What are tapas and from where did the term originate? Tapas are a small portion of food, essentially a snack that accompanies a drink. The main appeal of the tapa is twofold.
Firstly it helps to absorb the effects of the alcohol on the body, and secondly it provides a light snack to keep hunger at bay until the next main meal.
The most common explanation is that a piece of bread would have often been placed on top of a drink to protect it from fruit flies; following on from which a habit evolved of adding a small piece of ham or cheese to the bread.
The second most common assumption is based on the fact that in traditional Spanish bars, one would be standing whilst eating, therefore needing to place one’s plate on top of the drink in order to eat, effectively creating a lid to the glass.
One of the more bizarre theories originates from the practice of 16th century tavern owners from the Castilla-La Mancha region offering free strong smelling cheese with cheap wine to disguise the bad smell of the offending drink.
There also exists two stories relating to royalty and tapas; the first being that King Alfonso XII called into a Cádiz inn to take a cup of sherry. Since Cádiz was known for its strong breezes, the waiter allegedly covered the glass with a slice of cured ham before offering it to the king to avoid sand from the beach being blown into the wine. The king was rumoured to have enjoyed his tapa so much that he ordered another sherry ‘with the same cover’. The second story refers to a king who was suffering from an ailment preventing him from eating big meals, and thus he ate small portions of food with wine throughout the day. After his recovery he decreed that whenever wine was served, it should be accompanied by a small snack, which would counteract the effects of alcohol on the system.
Whatever the origin, tapas are firmly rooted in the Spanish way of life. They come in all shapes and sizes depending on the region of Spain, and indeed the time of day. Cold tapas are frequently served after the lunchtime period up until early evening when the kitchen reopens for the evening dinner trade. Examples of cold tapas are; bread accompanied by cheese, olives or jamon. Some bars may serve a small plate of mixed or potato salad as a cold tapa.
If the kitchen is open, i.e. during the lunchtime or evening meal period, tapas are frequently taken from whatever is being cooked that day and can include delights such as; slices of Spanish tortilla, pork in a tomato sauce, meatballs, chicken wings, as well as a variety of fried fish.
In the Province of Granada, Andalucía, it is usual for a bar to serve a free tapa with a drink, however the same can not be said for many other parts of the region. With this in mind, bars in Granada City and the surrounding Costa Tropical are popular places to truly immerse oneself in the tapas experience. These establishments are always bustling hives of activity and there are websites devoted to informing visitors which tapas bars are rated as the best place to visit. One such website is www.atapear.com.
Also in Andalucía, it is common for drinkers to ‘upgrade’ their tapas to a larger portion, known as either a ‘media ración’, which equates to a half portion or a ‘ración’, which is a full portion. If a group of people are out for the evening it is not uncommon to order a variety of tapas dishes to share.
Why not call into one of the numerous bars listed in the Guide2Granada business directory and try out a tapa or two?