Spanish tapas are, without a doubt, the tastier treasure of Iberian cuisine. Tapas have become recently quite well known worldwide, although they are a very traditional and characteristic element of the ancient Spanish cuisine. They are not so much a specific kind of food itself, as a Spanish way of eating. To be completely honest and strictly speaking, they are actually an Andalusian way of eating, because the picturesque region of Andalucía, in the very south of the country, is rightly considered the home of tapas.
Originally, tapas were very small plates of food that were placed on the top of a customer’s glass. So the word tapa actually means, “lid”. The plate acted like a lid, with food on top, to keep out dust and insects in bars that originally offered provisions, probably as a promotion to attract more customers.
… But aren’t Tapas just the same as little appetizers?
The answer is absolutely not! In the Spanish cuisine, an appetizer, called an aperitivo, is a supplement to a full meal, while the tapas are something completely different, another way of having your whole lunch or dinner. Although the aperitivos can be the same little amount of food that a tapa is, tapas are served radically differently. The appetizer commonly comes just before the first course. Tapas, on the other hand, are served constantly in bars all over the country to accompany drinks and long conversations. Usually ordered at the bar, and commonly eaten with a glass of red wine, they are displayed in big serving containers on the counter, so are very easy to order even if you don’t know what they are called.
A step into an authentic Spanish tapas bar is a fantastic experience even if you don’t speak the language perfectly. Bars in Spain are, most of the time, very lively, animated and vibrant, as the Spaniards love to talk enthusiastically and quite loud, too. Even waiters wishing to practice their English most likely will interrogate you about your opinion and tastes about the food just served!
In some Spanish bars and restaurants, especially in the south and east of the country, there is a deeply rooted custom regarding the tapas. This custom consists of serving a free daily tapa when customers buy a drink. In consequence, it is very common that people visit the many different bars of the same area in order to try all the free tapas of each local kitchen. A few hours, and rounds, later, you have visited easily five or six different bars and you are not hungry anymore. This is a quite inexpensive and very funny way to have lunch with friends, try different drinks, have a walk and interact with the locals!
Most of the time, Spaniards go to the tapas bars just a bit before lunch or dinner time (lunch time is about 2 p.m. and dinner is usually at 9 p.m.) to meet their friends for long and lively conversations. These passionate discussions range from the mundane to the philosophical, as the diverse food from the tapas, ranges from the simple toasted almond or olives to the intricate paella.
In Spain, it is usual to practice the art of tapear during the whole year, although the best periods to do it are during spring and summer, as you can do it outside, in the nice terraces of each bar on the streets, parks, and squares. Visit the south of Spain and discover personally which one is your favorite tapa!