to a mini gourmet meal. There’s a huge variety of different types of tapas, however they are rarely eaten instead of a meal, but as an appetiser to take the edge off your hunger before lunch or dinner.
In some parts of Spain, such as Granada, tapas are free, but elsewhere a dish will rarely cost more than about a dollar. Tapas is a healthy tradition, as it’;s better to accompany an alcoholic drink with something to eat.
Origins and History
The word tapa means ‘lid’ or ‘covering’ and according to tradition the first tapas were slices of ham placed over a glass to keep the flies out. Some say it was Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, who introduced the practice. The writer spent time in prison but as a favorite of the king he was permitted the privilege of a glass of sherry every day, brought to his cell from the bar across the road. Cervantes complained that there were always flies in his drink and asked for the glass to be covered when it was carried across the road.
Barmen were quick to realise that providing tapas actually increased sales of drinks, and they began to investigate new dishes to tempt the appetites of their customers.
Every region has it’s own speciality tapas. In fact, many bars offer a unique house dish, for example, a bar next door to a bullring might serve small portions of beef or unusual cuts of meat such as bull’s tail or testicles.
If you’re vegetarian or aren’t prepared to sample exotic dishes rest assured there are so many different types of tapas you’re sure to find something to temp your appetite. In some bars, they serve the house tapas with every drink, but others will offer an entire tapas menu to choose from.
Tapas aren’t usually served after midnight and although other non-alcoholic drinks count for a tapa, strangely enough you won’t get one if you order a coca cola.
All About Spain
Comprehensive guide to all things Spanish, including a great section on Spanish culture.
Tapas : The Little Dishes of Spain, by Penelope Casas
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