The History of Tapas
The word "tapas" is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, "to cover". Tapa means "lid" or "cover" in Spanish.

There are a wide variety of colorful explanations for why tapa has come to denote a type of food:
• According to legend, the tapa tradition began when King Alfonso X was ill. During his illness he ate small dishes washed down by wine. He accredited this diet to his recovery and ordered that all taverns serve small snacks or tapas with their wine.
• Another version is thin slices of Jamón Iberia were placed across the top of his wine glass, encouraging him to snack. Hence the tapa (cover).
• Yet another version is King Alfonso stopped by a famous venta (inn) in windy Cadiz where he ordered a cup of sherry. The waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham to protect the sherry from the sand. The king, after drinking the wine and eating the ham, ordered another sherry "with the cover."
• A commonly cited explanation is that an item, be it bread or a flat card, etc., would often be placed on top of a drink to protect it from fruit flies; at some point it became a habit to top this "cover" with a snack
• It is also commonly said that since one would be standing while eating in traditional Spanish bars, they would need to place their plates on top of their drinks in order to eat, therefore creating a cover.

• Some believe that the name originated sometime around the 16th century when tavern owners found out that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of bad wine, thus "covering" it.

Whatever the source, tapas have since evolved through Spanish history by incorporating ingredients and influences from many different cultures and countries. The Romans invaded and introduced the Olive. The Moors invaded in the 8th century and brought almonds, citrus fruits and fragrant spices. The discovery of the New World brought the introduction of chili peppers, tomatoes, corn, beans and potatoes. All have combined to make tapas fun and exotic dishes with very few boundaries.

Common Spanish tapas
• Aceitunas -Olives
• Albóndigas -Meatballs

• Aioli -Aioli means garlic and oil in Catalan. A Spanish mayonnaise
• Bacalao -Salted cod sliced thinly. Usually served with bread and tomatoes

• Banderillas -Cold tapas made out of vegetables pickled in vinegar

• Boquerónes -Fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar or deep fried

• Calamares -Rings of battered squid

• Chopitos -Battered and fried tiny squid

• Cojonuda -(Superb female) Morillo sausage and quail egg on bread

• Cojonudo -(Superb male) Chorizo with a fried quail egg on bread

• Croquetas -Potato based croquettes with a variety of extras

• Empanadillas -Small pastries filled with meats and vegetables
• Ensaladilla rusa -(Russian salad) Vegetables, tuna, olives and mayonnaise

• Gambas -Prawns prepared a variety of ways
• Mejillones rellones -Stuffed Mussels
• Pan con tómate -thick grilled breads rubbed with garlic and tomato

• Pimientos de Padrón -Small green peppers fried in olive oil

• Pulpo -Octopus, usually served in the oil in which it was cooked

• Pincho moruno -A spicy kebab, made of pork or chicken. It means 'Moorish spike'

• Patatas bravas -Boiled potato dices and peas served with mayonnaise or Aioli
• Queso con anchoas -Cured cheese with anchovies on top

• Tortilla de patatas -Best described as a potato quiche or omelet

Eating Tapas
In Spain, dinner is seldom served before 9.30pm. It is common to eat as late as midnight and then attend a concert starting at 2am! This leaves a significant amount of time between lunch, taken between 1-3pm, and dinner. Therefore, Spaniards often go "bar hopping" and eat tapas in the time between finishing work and having dinner.

Nowadays, it is very common for bars and restaurants to have a range of tapas available for all opening hours. Some restaurants specialize in tapas only, while others have their tapas bar as well as their restaurant menu. One can sit at the bar and snack on tapas all night or have the tapas as a starter before being seated at a table for the main meal.

In most restaurants, tapas are ordered as portions or racións. Media ración is a small dish or half the full serving size. Ración is a whole serving for one. The portions are usually shared by diners, not unlike a Middle Eastern Mezze or a Chinese Yum Char.

In Northern Spain, tapas are called pinchos or pintxos, pincho meaning toothpick. The toothpick is to keep the topping from falling off the bread it is covering.

Often topped with wonderful but salty hams and sausages, tapas are a strong inducement to thirst, which is quickly quenched in a bar. As a bar food, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Author's Bio: 

Irene Palmer is a food writer, party planner, yacht master and personal chef. Working as a personal chef for the past 20 years, her many international clients have her frequently travelling the world, providing her with a constant source of new material and recipes.

Irene’s food is a combination of the many cultures she has experienced. A fusion of cooking styles from the East, West and everywhere in-between.

Irene has written 6 specialized cook books. She has a novel and contemporary style, marrying basic food skills with stress free organisation. Her original recipes and work plans are specially designed to ensure the cook enjoys the party also.

Irene is also an expert on producing great food simply and easily. ‘A five star appearance and taste on a one star budget’, is her favorite quote. – online books and dinner packages – personal chef

Palmer Hospitality - consulting for small businesses to improve performance and overseeing management while the owners are away

To contact Irene:
NZ telephone: 021 2369422