Tapas are exclusive culinary dishes in Spanish culture. This tradition is replicated in restaurants and bars across the world.
These delicious appetizers are changing the way people think about small plates. Some kitchens now add different twists to suit the needs of customers.
You may not know the magic of this food unless you’ve experienced it yourself – the culture is alive and keeps evolving.
Read on to discover everything you need to know about these iconic Spanish dishes.
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What are tapas
Tapas are appetizers or small snacks people eat in bars and restaurants before dinner. They consist of delicious food served alongside beer, cocktails, or wine. Some folks see it as a social way of eating as they enjoy a conversation. In Spain, the customs surrounding the eating of tapas vary between regions. For example, Almeria, Granada, and Jaen tapas are served in bars when customers serve a drink. After a salty snack, customers drink more to quench their thirst.
Tapas vary by ingredients. Spanish cuisines consist of a selection of small savory dishes like sauteé mushrooms, dumplings, spring rolls, meat, tiny finger sandwiches, fried meat, and everything in between. This is a way of trying something new.
The idea behind tapas is to give the diners some taste before moving to the main dish. The art of food continues to evolve as chefs focus on fresh and sophisticated dishes.
A brief history of tapas
There are different explanations for the origin of tapas. Most accounts state that these dishes originated in Spain. This tradition began in the 13th century during the reign of King Alfonzo X of Castle. It’s believed that he recovered from an illness after taking small dishes and drinking wine. Later, he insisted that every household in the kingdom should eat small portions of food to diminish the effects of alcohol.
Another popular theory says tapas were discovered during the reign of King Alfonzo XIII in the 19th century. He ordered a glass of wine, but the server covered it with a slice of ham. The king placed another order, and the trend continued. Perhaps, this is one of the most important clues to the origin of tapas.
Some scholars say the origin of tapas began in the middle ages. Workers would only take quick breaks to avoid wasting the delicious daylight. Their lunch consisted of chickpeas, olives, and a slice of sausage. Another similar theory is that workers would misuse their money on alcohol. To keep things under control, the king ordered that workers be served a small plate of food with alcohol.
The word `tapa’ means `a lid or `cover’. Some folks believe the tradition began when barkeepers covered drinks with a slice of bread, cheese, or ham to stop flies from entering. No matter the story you believe in, the guiding principle is size. We can all agree that tapas are a small portion of delicious food.
What makes tapas a fundamental part of Spanish cuisine
If you’ve been to Spain, you’ll find tapa bars on almost every corner of the street.
They bring people together
Tapas offers an opportunity for people to interact together at a personal level. It’s also an opportunity to share a culture that may not be possible through other forms of social interaction. In Spain, tapas are served while standing at the counter or bar and can be shared with friends. Some bars offer free tapas that consist of salty snacks.
Tapas keep the culture alive and have a positive effect on the locals. Again, most people will go for tapas before late Spanish dinner – this is what makes the dishes incredibly social.
Can be found anywhere
Picture this- you walk into a restaurant only to find it hard to choose five lunch or dinner dishes on the menu. Generally, tapas are served in small portions without feeling overly full.
A few delicious bites will whet your appetite
Most restaurants serve tapas as an appetizer as customers wait for the main meal.
Most Popular Tapas
Tapas are tasty treats that come with an irresistible aroma. Here is the most popular type of tapas:
Gambas al Ajillo tapa is popular for a good reason. It’s common in central and southern Spain and is served with a drink in bars. The dish consists of shrimp or prawns swimming in tasty oil and garlic sauce. It’s accompanied by a glass of white or red wine.
This is a quintessential dish in Spain. It features a mixture of salty potatoes served with tomato sauce and different spices. You can order with several ingredients like baked chicken, fish, or chorizo. Most tapas in Spain can be accompanied by a bit of beer and wine.
This tapa is an incredible appetizer in many restaurants and bars in Spain. The dish consists of fresh anchovies marinated with salt and sugar. Then, they are seasoned with garlic and parsley. If Boquerones en Vinagre contains too much vinegar, serve it with beer.
Also known as Spanish Omelet, this tapa can be delicious. It’s made of potato, egg, and onions cooked with cooking oil. The eggs are seasoned beforehand, while olive oil helps to retain moisture.
Jamon Serrano tapa consists of dried meat salted to attain the perfect texture. It can include different types of hams to achieve a crisp texture.
This tapa consists of fried béchamel, cheese, ham, and shrimp flavored with different ingredients. The result is a soft inside and crisp interior.
This tapa consists of a roasting piece of bread, garlic, crushed tomato, and olive oil. You can add a tortilla, sausage, cheese, or ham to satiate your taste buds.
4 Tapa Recipes
Maybe you want a taste of Spain, or you need to throw a party for your guests without spending the entire night in the kitchen. Here are unique tapa recipes that will impress your foodie friends.
Huevos Rotos taps feature ingredients commonly found at home. It’s an incredible combination of chorizo sausage, fried potatoes, and eggs. While this tasty dish can be enjoyed as lunch or dinner, it can still be served any time of the day. For those who want a different taste, a bit of cayenne or paprika will do the magic. Generally, the dish is served with a slice of ham or bits of chorizo. When topped with con Jamon or morcilla, it’s a pure haven.
Spanish Huevos Rotos is surprisingly versatile. Those tasked to prepare the dish should ensure the yolk spills on the potatoes. This is what brings a savory flavor.
In the early 1800s, this dish was consumed by low-income families. Today, it’s seen as an inexpensive but filling food to eat. Since Huevos Rotos is available in many Spanish restaurants, you can put your taste buds to the test.
This simple yet unique tapa brings a bit of a Mediterranean twist. If you’re looking for a simple yet delicious dish, there’s no other crowd-pleaser than the Spanish Patatas Bravas. It gets better if this dish is accompanied by alcohol. Since the recipe is easy to make, you can bring the flavors into your home within minutes.
What makes the Spanish Patatas Bravas even healthier is that the potatoes are roasted instead of deep frying. Furthermore, only one tbsp. of olive oil is used. Since there’s no tomato – the sweet and hot paprika gives the sauce its color.
This tapa is the go-to option for an appetizer. It also works well for folks looking for a quick snack.
Also known as Pan con Tomate, this classic Spanish tapa features easy and fresh ingredients. You can prepare the dish with only five ingredients – bread, garlic, tomato, olive oil, and salt. And no actual cooking is required. If you want to get the most flavor from your tomatoes, you can use the pulp. Before you eat, you should drizzle some olive oil and salt.
If you want an appetizer or a hearty salad for dinner, this is the go-to dish. It also works well as an end-of-summer dish. No matter how you eat it, Spanish bread with tomato is delicious.
The Spanish Camarones al Ajillois the perfect starter for a Spanish-themed party. Every bite brings a few Mediterranean flavors. Generally, the peeled prawns are cooked with garlic and a generous amount of olive oil. This dish works in tapas cocktail-inspired parties or as an appetizer.
You don’t have to worry about all that garlic – it’s sautéed to lose most of its kick. This dish can also be consumed with some bread to dunk in the sauce. You can also serve it with some drinks, especially beer.
You can enjoy these tapas as appetizers or snacks. It’s time you put your taste buds to the test.
I’m Maria and I love cooking—and mostly EATING—food from all around the world. I’ve been sharing my abuela’s secret Latin-American recipes for the last 7 years with the world on this blog. I’ve been a full-time food blogger for many years and I’m always trying new delicious meals that don’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef. I also love traveling, cats, and knitting.