Tapa derives its name from its literal meaning….to cover, from the Spanish verb tapa, The original tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure to prevent flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. The meat used was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and create thirst. Bartenders and restaurant owners began to get the message and create a variety of snacks to serve with sherry. This increased their alcohol sales so much so that the idea of tapas became as important as the sherry.

Malaga tapa
The other great thing is that the serving of tapas encourages conversation and that satisfies another great trait of the Spanish; talking and opinion making. It is designed to encourage conversation because people are not so focused upon eating a large meal that is set before them. It is easy for people to stand, talk and move about while eating beautiful helpings of tapas.

In Spain, as dinner is usually served in the evening between 21.00 and 23.30hrs and sometimes later, this leaves a significant period of time between work and dinner. Therefore, the Spanish often visit bars and eat tapas in the time between finishing work and having their main meal. Since lunch is usually also served early to mid afternoon, another common time for tapas, particularly at weekends, is around noon. Usually, as a means of socializing before the family meal at home.
Interestingly, there are other thoughts of how tapas came about.

People are usually standing while eating tapas, therefore they need to place their plates on top of their drinks to eat, making it effectively a top or cover.

There is also a belief that the name could have originated originated when certain tavern owners found out that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of early powerful wine, thus “covering” it. This started the offering of free cheese served with wine.
Another option began when King Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After recovering, the king ordered that taverns should not serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or tapa.
Other alternatives with reference to royalty intimates that King Alfonso XIII stopped by a famous tavern in Cádiz where he ordered a 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 windy with sand in the air. After drinking the wine and eating the tapa, he ordered another served in the same way.

A further notion surrounds Felipe III who passed a law in an effort to curb rowdy drunken behaviour. The law stated that when a drink was purchased, the bartender was to place over the mouth of the goblet a cover containing some small quantity of food as part of the purchase .The idea being that the food would slow the effects of the wine and fill the stomach to prevent over indulging .

Tapas can be increased in size to provide bigger portions, equivalent to half a dish (media ración) or a whole one (ración). This is very popular when there is a group of people socialising. After all, getting together is one of the pleasures of life, particularly in Spain.

Sometimes, a beautiful tapas bar is a pleasant alternative choice to a full meal in a restaurant. You can see and choose your dishes as they are laid out before you in a superb presentation in the bar area. This is particularly handy if you are in a rural vicinity and your Spanish language is not up to recognising the myriad of different dishes on the menu.

So, next time you’re out and about, look for a tapas bar. Not only is it superb for food but it’s also a great way of meeting the locals. Be sure there will always be a warm reception. “Que aproveche !!”


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