Tapas Culture - a Spanish Tradition

by Kristine - 15 June 2015

When you go to Spain, you may discover that your drinks are served alongside some great-tasting snacks or appetizers that are presented on small plates. This is actually the traditional way of serving drinks in Spain and many bars across the country still maintain this habit of serving a free ‘Tapa’ with every drink.

Tapas culture has become a very significant part of the drinking and social culture in Spain as most Spanish people usually meet with their friends or family at a local tapas bar. In general, the Spanish usually eat something every time they have a drink.tapas bar

A typical Spanish tapas bar

The truth is; the style of serving tapas in small plates provides convenience to the drinkers who usually eat while they are standing and having a conversation with their drinking buddies. Moreover, it is also common for most Spanish drinkers to go barhopping, so right after finishing up a serving of tapas and a glass of their favorite drink at the first bar, they still have a craving for the next round of tapas and drinks at the next bar and so on.

In the Basque Country in the north of Spain, tapas are known as 'pintxos' and are often served on bread and skewered with a small stick known as a 'palillo'.


Pintxos in the Basque Country

The origins of tapas culture

The term “tapas” is actually derived from the Spanish verb ‘tapar’ which means “to cover.” Much can be said about the origin of tapas culture; some people suppose that the term must have originated at the time in the past when mature cheese was used by tavern owners to disguise or “cover” the smell and taste of bad wines. There were times in the past when bread was used to cover the rim of the glass to prevent the fruit flies from landing in the wine.

There is also the famous legend about the wise Spanish King Alfonso the 10th, who had once fallen ill. Because of his illness, the king was only allowed to drink a little wine and eat a little food.  Soon after he had recovered, he ordered that wine must be served with a small snack in every tavern. Moreover, some historians claim that the tradition might have begun when field workers or farmers would imbibe wine and eat a little food between meals so that they would have enough energy to work all day.

Tapas culture today

Tapas dishes may vary in their flavors, depending on the city, town or village. However, they all taste good with any wine or drink. There is actually an endless list when it comes to the types of tapas served in Spain. However, the most common varieties include nuts, roasted meats, assorted cheeses, olives, mussels, prawns, pastries, battered squid, meatballs and more!

As they are light, tapas are ordinarily served between meals such as at midday or the time between lunchtime and dinnertime in Spain. This is actually the most convenient time to eat tapas since the Spanish eat lunch between 1pm to 3pm and eat dinner at around 9pm. Thus, it is quite very common to see a lot of people in Spain enjoying their tapas and drinks after working hours until an hour or so before dinnertime.

In some more commercial areas of Spain, tapas are no longer given free with each drink but must instead be ordered separately. However, in many cities including Granada and Jaen, and in most rural areas, the tradition of free tapas is still alive and well! But remember, you can’t be choosy about your free tapas; after all, it is a gift from the bar to you!

Click here for some simple tapas recipes!

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