The origin of ‘Tapas’

The origin of ‘Tapas’

29 de March

Myths about the origin of Tapas

Where does the concept of Tapas come from? There are many myths and many different answers to this question. In this blog we will bring you some of these myths and stories behind the origin of Tapas:

Myth 1: King Alfonso X recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, he made all bars and restaurants serve a small ‘tapa’ with the wine being ordered.

Myth 2: During the Spanish Civil War, the food supplies where low causing hunger in the country, so when food was served it would only be in small portions. This could consist of just a piece of bread or a bit of sausage or alike, always being small amounts at a time.

Myth 3: It was king Alfonso XIII who ‘invented’ the tapa. During a visit to the bar El Ventorillo del Chato, he ordered a glass of wine when suddenly a heavy storm reached the area. In order to keep dust/sand and insects (such as fruit flies) away from the wine, the waiter would put slices of jamón (cured ham) on top of the glass to cover it (‘tapar’ in Spanish means ‘to cover’). The monarch loved this idea so from this point on every time he ordered a glass of wine, he would ask for jamón to accompany it. After this, the accompanying snack became very popular.

Myth 4: A final possibility surrounds Felipe III, who passed a law in an effort to curb rowdy drunken behaviour, particularly among soldiers and sailors. The law stated that when one purchased a drink, the bartender was to offer a small quantity of food as part of the purchase of the beverage, the hope being that the food would slow the effects of the alcohol.

Other possible origins of the Tapa:

  • The habit of having small delicacies before the main course is part of the Jewish and Arabic gastronomical traditions, cultures that have left a significant culinary print in Spain over the years.
  • In the 17th century ‘tapa’ (from the French word ‘étape’) would be used for the food offered to the military troops in the different places they came by.
  • Tales have been told how Don Quijote and Sancho Panza were meeting up with pilgrims, who were always well supplied. The pilgrims would typically travel with olives, nuts, cold cuts and cheese, all being either a bit salty or spicy and this way calling for something to drink.
  • Bartenders and restaurant owners realised that the saltiness of the tapas would cause thirst and this way they used the tapas to increase alcohol sales. Others say that the strong flavours of cured cheese or ham could disguise the not so pleasant flavours of a cheap wine.

So, as you can see there is no clear answer to the origin of the Spanish tapa. For this reason, we invite you to do your own field work and discover this fascinating culinary world of small dishes. We have prepared a route as an example, taking place in Seville, and in each of the stops of the way we are presenting a tapas dish paired with one of our Sherry wines. We recommend doing this route in pleasant company and to take your time while you enjoy each of these traditional and charismatic places.

First stop: Casa Moreno – a unique example of the old corner shops where they started to serve tapas. They have one of the most beloved waiters in the entire city.

We recommend: Tio Pepe Fino with jamón, spicy chorizo and Asturian cheese (Cabrales)

Second stop: Bodega Morales – a typical bodega opened by people from the region La Mancha who wanted to sell their wines in Seville.

We recommend: Viña AB Amontillado with artichoke and vegetable stew (berza gaditana)

Third stop: Bodeguita Romero – Family bar famous for its small sandwiches (montadito de pringado) and its potato salad (patatas aliñadas). The owners are very passionate towards Sherry wines.

We recommend: Leonor with ‘montadito de pringado’ and Alfonso with slow cooked ox-cheeks (carrillada)

Fourth Stop: Tomamojama – New kind of Abacería, specialised in Sherry, fresh tuna and salted fish. They offer both the possibility of tasting raw and cured versions.

We recommend: Tio Pepe with Semi salted tuna called Mojama, Bonito and Mújol roe. This would go well with mussels with pickled foam and potato salad with mayonnaise and Maruca roe and grated Mojama.

Fifth and final stop - La Azotea: Here you will find innovative and interesting tapas with ingredients from other gastronomical traditions, all made with the highest quality products available. Although being innovative, they still use the traditional cooking techniques offering tapas which are easy to understand and show the products as naturally as possible.

We recommend: Apóstoles with homemade foie and fruit jam. Noé with a chocolate coolant for dessert.

We hope you have the possibility of enjoying the fascinating world of tapas and all the pairing possibilities with the Sherry wines. It is only a matter of going to many different places and trying as many interesting dishes as possible. The choice is yours!   Information Sources:  Isabel González Turmo, Sevilla banquetes, tapas, cartas, y menús, 1863-1995

  Aldara Arias de Saavedra Guide Manager