Spain: The Basics. Tapas

Tapas are as synonomous with Spain as sun and sandy beaches.

There are several theories about how tapas, which are basically bar snacks, came into being. ‘Tapa’ literally means ‘cover’ or ‘lid’, and a popular explanation is that a lid was once put on top of drinks to keep off the flies. Over time it became the custom to place little snacks on top of the lids. Another theory says that a waiter to King Alfonso XII covered his glass of sherry with a slice of ham to protect it from sand blowing off the beach. So impressed was the king that he asked for his second sherry to come with the same ‘tapa’.

There are several theories about how tapas, which are basically bar snacks, came into being. ‘Tapa’ literally means ‘cover’ or ‘lid’, and a popular explanation is that a lid was once put on top of drinks to keep off the flies. Over time it became the custom to place little snacks on top of the lids. Another theory says that a waiter to King Alfonso XII covered his glass of sherry with a slice of ham to protect it from sand blowing off the beach. So impressed was the king that he asked for his second sherry to come with the same ‘tapa’.

Whatever their true origin, tapas certainly caught on in a big way! Served mainly in Andalusia (in the south of Spain), tapas are either free with a drinks order, or they are charged for separately. They come hot or cold and are typically displayed on the bar counter.

Much of Speekee was filmed in the Andalusian town of Arcos de la Frontera, where an annual Ruta de la Tapa, or Tapas Route, takes place. It’s an opportunity for the local bars to display their culinary skills by creating their own special tapa, served alongside a glass of wine. Locals and visitors to Arcos de la Frontera are given a reference card showing a map of the tapas route and a list of the tapas in each bar. They can then have their card stamped at each bar they visit. If they fill the card with stamps from each and every one of the bars they can claim a free case of wine! They also use the cards to vote for their favourite tapa and favourite waiter or waitress. The bar with the most votes is presented with a certificate from the Town Hall.

Here are some typical tapas dishes from Spain:

Tapas - Cheese Tapas - Pinchos Tapas - Peppers and Cod Tapas - Chicken
Queso Manchego (Manchego Cheese) Pinchos de langostino con beicon (Kebabs of langoustine and bacon) Pimientos de piquillo rellenos de bacalao (Red peppers stuffed with cod) Lagrimas de pollo (‘Tears’ of chicken)

Here is a recipe to make a simple tapa called a ‘tortilla’, or Spanish omelette. You can watch a tortilla being made in Speekee Series 1, Episode 6.

Making a tortilla

Tortilla ingredients

You need: 6 eggs, 2 large potatoes and one onion (optional), some olive oil for frying.

Finely chop the onion and fry until golden brown.

Cut the potatoes into cubes approximately 1 cm squared.

Remove the onions from the frying pan, add some more olive oil and fry the potato cubes until they are soft.

Tortilla ingredients

Remove potatoes from the frying pan and drain off any excess oil (you only need to leave a little oil in the pan).

Beat the eggs together in a bowl or jug. Add the potatoes and onions and return all the mixture to the frying pan.

Once the underneath of the tortilla is set (but the top part is still raw) place a plate over the frying pan and turn the tortilla onto it. Slide the raw (now) underside of the tortilla back into the pan and with a fork prick the tortilla all over.

Tortilla

Once the underside is set (it takes about 5 minutes) turn out onto a plate.

Enjoy your tortilla hot or cold. Serve with bread and salad (optional). Tortilla is eaten in Spain at any time of the day, even for breakfast! Yum, yum!

Until next time readers,

Jim

Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee®, home of the most comprehensive Spanish learning program for children ever to appear online

Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…

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