Spain Explained

Understanding Spanish custom – tapas

One of the great things about Spanish eating, is tapas. Little plates of different snacks, that can be shared. Perfect if you don’t want to fill up but just fancy a nibble with your drink. Of course, you can fill up with them too, if you order enough.

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Virtually anywhere in Spain you will be able to find the tapas bar. The mini snacks consist of all different types of food, both hot and cold. Typical ones include:

Serrano hamjamón Serrano
Prawnsgambas
Squidcalamares
Meatballsalbóndigas
Marinated anchoviesboquerones
Tripecallos
Sausagechorizo
Spicy potatoespatatas bravas
Omelettetortilla

The tapas are usually displayed in counters so you can choose and point to the ones you like the look of. It’s ideal if there is a few of you and you can each choose a couple of dishes and then try them all out between you.

The word tapa means lid. One story goes that in the 13th century when Spanish King Alfonso became ill he was advised to take small bites of food with wine in between his meals. When he was recovered he allegedly decreed that small bites of food should be made available wherever wine was served.

Another story is that during a trip to Cádiz, Alfonso stopped at an inn and ordered a glass of wine. As his wine was handed to him a wind blew up, blowing sand over everything, but the quick-witted innkeeper grabbed a little plate of ham and put it on top of the King’s glass.
The King ate the ham, removed the plate and drank the wine –and then asked for another wine and tapa.

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From that time onwards, it’s said that bar owners began covering wine glasses with a tapa (lid) of either bread, cheese or a slice of ham. Whatever the truth of the actual event it seems that it’s definitely Alfonso we have to thank!

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2 comments

BARRY ASHWORTH

30 September, 2020 9:38 pm

I heard that a tapa /lid was placed on the wine glass to keep the flies out of your wine .

Oscar Paoli

1 October, 2020 8:13 am

Hi Barry,
Yes this it one of the few suggestions as how tapas came to be. Some believe that it was born out of the economic interest of the owners of the taverns, others think that the tapas were born from the custom that they had in the taverns of covering the wine glass, as you mention, to avoid flies and other insects to enter the glass, still others affirm that the Reyes Católicos forced taverns to serve food to the drivers of the carriages who drank in excess, which determined dangerous consequences for the travelers.
Very interesting and fun theories, we have got to love our history.
With kind regards,
Ábaco Advisers