“Tapas” are small savoury bar snacks served traditionally with a drink.
“Tapas” comes from the verb Tapar which translates literally as “to cover” or “to hide or conceal”, and/or the noun “Tapa” which is “lid”.
There are a number schools of thought on the origins. First that glasses of sherry were covered with a piece of bread or local ham to keep the fruit flies away from the sweet sherry. Another is that providing a strongly flavoured snack would help cover or conceal the quality of the quality of the wine being poured. The tradition took off for much the same reason North America bars serve nuts, for the customers it’s a tasty addition to a drink and for the bar salty and savoury snacks encourage customers to drink more.
photo credit: Renee Suen
Tapas are both hot and cold, and range from a small bite or two, to a small appetizer designed for sharing. There are a wide range of tapas reflecting the wide range of cuisines in Spain. Typical tapas menus will include: tortilla (omelette), patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce), banderillas (a skewer of pickled items, also sometimes called a pintxos de encurtidos), pimientos de padron (fried peppers), gambas al ajillo (shrimp or prawns in garlic), jamón serrano (the dried & cured Spanish ham you see hanging from tavern ceilings) or if you are lucky jamón iberico (ham from free-range, acorn-fed Iberian pigs).
Less common tapas include: (pig’s ear), anguilas (baby eels), busano (steamed giant snails) and the amusingly named duelos y quebrantos (“duels and losses” or “pain and destruction” – which used to be eggs and lamb brains but is more commonly eggs and bacon).
photo credit: davidamargor
There is no doubt though that tapas has taken off with tapas bars all around the world. In Spain, the bars often specialize in a couple of dishes. You might drop by for a drink and a couple of tapas standing at the bar with friends before going to dinner or make a bit of an evening of it by travelling from one tapas bar to another sampling the specialties of the house.
photo credit: Renee Suen
In North America going for tapas has evolved from bar snacking to sophisticated dining. Generally guests are seated and order a selection of Tapas, rather than a standard appetizer-entree meal, and graze the evening away.
photo credit: Alexa Clark
Either way a glass of sherry, cider, txakoli or wine will only serve to make your experience that much more authentic and enjoyable.