Tapas is a very important part of Spanish culture. Whenever you tell someone you are traveling to Spain, they automatically tell you to try the Tapas. What is Tapas? Tapas are small Spanish savory dishes, typically served with drinks at a bar. Tapas one of the staple Spanish dishes. People come to Spain with a mission to try the most tapas and the best tapas in the area. It is typical to drink wine and socialize with friends while eating Tapas. There are many options for Tapas, which is why it is very popular; you can order a bunch and share them to have a taste of many. Eating Tapas has become such a dominant and almost expected act that in Spain they say ‘tapear’ (to have Tapas). They made it into a verb because it is a form of national identification. The culture has adapted Tapas as a cultural norm that many people know and love. There are many myths of how Tapas began, such as the one about King Alfonso X of Castille.He was sick and when he was recovering he was only able to eat small amounts of food and dink or that Alfonso XIII was the one who started it when he ordered a glass of wine and since it was windy the bartender covered it with a piece of ham, the exact answer is unknown, but that doesn’t matter because it is now part of Spain, and will be here forever. The true meaning of Tapa means to cover/lid, so maybe Alfonso XIII created the name while King Alfonso X created the act.
When Tapas first started out you got them for free with your drink, but now since unfortunately it has been commercialized you can’t get anything for free except a bowl of olives…sometimes. When Tapas originated it was with the simplest of ingredients and preparation, such as salted almonds, or olives. Today when you see Tapas it is more extravagant because you can make or buy those items at home. When people go for Tapas, they want the warm prepared foods to get their moneys worth.
Ordering Tapas can be tricky for the new comer. Some places only serve Tapas at the bar, so if you are going specifically for Tapas, make sure you can sit at a table if that’s what you want. You should order only a couple at a time because typically they are already prepared so if you order 5-6 they will all come out at once, which can be overwhelming if you want to keep nibbling while talking. Lastly, opening times. Restaurants in Spain have very different hours than America. They typically are open in the afternoons and close around 4:00pm and re-open at 8:00pm. If you want a little snack make sure you do some research to see if where you are going is open, this can be difficult for someone who is no accustom to the ways of Spain.
Popular tapas dishes include Patatas Bravas, Croquetas, Gambas al ajillo, and many many more. Most restaurants have very similar items to order because everyone usually likes the same things. As mentioned before, Tapas is enjoyed while drinking wine, but there is no hard rule that it must be. Strong red wines though are discouraged because it can overtake the taste of the Tapas. Popular wines can include Sherry, Rioja, and Cava.
Tapas are not known as starters or appetizers, in Spain Tapas is ordered as a snack, or if you order a bunch it can be a meal. Mentioned above as many popular Tapas but the most popular, and the one you can find all over Spain without a doubt is the Iberico Jámon. A thinly sliced ham cured and served to perfection.
A CEA Study Abroad professor and linguist, Pep Ingles teaches a Tapas workshop and was able to share a bit of his knowledge with me.
In the video Pep says that one of the most popular Tapas dishes for tourists include Patatas Bravas because it is familiar to their pallet. There is a possibility that Patatas Bravas are so highly ranked because the number of tourists that visit Spain, or the fact that Patatas Bravas are amazing and attract both tourists and locals. He reiterates that Tapas is not a meal, it is a time to socialize with friends, although it can become a meal depending on how long you want to be with friends.
Socializing and eating Tapas go hand in hand, meaning you don’t go to eat Tapas as you would go to eat lunch. The point is to catch up and have a beer with friends while enjoying a little snack. The etiquette is to do both together. It was interesting how he stated that “food is linked to a social network, social connection.” If you are from America this might be a foreign concept to you, Americans eat on the go. If they need to eat lunch they eat lunch, but Pepe made the point that if he doesn’t have time to sit and enjoy his food, he will just have a small snack to get his energy. Tapas is a part of the Spanish culture. Not just Tapas, but food in general is interconnected with socializing.
Pep recommended a couple of his favorite Tapas restaurants. One called Moritz Factory, it is a brewery that also has Tapas. He said it is an easy place to order typical Tapas and get a good beer with friends. Pep explains there are more Tapas restaurants that are more difficult to order at. If you are visiting Spain it is a good challenge to go there, it is all in Spanish and you order off the board. If an item is erased off the board, they have sold out and you have to choose another. Pep told me that this is the most traditional way the people go for Tapas but since it has been industrialized ordering has changed to appeal to a broader audience.
Cooking your own Tapas is not too difficult of a task and if you enjoy spending time bonding and doing fun activities with your family you can definitely pick some olives off your trees and make easy Tapas as Pep said. Yet part of the experience is to go out and relax. Creating and preparing your own Tapas can become a longer process when you want more extravagant dishes, such as Gambas and typically it is preferred to go out in order to have the time to actually socialize instead of spend half the time cooking and less time to sit and talk.
If you are visiting Spain I suggest trying a few different Tapas restaurants and trying as many as you can. After spending almost 3 months in Barcelona, Spain I truly have seen how Tapas is part of the culture, not just a type of food. It is not something people eat everyday, but a couple times a week, or even just once a week people gather together for Tapas. Some of my favorite places to eat Tapas include Kino, Palosanto, and Xaloc. If you’re ever in Spain make sure you hit up the local Tapas bars.