Endulge me for a moment. There's a lot of quirky history about
the origin how tapas small plates came into being. Let me regale you
with a few interesting tidbits about the evolution of its tradition...
how do you pronounce Tapas? When pronounced correctly, it sounds like
[TAH-pahs]. If pronounced like a typical United States-er, like me, it
might be heard as sounding like TAP-uhs... It's your choice!
what is the definition of Tapas? Well, I browsed, and peeked and looked
everywhere. This is the best tapas definition I could find.
throughout Spain in bars and restaurants, tapas are appetizers that
usually accompany SHERRY or other APÉRITIFS or COCKTAILS. They can also
form an entire meal and can range from simple items such as olives or
cubes of ham and cheese to more elaborate preparations like cold
omelets, snails in a spicy sauce, stuffed peppers and miniature
Sounds absolutely like my kind of meal! I love anything "miniature". Including my food!
Now on to more of the history of tapas...
and the tapas small plates tradition come from Spain as the story goes.
They are snacks. As simple as that! These Spanish snacks are small
plates with little portions of olives, cheese, bread and lots other
unique and creative combinations of food and tapas ingredients.
Spanish, the word Tapa means "cover". So how does this relate to
"snacks" you ask? Well, there are several interesting explanations.
most commonly cited narrative of the etymology of tapa is that it is an
item, either a piece of bread or a flat card of some kind that would
often be placed on top of a drink to protect it from those annoying,
buzzy flies (smart!) Somewhere in time, it became a custom to put on top
of the "cover" small nibbles of delectable goodies (really smart!)
Viola! Tapas small plates were created - IF this explanation is to be
Another theory is that the tapas "covered" the appetite
between the time Spaniards finished work and when they would take their
late evening meals. (Sheesh! I would be hungry too if I had to wait that
late to eat!)
There's also the story that some experts believe
that the name, tapa or tappas originated sometime around the 16th
century. At that time, a few tavern owners from Castilla-La Mancha
discovered that the strong, odiferous smell of mature cheese could help
disguise the fact that they were serving bad wine from their
Thus, serving free cheese with the wine "covered"
the bad taste of the wine and the fact that they were cheating their
customers! The offering of free cheese when serving cheap wine, became
Unscrupulous practices? Yes, but the
mouth-watering custom of tapas small plates was invented, according to
this version of it's origin.
One more interesting bit of tapas history:
few researchers assert that the tapa was born when the Spanish king,
Alfonso the 10th (known as The Wise), became ill and had to take small
bites of food with some wine between meals. (Wow! He must not have been
feeling too bad!)
Once King Al recovered from whatever
disease was afflicting him, he decreed that no wine was to be served in
any of the inns in the land of Castile... (what???!!!! no wine???
wait... keep reading...) UNLESS, the wine was served with something to
eat. No wonder they called him King Al, the Wise.
Lots of people in his kingdom, apparently would drink
their meals (and we're not talking milk!) instead of eating their
meals. You can only imagine what the streets must have been like at
night, back in the olden days of Spain before the recovered king had his
Beyond the royal disease of our friend, Wise King Al, in
recorded tapas history, there's yet another theory that the first tapas
small plates appeared because of the need to take small amounts of food
during the work day of many farmers and workers.
This allowed them
to continue working until it was time to eat the heavy midday meal.
(Wow, yet, another demonstration of the voracious appetite of man... oh
how we all love to nibble). Wine was the perfect drink to go along with
the tapas small plates.
And if you didn't know this already, wine
makes you feel mellow, increases strength, (or so the workers all told
their wives!) And in the winter, a little wine warmed the body to help
the workers combat those cold, cold days in the fields and workshops of
the Middle Ages.
So, between covering the wine with smelly cheese
and covering the wine from dirty, germ-carrying flies, small plates
evolved from these covering practices. Small plates can only contain
small portions, thus, a small bite before a meal not only enhanced the
appetite, but had a usefulness beyond the obvious.
Today, a favorite way of eating is indeed smaller portions on small plates.
Wow! Now you know a little more than you did 5 minutes ago!