Tapas are snacks, canapés or small dishes that originated in Spain. What many people don't realize, however, is that tapas come in many different forms and can vary greatly across Spain – even from city to city!
What's in tapas?
There really isn't a definitive answer as it depends on who you ask. In Spain, tapas can include just about anything – from a hunk of tuna, a cocktail onion and an olive skewered on a long toothpick, to piping-hot chorizo sausage served in a small clay bowl, to a slow-cooked gourmet beef cheek served over a mashed sweet potato. Tapas are served every day in bars and cafes across Spain – although each has a different interpretation of the word and different prices.
Although the concept of tapas varies across the country, they are so much a part of culture and social life that Spaniards even use the verb Tapear, which means go out for tapas! Tapas strengthen the Spaniards on their long trips from bar to bar before lunch and in the evening before dinner.
Are tapas included in the price of a meal?
Most regions of Spain require you to order and pay for your tapas, which may be listed or referred to as a on the menu in the ‘tapas' section or column ration, which is a larger portion and meant for sharing. The price of a tapas serving varies enormously, and generally depends on the size of the tapas served and the ingredients used (e.g. plain seared chorizo versus grass-fed beef).
But in the most traditional Spanish cities, you won't be charged for tapas – you get a free tapa for the price of your drink! Popular cities with this practice include Madrid (only in the city's most traditional tapas bars), Alcalá de Henares and Granada.
The origin of tapas
There are several stories about its origin tapasthat are part of folklore. A legend is about King Alfonso X. The wise or “The Wise One” who made sure that Castilian taverns where wine was served always accompanied food, lest the wine go straight to the diners' heads (and possibly cause riots and disagreements).
Another story says that during a long journey, King Alfonso stopped in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the southern province of Cádiz and ordered a glass of Jerez or Sherry. There was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry, topped with a slice of ham so the sherry wouldn't be contaminated by sand in the air. King Alfonso seemed to like it, and when he asked for a second glass, he asked for another tapas (meaning “lid” or “cover”), just like the first.
Prepare one or more tapas and then enjoy them like the Spaniards do – with a large glass of wine and in a relaxed atmosphere. That is nice!