What are tapas?
Tapas are a variety of small savoury Spanish dishes, often served as a snack with drinks, or with other tapas as a meal. The verb “tapear”, going from bar to bar for drinks and tapas, is an essential part of the social culture of Spain.
Because tapas are informal, and the bars are often busy, they are commonly eaten standing up at the bar or at small tables or even upturned barrels, and the atmosphere is convivial and noisy.
As with the Spanish diet in general, tapas are made from traditionally mediterranean ingredients, especially olive oil, garlic, fish and seafood, and free range pork. There is a huge variety of fish and seafood on offer, from salt cod (bacalao) and tuna to calamares (squid) and prawns. Although beef and lamb are also popular, the most common meat is pork, much of which comes from free range “pata negra” pigs, used for jamón Ibérico. Every part of the animal is used, including cheeks, trotters, tripes and blood. There is also a wide selection of cheeses, such as the well-known Manchego, and it is usually made from sheep and goat’s milk, or a blend of the two.
Tapas go back a long way in Spanish history. Some argue they were an invention of Spanish King Alfonso X ‘The Wise’, who took small portions of food with a glass of wine between meals. The more widely accepted theory is that tapas originated as a snack for field workers during the long hours between breakfast and lunchtime.
Tapas are meant to be a light appetiser between meals to help gulp down some wine or beer. No wonder the most popular times to go de tapeo for Spaniards is midday or during the evening before dinner time.
A List of the Most Common Spanish Tapas
Albóndigas: meatballs made of pork and/or beef, served with sauce.
Bacalao: salted cod loin sliced very thinly, usually served with bread and tomatoes
Boquerones: white anchovies served in vinegar (boquerones en vinagre) or deep fried
Calamares or rabas: rings of battered squid
Croquetas: a common sight in bar counters and homes across Spain, served as a tapa, a light lunch, or a dinner along with a salad
Empanadillas: large or small turnovers filled with meats and vegetables
Ensaladilla rusa: Olivier salad, made with mixed boiled vegetables, tuna, olives and mayonnaise
Gambas: prawns sauteed in salsa negra (peppercorn sauce), al ajillo (with garlic), or pil-pil (with chopped chili peppers)
Patatas bravas or papas bravas: diced fried potato served with salsa brava a spicy tomato sauce, sometimes served also with mayo or aioli
Pulpo a la gallega: octopus cooked in boiling water (preferably in a copper cauldron or pan) and served hot in olive or vegetable oil.
Pincho moruno (Moorish spike): a stick with spicy meat, made of pork, lamb or chicken
Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) or tortilla española: a type of omelet containing fried chunks of potatoes and sometimes onion
Huevos rotos: A dish consisting of fried eggs with the yolk broken after cooking