Tapas, the Little Dishes of Spain

Tapas, the little dishes of Spain ¿Why are they called tapas?

The literal meaning for the word “tapa” is “cover or “coaster.” According to popular stories and old legends, in Castilla, Spain, the land of Don Quixote, men frequented taverns where the most popular drink was red wine. Wine barrels and taverns were an attractive place for wine flies and other flying pests. The custom of covering a glass of wine with a tapa became a necessity to avoid flies drowning in the wine.

King of Spain, Alfonso X

At the same time the King of Spain, Alfonso X el Sabio, forbade all taverns under his kingdom to serve wine or alcohol if not accompanied by a small amount of food in order to prevent drunkenness and misconduct. The mandatory portion of food served was placed over the coaster, named tapa, and the food snack itself became known as tapa.

During this period, tapas were free with each drink. Jamón, chorizo, olives and a piece of tortilla de patata are classic tapas. In most cities from the south of Spain tapas remain free with each drink. In the north and Basc country tapas are called pinchos (stick), named after the little stick stuck into the tapas.

When going into a tavern or tapas bar order a drink, generally wine, beer or cider. Then choose from a variety of delicious pinchos displayed on the counter.  Eat as many as your appetite will permit, and keep the little sticks to the side. When asking for the check the bartender will surprisingly know how many pinchos have you eaten, or if he was distracted he will count the sticks on your empty plate.

Evolution of Tapas

The meaning of tapas has changed over the years. According to the official Spanish dictionary any small portion of food that is enough to accompany a drink is now considered a tapa. In Andalucia tapas are mostly served with beer, and in in Catalunya many prefer vermuth. New fashionable bars and restaurants are reinventing tapas and now serve them as a complete meal composed of many little dishes. Tapas are no longer served with barrel wine or vermuth in these restaurants, rather expensive wine or sophisticated cocktails.

Tapas are not only another type of food, they are a fun way to get together for a brief drink and a meal with friends. If you have the chance to travel to Spain avoid tapas restaurants with menus translated into English. As a rule of thumb, go where the oldest locals are, its usually the best sign for a good tapas bar.

Here there is a website with amazing and traditional bares de tapas in Spain:

A disfrutar el tapeo!

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