Tapas are such an quintessential part of Spanish cuisine, that Spaniards even have a word for going from bar to bar and eating tapas: "tapear".
Tapas are small savoury dishes, which are served as a snack with drinks before lunch or dinner. Nowadays, one can also order several plates to get a complete meal. It is definitely something everyone should have experienced at least once, when in Spain.
As mentioned above, it is more an informal dish, which people eat in bars and can mingle with everyone. In most Spanish cities, one has to pay for their tapas, but in the most traditional Spanish cities it is included in the price of your drink (for instance a small bowl of olives).
Illustration 1 Tapas by Sanako | flickr
The origin of Tapas is not very clear, since there are two theories. One of them being, that King Alfonso X (the Wise One) fell dangerously sick, and could only consume his meals in small portions with a bit of wine, to maintain his strength. After recovery, he ordered that wine had to be served with a snack. It should also act as an counteraction, preventing taverners to get too drunk and rowdy in a tavern.
Another story says, that the king stopped on a long journey for a drink. As it was windy, the innkeeper served him his wine with a slice of serrano ham or bread on top of it, to prevent dirt flying into his beverage. King Alfonso apparently approved of this method, and asked for another drink with a tapa (in english "lid" or "cover").
The more logical root is probably, that farmers used to eat little snacks in between working hours to keep up their strength.
Illustration 2 Tapas Ben30 | flickr
What are some of the typical tapas dishes?
- Gambas al Ajillo: fresh prawns in sizzling olive oil with garlic and chili peppers
- Bacalao: salt cod, breaded and fried or stewed in tomato sauce
- Calamares: fried squid rings
- Chipirones: small squid, usually cooked "a la pancha" (on the griddle)
- Chocos: cuttlefish, usually breaded and deep fried
- Espinacas con garbanzos: spinach and chick peas with olive oil and garlic
- Patatas bravas: fried potato wedges served with a spicy alioli sauce
- Ensaladilla: potato salad with mayonnaise and either tuna or prawns
- Calamares del Campo: breaded and fried onions and peppers
- Gazpacho: cold tomato soup with cucumber and garlic
- Tortilla: potato omelette
- Montaditos: small filled buns, often served toasted
- Arroz del Día: rice of the day, with meat and/or seafood, served at lunchtime
- Jamón Iberico: thinly sliced salt cured ham from free range pata negra pigs
- Solomillo al Whisky: pork tenderloin in whisky and garlic sauce
- Albóndigas: meatballs – most often pork, but also of beef or seafood