One of the most popular things to do in Spain is to eat tapas (“Ir de tapas”), so much so that they have become one of the emblems of Spanish cuisine. But do you really know what tapas is? Spanish people call “el tapeo” the custom of eating tapas as an appetizer. More than food, tapas are truly part of Spanish culture!
What is tapas?
Tapas are actually not a dish, but rather a snack you can eat while having a drink. Some bars will even offer them to you for free with your order! You find tapas everywhere in Spain. They are perfect for tasting several specialties, since many traditional dishes can in fact be served as tapas.
Where do tapas come from?
The origin of the word “tapas”
In Spanish, the verb “tapar” means “to cover”. The use of this word to speak about appetizers would come from the fact that the tapas were originally served on the glass they accompanied. We generally speak of tapas because most of the time several are served at the same time, but you’ll also hear the singular version, “tapa”.
The stories about the origin of tapas
There are many stories to explain the origin of tapas, but none of them can actually be verified.
One of these legends is that in the 13th century, King Alfonso X El Sabio or “The Wise”, forced the taverns of Castile to always accompany the wine with something to eat. This was obviously intended to counter the effects of alcohol on customers.
According to another story, King Alfonso XIII spent a long stay in Ventorillo del Chato, near Cadiz. During a severe storm, he ordered a glass of wine and the innkeeper served it covered with a slice of ham (or cheese depending on the version!) To prevent sand from falling into it. King Alphonse would have loved this idea and he would have ordered another glass like this.
Another version says that tapas were originally consumed by farmers who drank a glass of wine and ate cold meats or cheese to keep going until mealtime.
Different tapas depending on the region
There are regional variations of tapas. In the Basque Country for example, the typical tapas are pintxos, or pinchos. It is most often a slice of bread topped with a garnish on top of it. They must be ordered in addition to your drink.
On the contrary, in Andalusia tapas are often offered with drink (except perhaps in Seville where this is not always the case).
In Madrid, you can try more innovative tapas. La Latina district in particular is full of delicious tapas bars.
Catalonia is renowned for its Mediterranean dishes, such as Zarzuela. In general, in Barcelona you’ll find very good fish tapas.
Finally, the regions of Galicia and Asturias are renowned for the quality and variety of their seafood. This is an opportunity to taste them!
Everywhere in the country, you will have the choice to order a ración (large plate) or a media ración, half a plate of tapas.
The different Spanish tapas
The main types of tapas
Depending on how they are served, tapas can be called differently. When served on skewers, they are usually called banderillas.
If your tapas are served in a small dish with small bites of a product, they will sometimes be called platillos.
Sometimes your tapas will take the form of a casserole dish served hot. They will then be called cazuelitas.
Croquetas are dumpling tapas.
Some dishes served as tapas
Aceitunas : marinated olives
Berenjenas fritas : fried eggplant, often cooked with honey
Tortilla : thick omelet topped with potatoes and onions
Ensaladilla rusa : potato and vegetable salad with mayonnaise
Pimientos asados : peppers marinated in garlic and olive oil
Gazpacho : cold vegetable soup
Patatas bravas : potatoes covered in a spicy sauce
Pan con tomate : slice of bread rubbed with tomato, garlic and seasoned with olive oil
Boquerones : anchovies served fried or marinated
Calamares : fried calamari rings
Gambas : shrimps breaded or garlic fried
Pulpo a la gallega : octopus marinated in olive oil and paprika
Pescado frito : small fried fish
Jamón Ibérico : high quality Spanish ham from Iberian pigs
Jamón Serrano : dry ham served in chiffonade
Morcilla : black pudding
Albóndigas : meatballs
Chorizo : sausage seasoned with paprika and chili
Caracoles : snails
Queso de cabra frito : fried goat cheese
Espinacas con queso : spinach served with melted cheese
Croquetas de queso : cheese dumplings