If you’ve taken advantage of any of the Spanish cheap holiday deals available online and taken the trip to the Mediterranean, or even ventured to local Spanish restaurant, chances are you’ve come across tapas or a tapas menu before. If you haven’t been so lucky, tapas is the name given to a wide variety of different dishes and snacks in Spanish cuisine. They vary wildly in the form they take, with everything from cold snacks such as cheese and olives to potato croquettes (croquetas in Catalan) and deep fried baby squid (known as chopitos) coming under the tapas banner.
Legend has it that the eating of tapas began when king Alfonso X of Castile was recovering from an illness and ordered his servants to serve him wine and small dishes between meals. Once his health was restored, the king was so delighted by the success of his treatment that he declared it illegal for taverns to serve wine to customers without also servicing them a small snack or “tapa”. It was here that tapas was born though it has evolved significantly since its early days. Modern tapas incorporates ingredients from countries the world over with many of its ingredients coming from the Iberian Peninsula. The regional palette in the Iberian Peninsula has been influenced by the many different cultures that have invaded or conquered it at various points in history, with olives and irrigation brought by the Romans and the North African Moors bringing fruits, spices and nuts.
Among some of the more common modern popular tapas dishes are alioli (garlic and oil – served with bread or potatoes or meat), chorizo al vino (chorizo sausage cooked slowly in wine or cider), gambas pil-pil (prawns sautéed in oil, garlic and chopped chilli peppers), patatas bravas (fried potato dices served with salsa brava, which is itself a spicy tomato sauce) and pulpo (literally simply “octopus”). These can be combined to create a meal in their own right, but are more commonly eaten by the Spanish to stave off hunger between the traditional Spanish lunch time of between 1pm and 3pm and the usual dinner time, which can be anywhere between 9pm and midnight.
Some tapas dishes are available all over the world and have taken on a life of their own apart from their traditional place among tapas dishes. Calamari, traditionally written “Calamares” in Catalan, is a dish of rings of battered squid. These have been incorporated into many world cuisines in places such as China, Italy and Australia.
Tapas is a great meal for when you’re out with friends or entertaining at home, as the small portions and wide variety of dishes present in a tapas meal stimulate conversation and allow people to take as much as they individually feel comfortable with. If you are entertaining at home, you might want to consider serving tapas at your next party as it can be taken and eaten while the diner is standing. The vast amount of choice available with tapas also means there will always be something that everyone can enjoy and is great for catering for fussy eaters and adventurous eaters alike.