The History of Tapas

What’s the deal with tapas?

Most of us know and love tapas, and if we don’t already, we will soon.

Tapas pic

Tapas, or small appetizers, have been around forever in Spain, but the trendy style of eating is making its way to North America. Savory, delicious, and typically served with drinks while hanging out with people whose company you truly enjoy, what’s not to love about tapas?

Ceviche Pic

But how’d they come to be anyway?

Here’s a brief history lesson on the tasty snacks. Mind you, most of what we know about the tasty Spanish snacks are based on stories – not fact.

Spicy Mussels Pic

Here’s one thing we know. The word “tapas” comes from the Spanish word “tapar”. This means “to cover”. Essentially, that’s all we really know about “tapas”.

But what does this have to do with food? Well, in the 1800s, there were a lot of hungry travelers out on the treacherous European roads. These people needed places to stay, and Spain offered many Inns placed along the road that had both rooms and meals for the hungry travelers. Competition was high, and in order to entice the travelers to choose their particular inn, the owners would offer small samples of the food available for each evening, hoping the travelers would choose their inn over the one just down the road. This sample was called a “tapa” which was the word for a pot cover in Spanish. It was essentially a “taste” of food – similar to the meaning of “tapa” today.

Another theory is that Andalusian taverns used to have a lot of sherry drinkers – a sweet wine that of course attracted bugs. In order to keep the bugs out of the drinks, the taverns provided customers with a piece of bread or meat to place over their glasses while they weren’t drinking. The meat happened to be ham or chorizo, both of which were very salty and activated thirst. Based on that theory, the Andalusian bar and restaurant owners noticed an increase in liquor consumption and created small snacks to serve with sherry all of the time. Snacks = thirst = increased liquor sales. And yet another theory for how tapas came to be.


But wait. There’s more!

Another legend says that this man, King Alfonso X, El Sabio – A.K.A. “the wise one” was insistent that taverns that served wine should always serve some food with the wine. He figured this would keep the customers from being vulgar and fighting with one another.

Do we know which tale is true? No. Not really.

But that’s OK – because what is important is that tapas are around and available and de-lish-ous.

Look at all of these options!

Tapas pic 2

When in Spain – know that each region is known for different tapas. Some places provided free tapas with each drink, while others charge per item. Talk to the locals to find out where the best tapas joints are and be ready for CHAOS. The good places are full of people cozied up to the bar, eating standing up, standing shoulder to shoulder, and having conversations with friends and strangers alike. Get in there, and enjoy!

Here’s a picture of my friend and me at a tapas joint in Barcelona:



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