Remember how when younger our mothers would hide that cookie jar or that plate of munchies to make sure we had space for dinner. “Two more hours for dinner, beta”. On the fortunate occasions where we snuck in and grabbed our snack anyway – Celebrations! Confetti!! But here’s one for all those occasions where we were either most disgracefully caught in the act, or our well-thought schemes just failed miserably: tapas in Spain!
Welcome to a country where snacking is the norm. Ooh, alcohol too, might we add. The Tapas bars culture of Spain will take your inner child on a giddy ride. And before you decide to go bar-hopping, here are some things you need – absolutely NEED – to know about Tapas bars ~
The word ‘tapas’ originated from the Spanish word tapar which means to cover. In the 19th century when travelling was exhausting and travellers found respite in roadside inns, innkeepers would allow travellers a sample of the food on menu. The small portions were served on a “tapa”. Another story claims that bartenders covered alcohol with seasoned meat or bread slices to ensure fruit flies didn’t hover over the sherry being served. It is claimed, also, that the bartenders cleverly provided meat and bread based savouries that would fuel their thirst and thus keep the alcohol pouring.
Legends around the origin of tapas narrate the saga of thirteenth century Castilian king Alphonso X, the Wise (nudge, nudge) who struck by a peculiar illness that rendered him weak. To keep his strength up, he was advised to eat small portions of snacks with wine between meals. After a speedy recovery, he sanctioned that all taverns must serve alcohol accompanied by these snacks. Another interesting tale goes on to say that 16th century ruler Felipe III, fed up with the drunken rowdiness of sailors and soldiers, ordered serving of tapa snacks to slow the effects of alcohol.
TAPAS – EVOLUTION:
Initially as tapas began to acquire fame, they either consisted of seasoned meat slices or bread topped with salty meat slices. Ham was the most preferred choice, and salt the favourite seasoning. With the discovery of the New World, tapas gained reinvention. Spain became acquainted to tomatoes, sweet and chilli peppers, corn and potatoes – what followed was a sweet, passionate romance (awe!).
And the resultant diverse menu that you greets your olfactory senses much before you can set your eyes to fall in love at first sight, every time you enter a tapas bar. Every. Time.
TAPAS vs. PINTXOS:
Often confused to be another alias for tapas, pintxos are slightly different types of snacks. They are snacks served on cocktail sticks. There you have it, that’s the difference. Unless you are in Basque Country, Spain tapas and pintxos are two different snacks and are not to be confused with each other.
Over the years, tapas in Spain has acquired new dimensions, like wine it has aged beautifully. From humble meat slices, tapas bars today offer dishes like patatas bravas, calamares, chorizos. Ensalada Rusa – a Russian salad of potatoes, tuna, potatoes, peas and tuna, San Jacobs – ham and cheese fried in breadcrumbs are two dishes that feature in almost all tapas bar.
Since bar-hopping – or how the Spanish say it ~ ir de tapas – is the way to go, it is very common to see people tasting only one or two dishes per tapas bar. In fact it is advisable to not order a lot at once, to keep your options open and see which dishes are getting more love. The idea is to not hog and to get the best of all tapas bars!
When the hopping don’t help:
HOW TO TAPAS:
The tapas bar like most bars requires you order at the counter. Unless you are at a sit down tapas bar with fancily dressed people handing over elaborate menus. But, hey, that douses the fun of the whole tapas bar experience. The tapas bar experience is about screaming orders, mouth-watering food in portable portions and keeping it simple. Order, eat, move on.
Here are lines you could rehearse and rehearse to get the barman’s attention. Por favour (Please) grabs the barman’s attention. Now that you have his attention, go on and ask for una tabla de canapés variados to be served a plate of little, open-faced sandwiches. Un surtido de jamón y queso will get you a plate of assorted ham and cheese. For those of you vegetarians out there, here’s a helpful phrase to get you started – Soy vegetariano(a). Que tapas no tienen carne ni pescado? It translates to “I’m vegetarian, which tapas don’t have any meat or seafood?”
There. There you have it! Your very first guide to the tapas bar experience in the land of Spaniards. This, unlike party dance moves, you don’t have to struggle over. Just indulge your taste buds. And most important, keep it moving. More on how to keep it moving ~ 😉