No self-respecting Spanish bar would risk being
caught without an intriguing array of tapas arranged across its counter. These
saucer-sized bites, as much a part of Spanish culture as the siesta and the
fiesta, come in infinite varieties and, more often than not, are completely
unidentifiable to the untrained eye. However the art of ir de tapas is one that
the Spanish have honed to perfection and, once mastered, is arguably the most
enjoyable way to enjoy ‘fast food’ with friends!
Legend has it that the tapa was actually the
brainchild of the Spanish king Alfonso X El Sabio(the Wise), who had to take
small amounts of food with wine whilst recovering from illness (a likely
cure-all!). Once recovered, the king decreed that no wine was to be served in
any of the inns of the land
of Castille unless
accompanied by a snack to avoid alcohol intoxication...and thus the concept of
the tapa was born!
As tabernas (taverns) became established,
Alfonso’s decree remained in effect and all glasses of wine were served covered
with a slice of smoked ham or cheese, the logic being that the lid or tapa
would prevent insects or other nasties falling into the drink, while it soaked
up the strong alcohol drunk by the farmers and workers.
The Spanish 'tapa' tradition is as important for
conversation and company as it is for enjoying delicious Spanish food. Every
Spaniard has his favorite tapa bar where people go regularly to meet their
friends or business acquaintances. Tapas can be found in even the smallest bar
in a tiny village.
The word tapa,
meaning cover or lid, is thought to have originally referred to the
complimentary plate of appetizers that many bars would put on top of one's wine
Today, tapas are the perfect snack to keep the
Spanish going between their infamously late lunch and even later evening meal. In many places, Salamanca
included, you’ll still get a free tapa with your drink, but even in the
priciest places you won’t pay more than 4€ for a dish. It’s easy to see what
you’re getting (even if it’s difficult to establish exactly what it is) as,
more often than not, tapas are displayed in glass cabinets across the bar...so
no difficult menus to decipher and no need for dictionaries at the dinner table!
The art of the tapeo has an etiquette all of its own. Follow these tips to avoid tapas faux-pas...
The ideal number in a tapas party is four. Too many
people choosing the food can get a little chaotic.
Tapas should be taken standing, usually at the bar. This action of
eating small quantities while standing is referred to as pecking at the food,
bird-like, picar (pecking) as opposed to comer (eating).
Don’t eat more than two tapas at any one place. The idea behind ir de tapas is to eat a little and move on to the next bar...a gastronomic bar crawl!
Practice what the Sevillanos call convida...whereby everybody pays for a
round. Don’t be stingy when it comes to la cuenta (the bill).
Learn to combine the right tapas. For example, a little plate of gambas
(prawns) would go nicely with one of pulpo (octopus) but may not compliment
caracoles (snails) quite as well!
Keep conversation light.
If you’re not sure what something is, just ask. The Spaniards take great
pride in the creativity of their tapas, and will be happy to share it with you.
Make it clear if it’s a tapa you’re after (mini portion) or a ración (a
meal sized serving) or you’ll end up paying a lot more than you planned.
The traditional drink with the tapa is wine from the barrel
or beer. A peleón is a
young and cheap wine or a reserva is a wine matured in oak barrels.
Availability depends on the region:
Basque country: ask for a txakolí - a young wine.
cataluña: drink a Penedés or a Cava.
Northwestern Spain: sip a ribeiro.
Castile: go for a young Valdepeñas or a robust rioja.
Andalusia: wash down your tapas with a sherry.
Asturias: here, sidra (cider) replaces wine.
Valencia: choose a champú - a half blonde beer, half lemonade
(known as a clara in other areas).
Spanish tapas can vary from simple to complex and include
cheese, fish, eggs, vegetable dishes, dips, canapés, and savoury pastries. A reasonable quantity of tapas can make an excellent meal.Recipies vary according to season and region, but standard offerings you’ll find across Spain include
aceitunas (olives), nueces (nuts), jamón curado (smoked ham) and queso
(cheese). Also popular are fried tapas and those prepared in a salsa or sauce,
as well as casserole stews, paella–type dishes made with rice, variations on
the theme of roast potatoes and little tapas resembling canapés, on pieces of
toasted bread. Don’t forget that a free basket of pan(bread) often accompanies
Albóndiga: Meatball, fishball.
Aliñada: Dressed, marinated.
Ensaladarusa: Salad of potato, mayonnaise, garlic, tuna and peas.
Lomo: Pork loin.
Patatasbravas:Fried potatoes in a slightly spicy tomato sauce.
Pimientosfritos:Skinned and fried peppers.
Pipirrana: Tomato salad.
Ala plancha: Grilled.
Pulgas: Little rolls or sandwiches.
Xoubas: Little sardines
¿Me da...., por favor?: Could I have...,please?
Una tapa/ un pincho de...: a small portion of...
Una ración de…: a meal sized serving of...
Una copa de vino: a glass of wine.
Una cerveza: a beer.
¡Buen provecho!: Enjoy your meal!
La cuenta, por favor: The bill, please.
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