Tapas Culture: A Spanish Tradition

When you go to Spain, you may discover your drinks are served alongside some great-tasting snacks or appetizers presented on small plates. This is the traditional way of serving drinks in Spain and many bars across the country still maintain this habit of serving a free tapa with every drink.

Tapas culture has become a very significant part of the drinking and social scene in Spain as most people usually meet with their friends or family at a local tapas bar. In general, the Spanish usually eat something every time they have a drink.

This style of serving food in small portions provides convenience to the drinkers who usually eat while they are standing and having a conversation with their drinking buddies. Moreover, it is also common in Spain to move from bar to bar during the evening. So after finishing a tapas and a glass at one bar, they still crave another and move on to the next.

In the Basque Country in Northern Spain, tapas are known as pintxos and are often served on bread and skewered with a small stick known as a palillo.

Pintxos in San Sebastian


The origins of tapas culture

The term tapas is derived from the Spanish verb tapar which means to cover. Much can be said about the origin of tapas culture; some people suppose that the term must have originated at the time when mature cheese was used by tavern owners to disguise or cover the smell and taste of bad wines. There were times in the past when bread was used to cover the rim of the glass to prevent fruit flies from landing in the wine.

There is also the famous legend about the wise Spanish King Alfonso the 10th, who once fell ill. Because of his illness, the king was only allowed to drink a little wine and eat a little food.  After he recovered, he ordered wine must be served with a small snack in every tavern. Moreover, some historians claim that the tradition might have begun when field workers or farmers would imbibe wine and eat a little food between meals so that they would have enough energy to work through the day.

Tapas culture today

Tapas dishes may vary in their flavors, depending on the city, town or village. However, they all taste good with any wine or drink. There is actually an endless list when it comes to the types of tapas served in Spain. However, common varieties include omlette, almonds, meat, cheese, olives, croquettes, mussels, prawns, pastries, squid, meatballs and more!

As they are light, tapas are served at can be eaten any time of the day. In some areas of Spain that cater for tourism, tapas are no longer given free with each drink but must instead be ordered separately, but this can vary from bar to bar. However, in many cities, including Granada and Jaen, and in most rural areas, the tradition of free tapas is still alive and well.

But remember, you can’t be choosy about your free tapas; after all, it is a gift from the bar to you!

Words by Kristine Escarilla

(Main photo: Bar Los Diamantes, Granada)



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