Spanish tapas have become renowned worldwide turning into a new culinary concept, which can be enjoyed nowadays, in practically every city. At the core, tapas are a wide selection of appetizers, served both cold and warm, with or without bread. They offer the possibility of enjoying a more relaxed meal, in which sharing and conversation become the central part of eating. It is also, intrinsically a great way to try different dishes.
In Spain, around the concept of “Tapas”, we find a whole culture. Spaniards by definition like going out and socializing, tapas offer the perfect opportunity to do so easily and informally: no reservations are needed, people can come and go as they wish and conversation flows; it is like a cocktail party but without the formality.
In many Spanish cities you can find a specific neighborhood full of “Bares de tapas”, it is generally located around the town center and in many of this bars you get a free “tapa” with each drink you order.
This brings us to the most generally accepted origin of the “tapas”, which is to be found in Andalusia around the sherry culture. Allegedly slices of bread or meat where used by sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns to prevent fruit flies from hovering into their drink. Traditionally the meats used to do this were either chorizo or iberico ham, both salty, thus activating thirst; a fact which encouraged bartenders to continue offering a variety of snacks as they generated an increase in alcohol sales. Eventually, the tapas became as important as the sherry itself.
However, this is not the only explanation we can find concerning the origin of tapas, some of the most common ones would be as follows:
As people used to stand while eating a tapa in traditional Spanish bars, they would need to place their plates on top of their drinks to eat, making it a top or “tapa”.
Some believe the name originated sometime around the 16th century when tavern owners from Castile-La Mancha found out that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of bad wine, thus “covering” it, and started offering free cheese when serving cheap wine.
Others believe the tapas tradition began when King Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or “tapa”
Another popular explanation says that King Alfonso XIII stopped by a famous tavern in Cádiz where he ordered a cup of wine. The waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham before offering it to the king, to protect the wine from the beach sand, as Cádiz is a windy place. The king, after drinking the wine and eating the tapa, ordered another wine “with the cover”.