Tapas aren’t just small plates of food. They also offer a wonderful glimpse into the gastronomy of the particular Spanish region that you’re visiting. Sure there are olives pretty much wherever you go in Spain, but the different flavors you’ll experience, whether in a tapas bar, tavern, or Spain cooking class, are extremely varied. After all, the country’s geography has everything from mountains to coastline, and lush orchards to miles of farmland, and the environment impacts the food they cook and serve.
History of Tapas
While tapas now offer a wide range of tastes and flavors, that wasn’t always so, as some say the original incarnation was just a simple piece of bread used to cover a wine glass. So the story goes, farmers needed something to eat to sustain themselves during the long work day outdoors. They would eat a bite, along with a glass of wine, and use the food to protect their drink from flies. This explains the word tapas, which translates to lid or cover.
But there’s another origin story as well. When King Alfonso the 10th was ill, he recovered by eating small bites accompanied by wine between meals. Once he regained his health, he wanted to spread the benefits of this new eating habit, and so he announced a decree that inns must serve food with wine. Back then the olives and nuts were often served for free with the wine, but most bars and taverns today do charge for their tapas.
Today, tapas go well beyond just olives, nuts, and cured meats — especially ham — although all these are served as well. In the Basque region, savor seafood and fish, where portions are often larger due to the colder climate. In Aragon, delight your senses with red pepper sauces as well as trout.
With the Moorish influence in Valencia, almonds and oranges are both common ingredients. As for the Central Plain, this area is known for its manchego cheese, other sheep milk cheeses, and pig. Catalonia too is a favorite region that typically favors tapas with sauces and dishes similar to French Mediterranean cuisine, which you can taste for yourself during our cooking vacations.
No matter where you enjoy your tapas, they’re often served while you’re standing up. So take a tour of Spain and familiarize yourself with the array of gastronomical cuisine with small bites of just about everything!
By Liz Hall
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