salude! the tradition of tapas

I love tapas — the planning, preparing and indulging in small, very flavorful bites. Whether I’m cooking, or going out to a tapas restaurant, the best part is sharing these magnificent morsels with family & friends. It is such a casual, unassuming and fun way to dine!


Tapas, of course, originated in  Andalusia, a custom that has spread throughout Spain, and now are popular in America and throughout Europe as an informal style of eating. What a fabulous idea! A great pleasure of Spain is to go on a “Tapeo,” to move leisurely from bar to bar in order to sample the delights of the tapas, as the fancy takes one. Spaniards commonly stop at tapas bars after work, before dinner or on the weekends to pass the time with family and friends, sharing plate or two, then moving on.

Tapas can be considered a menu category, more than simply hors d’oeuvres or appetizers intended to compliment the main meal, but in fact constitute meals in their own right. They are often miniature, self-sufficient dishes of brilliant flavors and intriguing presentation. A meal made up of tapas is commonly known as a “Vino Español.”

Legend has it that the tapa was born when, and due to an illness, the Spanish King Alfonso the 10th, the Wise, was advised by his physician to take small bites of food, with some wine, between meals. It worked! Once recovered from his disease, the wise king ordered that in all inns of Castile’s land, wine was not to be served without something to eat. At that time farmers, peasants who worked the fields and other manual laborers needed to take a small amount of food during their working time, that allowed them to continue the job until the main meal’s time. This small snack was typically taken at a local inn. The main meal of the day, with lots of fat, left the workers so busy digesting that a “siesta” had to be done for a couple of hours before going back to the fields or in the workshop. So, the longer the morning working hours stretched, the greater the productivity. Small snacks were the norm early in the day.

Traditionally the early snack included wine, because alcohol enhanced the enthusiasm and the strength, and in winter it warmed the body up so as to bear the very cold days in the fields. And, in accordance with King Alfonso’s decree, along with the wine a bit of food was required, to soak up the alcohol they had drunk with something solid. Thank goodness we don’t have to be royalty to enjoy this delicious way of eating. Here’s to you, or should I say “Salude!” King Alfonso!

 The word “tapas” literally means lid, and the first tapas were slices of bread used to cover glasses of wine in the small shops and inns to keep the wine fresh. Soon the glass or jar of wine was served covered with a slice either of smoked ham or cheese, with two aims: first to avoid that insects or other impurities could fall into that jar or glass. Other accompaniments soon followed, and were known as “small bites.” Today tapas are appetizers but of a variety and quantity unknown in other countries. These snacks are so popular that often at “tapas time,” patrons spend the whole evening nibbling, skipping the nighttime meal altogether.

The paradox of “tapas” lies in the tradition that even though they are typically eaten while standing, their delicate, and extremely tasty portions are quite elegant in nature.

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