Traditionally tapas is a variety of savoury dishes used as appetizers in Spain, they will often be served at bars alongside alcoholic drinks. Although tapas originated in Spain it’s now spread globally and you’ll find tapas bars almost everywhere!
Tapas make a great snack before a late dinner, as is common in Spain. Alternatively, go bar hopping and make a meal out of a range of tapas as you go. One of the best things about tapas is if there are a few of you, they’re a great way to sample a range of dishes without over-ordering and/or spending a lot. You can also make your own tapas from home to experience Spain in your own comforting house, and it’s great for entertaining or surprising guests before a great meal or even just to accompany drinks like the good old Spanish way!
The origins of tapas
Tapas originated in Andalucia, a Southern province of Spain. Tapas traditionally may have been a complementary piece of sliced ham served on top of a glass of wine, but we know them today as small portions of food commonly served as a snack before lunch or dinner. Tapas can be as simple as a bowl of olives or more hearty, such as slices of Serrano ham. Tapas can even be part of a full meal as sides before a meal or a large group of small dishes that will fill you as the main dishes would!
The tapas tradition began when king Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or “tapa”.
The original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips, this was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. ‘Tapa’ actually translates to the lid which is where the name originated from, so we have bartenders to thank for this amazing tradition. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst, because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners created a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, which majorly boosted their sales. Now every bar across Spain will serve some form of tapas with your drinks.
Tapas have evolved through Spanish history by incorporating new ingredients and influences. Most of the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by the Romans, who introduced more extensive cultivation of the olive following their invasion of Spain in 212 B.C and irrigation methods. The discovery of the New World brought the introduction of tomatoes, sweet and chili peppers, maize (corn), and potatoes, which were readily accepted and easily grown in Spain’s microclimates.
What different Types of tapas ?
There are too many tapa dishes to count, so we’ve compiled the most popular and yummiest tapa right here for you! Recurring ingredients are items such as olives. chorizo, seafood and bread.
There are also different groups of tapas:
pinchos/pintxos – These are slices of bread with various different toppings. The name comes from the Basque Country in the NorthEast where you’ll find bars dedicated purely to pinchos. Often the bar is lined with plates of them, you get a plate and help yourself.
cheese and charcuterie platters – Cheese and charcuterie platters are as you might imagine, a range of local cheeses and/or cured meats. Spanish cheeses include both hard and soft kinds of cheese, blue cheese and are made using different kinds of milk.
cold tapas – This can be anything from salads to cold soups like the classics gazpacho and salmorejo, and snacks like olives and anchovies. A slice of Spanish tortilla may be included in there too.
hot tapas – Hot tapas mostly includes meats, although vegetarian options may be available they are rare due to the popularity of cooked meat as tapas!
We’re going to chuck them all together as they’re all yummy and you can definitely combine them!
Aceitunas – Olives, sometimes with a filling of anchovies.
Albóndigas – meatballs with sauce.
Bacala – Salted cod loin sliced very thinly, usually served with bread and tomatoes.
Banderillas – Also called pinchos de encurtidos, are cold tapas made from small food items pickled in vinegar and skewered together. They are also known as gildas or piparras and consist of pickled items, like olives, baby onions, baby cucumbers, chiles (guindilla) with pieces of pepper and other vegetables. Sometimes they include an anchovy.
Calamares – Also known as rabas, these are rings of battered squid.
Carcamusa – Beef stew, usually with potatoes, vegetables and chilli sauce
Croquetas – A common sight in bar counters and homes across Spain, served as a tapa, a light lunch, or a dinner along with a salad.
Empanadillas – Large or small turnovers filled with meats and vegetables
Mejillones rellenos – Stuffed mussels, called tigres (“tigers”) in Navarre because of the spicy taste.
arrugadas – Also known as papas con mojo (see Canarian wrinkly potatoes) (Canary Islands), this dish consists of very small, new potatoes boiled in salt water similar to sea water, then drained, slightly roasted and served with mojo sauce, a garlic, Spanish paprika, red pepper, cumin seed, olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and bread miga (fresh bread crumbs without the crust) to thicken it.
Patatas bravas – fried potato dice (sometimes parboiled and then fried, or simply boiled) served with salsa brava a spicy tomato sauce, sometimes served also with mayo or aioli.
Tortilla de patatas – A Spanish omelette or tortilla española, a substantial omelette (typically 1 – 2 cm x 10 – 20 cm diameter) containing substantial chunks of potatoes bound with egg, sometimes flavored with onions. Tortillas as tapas are usually just a small wedge or pincho which may be served hot or cold, often with bread (occasionally also with aioli or mayonnaise).