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Tapas, Small Bites of Spanish Flavor

Beth Ribblett

Tapas is every where these days, from bars to restaurants and even wine shops, this popular style of eating is a great way to experience lots of different flavors, textures and spices all in one sitting.

Originating in Spain, tapas are simply snacks, canapés or finger food that come in many different forms and can vary from town to town. Tapas can be practically anything from a chunk of tuna, cocktail onion and an olive skewered on a long toothpick to meat with sauce served piping hot in a miniature clay dish. They are served day in and day out in every bar and café in Spain. So much a part of the culture and social scene that the Spanish people invented the verb tapear which means to go and eat tapas!

Spanish tapas is at the very heart of their lifestyle and culture. Everywhere you go in Spain you will find lively and noisy bars serving small plates of superb flavors and local delicacies.

In its most basic form tapas is simply a small snack or appetizer taken with a drink or two at lunchtime or in the early evening before the main meal. It is essentially a style of eating rather than a form of cooking.

Tapas also means sociability, friends and family. The Spanish in general won't drink without eating something as well. This prompted canny bar owners into providing a morsel or two of food to encourage his customers into his bar. Originally these small snacks were given free to anyone who bought a drink in the bar but now you will nearly always have to pay for them.

The origin of tapas is the subject of many an argument in the local bar. (It seems to depend on which area of Spain you are from!) It is said that the first tapa was simply a hunk of bread which was placed over the glass to keep the flies out. Hence the word ‘tapas’ was born. Tapa literally meaning ‘cover’ or ‘lid’. In the beginning somewhere must have been the olive - plain and simple, on its own. What better accompaniment to a glass of dry fino sherry? Or maybe some almonds; fried in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and served while they’re still hot? These are the original tapas; the simplest of foods, requiring little or no preparation.

As the tradition developed, tapas became more of an elaborate event, with each region developing their own specialties. They were still 'little dishes' but the personalities of thousands of bar owners all over Spain has stamped them with the identities that they have today.

Ready to experiment, but don't know where to start? There are some great web sites out there, but one I found most helpful was There is also a great site to order any ingredients you may need that you can't find locally: Vega Tapas Cafe, Lola's and Rio Mar are my favorite places to eat tapas in the city, and of course you know where you can find some wonderful Spanish wines to accompany your cooking....

You can keep it simple or you can make it as complicated as you like. But whichever way you prefer it, tapas is best served with a glass of wine, good friends and a relaxed attitude!