August 24, 2016 No Comments

Spanish Tapas – Bar Food the Whole World Enjoys

Tapas have long been a staple among Spanish people and today they are enjoyed in many countries around the world.

The word ‘tapa’ means lid or cover, just as the verb tapar means to cover. The term originated in the fields, when workers would stop for a beer or glass of wine, and place a piece of bread on top of the glass to keep flies away; they were putting a tapa on the glass. They would nibble on the bread as they drank, to help soak up the alcohol, and sometimes they would also snack on pieces of cheese or ham, and olives. From there grew the habit of snacking on a small treat while drinking, and so evolved the tapas we know and love today.

Bars all over Spain, and now in other countries, offer tapas along with drinks, usually at a small cost; However if you find a typical bodega, geerally away from the tourist hotspots, you will still find they provide a small tapa included in the cost of your drink.

Spaniards go to ‘tapear’ or for a ‘tapeo’ which means to go to a few bars sampling the wines, vermouths, cavas, or beers, and tapas. Many Spaniards; particularly from the south, say they find it impossible to drink without something to eat. One favourite phrase is “Drinks are too wet without tapas”!

In the UK where tapas bars are springing up all over, they usually serve bigger portions of everything and people tend to make a meal of them; ordering several dishes to share within the group. On the contrary in Spain a tapa may be just one piece of cheese or ham, or a tiny dish of 5-6 olives. There are also ‘montaditos’ which come from the North West and are slices of bread from a baquette, topped with anchovy, ham, cheese, or sometimes piled with a few things. These have become part of the array of tapas on offer in tapas bars, or given free with drinks in bodegas.

Spanish cured ham, known as jamon Serrano, jamon iberico, or jamon de pais; depending on the quality; is Spain’s answer to Italian Parma ham. This is quite delicious, although the ham legs hanging from the ceilings are not so attractive, but a frequent sight.

Spanish people tend to eat their main meal at lunch time, and this is usually a heavy meal with at least 3 courses; hence the need for a siesta, or nap, afterwards. Often at weekends they will go for vermouths, sherries, wines etc, with the accompanying tapas, before they even get to lunch! Then they will eat a light evening meal of something like an omelette, prawns, salad, fruit, or of course tapas; tapas will be the usual choice if meeting friends for drinks, as they can be eaten standing up in company.

When you find a bar or restaurant with the glass-covered dishes on display, you can see what you’re getting and just point if you don’t speak the language, but be sure to say “Tapa” if that’s what you want, otherwise you will get a full serving, or ‘racion’ (ration) Most price lists will show the item and then the price per tapa and the price per racion. When in a large group where you all like the same things, it may be wise to order a racion of each to share, rather than several individual tapas of the same thing.

In tourist areas you will still find tapas bars, but they will for sure be much more expensive than in local bars and bodegas. There is no hard and fast rule for tipping in Spain, but the norm is around 10% on food, and just loose change at a bar. Most bars, except the real tourist spots, will run you a tab while you eat and drink, or even just drink, and you pay when you leave.

Nightclubs and tourist bars like the English pubs will charge as you order, because they are so large and busy, and generally have computerised tills, but the small local bars will stick to their usual custom of paying as you leave. Do not try to take advantage of this however, for if you should try to skip out you would soon find yourself surrounded by all the regulars in the place!

Bars and bodegas in Spain are usually open very early for coffee and pastries (as well as alcohol if you want it!), and stay open all day until around midnight. Tourist bars and night clubs usually only open in the evenings and then stay till late. Depending where you are in Spain; bars normally close at 3am and clubs at 5 or 6 am, so there is generally something open at all times; as the clubs close, the coffee bars are opening. Restaurants in high season will be open all day from around noon to midnight, but in low season or outside tourist areas, they will open for lunch, close between 4 and 7 then open again for dinner. Most Spanish eat late; about 2-3pm lunch and after 9.30pm dinner, so if you go early they shouldn’t be too busy, except in resort where they work mostly with tourists.

There is so much to enjoy about tapas, and Spanish food in general, so that everyone should be able to finding something they enjoy. Tasting tapas is a great way to try things you will never come across at home, and you may even find your new favourite dish.


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