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Tapas: Snacking and Sharing
More than a trend, tapas are a Spanish tradition that dates back generations. Read on to learn more about the plates you’ll share.
For centuries, tapas have served an essential role in everyday Spanish life. There, lunch is the largest meal of the day, followed by a lighter dinner that takes place late in the evening. Tapas bridge the often-long gap, preferably paired with a glass of wine or beer. Traditional Spanish tapas are typically simple items that require little preparation: olives, sardines, and cold meats and cheeses are common tapas fixtures. Hot tapas too tend to require only a few ingredients, yielding comforting snacks such as meatballs in a light sauce, spicy fried potatoes, and quiche-like tortilla (not to be confused with the taco container). Also common, given tapas’ origins as drinking food: saltiness.
Putting a Lid on Hunger
The word tapa actually means “lid” or “cover”. It’s believed that this is because early tapas were often a simple slice of cheese, ham, or bread, which diners would place atop their glass to keep fruit flies out. There are two takes on where the tradition first started. Some claim they were an invention of King Alfonso X, who took small portions of food with a glass of wine between meals rather than just having an extra helping of gruel like everyone else in the 13th century. The more widely accepted theory is that they started as a quick, portable snack for field workers.
- There’s an old Spanish tradition of bar owners serving tapas as a complimentary treat. In Granada, the tradition lives on—order a glass of wine or beer, and you automatically get a free tapa.
- Some tapas menus feature pinchos or montaditos—literally, “spikes” or “little riders,” morsels of meat, fish, or vegetables speared by toothpicks onto tiny slices of bread.