Arguably one of the most distinct experiences about Spanish culture is the food and dining. Although many of the main dishes served are typical Mediterranean cuisine, Spain is the birthplace of the popular tapas dish. Traditional Spanish tapas are served in between meals and are accompanied by wine. Although never intended as a full meal, the evolution of tapas has meant that many restaurants now offer the chance to combine multiple tapas dishes in place of a single larger meal.
Rumour has it…
The exact origins of tapas is unknown, but there are several rumours and theories behind the evolution of these Spanish appetizers. One legend has it that The Wise King of Spain, King Alfonso the tenth, was succumb to an illness which only permitted him to eat small bites of food washed down with sips of wine. Although he recovered, he issued a decree which stated anywhere serving wine must do so with food.
Another legend goes that King Felipe the third began issuing food for his workers after noticing they would get drunk and rowdy on the wine used to keep their spirits high during the day in order to slow the effects of alcohol.
Farmers and labourers
Legends aside, many historians believe that tapas actually originated from a practical need for consistent energy in farmers and labourers to get them through the working day. Spanish meals are rich in fat and take time to digest, resulting in the typical afternoon siesta. By bringing small dishes to work with them, physical labourers could maintain the energy needed to get the bulk of their work done without needing a large main meal; several small breaks were taken instead of a siesta and as a result, work was finished earlier in the day. It is suggested wine was the accompaniment as it warmed the body and gave a perception of energy and positive mood.
A social event
No matter its origins, tapas was only ever considered as a snack and carrier for alcohol in between meals, rather than as a meal itself. This explains why it is difficult to find tapas restaurants in Spain; instead, is is usually served in bars alongside drinks. Having tapas is typically a social event for Spaniards, with very little people stopping to make tapas at home over going out with friends or family.
The original tapas
The range of tapas available nowadays is extremely extensive, with many dishes offering rich complex flavours, marinated meats and carefully prepared ingredients. The original tapas dishes would have been simple, easy to put together nibbles rather than the elaborate recipes of today.
Some original tapas recipes include:
- Olives: marinated in olive oil
- Almonds: fried in olive oil and sprinkled with salt
- Gilda: anchovy, olive and guindilla peppers stacked on a cocktail stick
- Chargrilled artichokes: artichokes marinated in olive oil and herbs, grilled over hot coals
- Mussels: sauteed in wine and herbs
- Serrano ham: thinly sliced pieces of Serrano ham
These days, tapas can range from simple dishes to more elaborate recipes, including meatballs, braised chorizo and ham croquettes. Even these dishes tend to be relatively easy to make, and rely more on the ingredients and cooking methods to produce their rich flavours. This makes them perfect for when throwing a get together with friends or family; the Mediterranean flavours are sure to brighten up your cold winter evenings and help prevent a hangover by mopping up your wine!