The word tapas comes from the verb tapar, to cover, and the noun tapa, cover or lid. There are many legends that attempt to explain the roots of tapas, although their true origin is unknown. One of these legends claims that tapas were conceived out of a need to cover one's glass to keep the flies out. But were there really more flies in Spain than in other countries? Others state that tapas "cover" one's stomach, i.e. line it with some food, to protect it from the alcohol. (One of the most valuable pieces of advice an old tavernero gave me when I first arrived in Spain in 1998 was "always eat more than you drink and you'll never get drunk".) Yet another legend says that tapas were meant to "cover" the appetites of field workers; they would nibble on something in order to regain their strength to keep working.
Regardless of their original intent, nowadays tapas have gained worldwide acceptance. But mind you, tapas are not really a category of food, but rather a way of eating. What I love most is the social aspect: you never eat tapas on your own; they are meant to be shared, with long conversations, slow wine sipping, and probably some bar-hopping in between bites and wine glasses.
Each region of Spain has its own version of tapas, though the most authentic tapas experience comes from Andalusia, the south of Spain, and Madrid. The Basques have their pintxos, the Catalans (an infamously anti-tapas crowd, according to Colman Andrews) have their aperitivo. An entire glossary surrounds tapas eating (raciones, pinchos, montadito, etc.), as well as countless recipes. As long as it is served in small portions almost any dish can qualify as a tapa, and there are very few foods that are served exclusively as tapas.
Tapas are most often savory, though sweet tapas have gained increasing popularity in recent years.
Here is a selection of tapas we served at a recent event:
Would you like to share some tapas, wine and a relaxed sobremesa with us? Join one of our Friday night dinners! Seasonal menu changes every week. More info at firstname.lastname@example.org