Tapas and Culture

5 01 2010

As you browse Playa Grill’s menu, you may stumble upon the word “tapas” which is often coupled with a specialty margarita or ale for a “tapas hour” price. Tapas can be a wide variety of snacks, finger foods and appetizers or just a small portion of a dish. In Spain, tapas are served in between meals, often with a drink, to tide you over until the next meal. Tapa literally means a ‘lid’ or ‘cover’ because in old Spain when you ordered a drink, a slice of bread, cheese or ham was served on top.

Legend has it that the birth of tapas began when the Spanish King Alfonso X was sick with a disease. During his illness, he ate very small portions of food with wine in between meals. He soon recovered and decided to make a new law in the land of Castile that at all times, wine was to be served with food. He hoped this would help counteract the harmful affects of alcohol on an empty stomach—such as disease. Many poor people would get sick because they would order alcohol but would not have enough money for a meal to go with it.

The inception of tapas was also a great snack item for farmers and workshop laborers to stop and eat in the middle of their workday so they could finish strong.

Although tapas originated in rural Spanish taverns, many countries have their own equivalent of tiny starter-size dishes: hors d’oeuvres in France, antipasto in Italy, maze in Greece or Turkey, and dim sum in China. Tapas are now an important Mexican menu item as well.

Tapas are more than just finger foods and appetizers – serving a tapa is a way of bringing people together and encouraging conversation rather than simply filling their stomachs. The tapeo conversation is a key part of this eating ritual.

Tapas tradition has developed by integrating ingredients and influences from many different cultures and countries. Tapas have become such an integral part of social life in Spain that there is a verb ‘tapear’ which means “to eat tapas!” Most of the time tapas are eaten standing up at a table because the portions are so small. People refer to this action as “picar” or “to peck” instead of the normal word for eating, “comer.”

Tapas can be as simple or fancy as you want them to be. It is best served with an early evening drink among friends. In Granada, one tapa is complimentary with each round of drinks ordered. Playa Grill’s “tapas hour” aims to stick with tradition where you can choose from one of four appetizers with the order of any alcoholic beverage from 3-6pm daily.

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One response

29 01 2010
Rosalie Ingraham

Very interesting article. I’ve always wondered what “tapas” were and now I even have learned the history of them. Great writing! Can’t wait to come to your restaurant and try some!

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