What are Tapas?

Tapas are not necessarily a particular kind of food; rather, they represent a style of eating, and a way of life that is so very Spanish and yet so adaptable in America. Tapas are as varied as the cooks who create them and in Spain range from the simplest fare, like grilled chorizo sausage, flavorful jamón Serrano (cured ham), Manchego cheese, and simple canapés, to surprisingly sophisticated dishes using caviar, fresh snails and baby eels. They can be foods we traditionally eat as appetizers, but more often than not cross the line into what we might think of as first course or main course dishes. Tapas are usually served in small portions and they are meant for immediate gratification.

“La Tapa” originated when the Spanish king Alfonso X, the Wise, was prescribed by his doctor to take small amounts of food with some wine between meals to prevent an upset stomach. The wise king saw that this was good and ordered that in all inns of Castilla, wine was not to be served if not with something to eat. In all taverns the glass of wine or carafe was served covered witha slice of either jamón serrano or cheese, to avoid impurities that could fall into the carafe and for guest to soak the alcohol they drank with something solid. This royal providence avoided the alcoholic disturbances in the body of the poor peasants at the time who were unable to afford a full meal and otherwise would just drink wine.

“Las tapas” are a fine representation of Spanish cuisine, offering a tremendous variety of flavors, partly as a result of centuries of the Moorish occupation in the south and because Spain is a country of such great cultural and geographical diversity. To eat tapas-style is to eat by whim, free from rules and schedules. It is meant for those who wish to enjoy life to the fullest and who love to while away the time with friends.