Endulge me for a moment. There’s a lot of quirky history about the origin how tapas small plates came into being. Let me regale you with a few interesting tidbits about the evolution of its tradition…
First, how do you pronounce Tapas? When pronounced correctly, it sounds like [TAH-pahs]. If pronounced like a typical United States-er, like me, it might be heard as sounding like TAP-uhs… It’s your choice!
Second, what is the definition of Tapas? Well, I browsed, and peeked and looked everywhere. This is the best tapas definition I could find.
Popular throughout Spain in bars and restaurants, tapas are appetizers that usually accompany SHERRY or other APÉRITIFS or COCKTAILS. They can also form an entire meal and can range from simple items such as olives or cubes of ham and cheese to more elaborate preparations like cold omelets, snails in a spicy sauce, stuffed peppers and miniature sandwiches.
Sounds absolutely like my kind of meal! I love anything “miniature”. Including my food!
Now on to more of the history of tapas…
Tapas and the tapas small plates tradition come from Spain as the story goes. They are snacks. As simple as that! These Spanish snacks are small plates with little portions of olives, cheese, bread and lots other unique and creative combinations of food and tapas ingredients.
In Spanish, the word Tapa means “cover”. So how does this relate to “snacks” you ask? Well, there are several interesting explanations.
The most commonly cited narrative of the etymology of tapa is that it is an item, either a piece of bread or a flat card of some kind that would often be placed on top of a drink to protect it from those annoying, buzzy flies (smart!) Somewhere in time, it became a custom to put on top of the “cover” small nibbles of delectable goodies (really smart!) Viola! Tapas small plates were created – IF this explanation is to be believed.
Another theory is that the tapas “covered” the appetite between the time Spaniards finished work and when they would take their late evening meals. (Sheesh! I would be hungry too if I had to wait that late to eat!)
There’s also the story that some experts believe that the name, tapa or tappas originated sometime around the 16th century. At that time, a few tavern owners from Castilla-La Mancha discovered that the strong, odiferous smell of mature cheese could help disguise the fact that they were serving bad wine from their establishments.
Thus, serving free cheese with the wine “covered” the bad taste of the wine and the fact that they were cheating their customers! The offering of free cheese when serving cheap wine, became wildly popular.
Unscrupulous practices? Yes, but the mouth-watering custom of tapas small plates was invented, according to this version of it’s origin.
One more interesting bit of tapas history:
A few researchers assert that the tapa was born when the Spanish king, Alfonso the 10th (known as The Wise), became ill and had to take small bites of food with some wine between meals. (Wow! He must not have been feeling too bad!)
Once King Al recovered from whatever disease was afflicting him, he decreed that no wine was to be served in any of the inns in the land of Castile… (what???!!!! no wine??? wait… keep reading…) UNLESS, the wine was served with something to eat. No wonder they called him King Al, the Wise.
Lots of people in his kingdom, apparently would drink their meals (and we’re not talking milk!) instead of eating their meals. You can only imagine what the streets must have been like at night, back in the olden days of Spain before the recovered king had his say.
Beyond the royal disease of our friend, Wise King Al, in recorded tapas history, there’s yet another theory that the first tapas small plates appeared because of the need to take small amounts of food during the work day of many farmers and workers.
This allowed them to continue working until it was time to eat the heavy midday meal. (Wow, yet, another demonstration of the voracious appetite of man… oh how we all love to nibble). Wine was the perfect drink to go along with the tapas small plates.
And if you didn’t know this already, wine makes you feel mellow, increases strength, (or so the workers all told their wives!) And in the winter, a little wine warmed the body to help the workers combat those cold, cold days in the fields and workshops of the Middle Ages.
So, between covering the wine with smelly cheese and covering the wine from dirty, germ-carrying flies, small plates evolved from these covering practices. Small plates can only contain small portions, thus, a small bite before a meal not only enhanced the appetite, but had a usefulness beyond the obvious.
Today, a favorite way of eating is indeed smaller portions on small plates.
Wow! Now you know a little more than you did 5 minutes ago!
If you are interested in some traditional tapas recipes, please visit Easy Appetizer Recipes found at http://www.easy-appetizer-recipes.com. where you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the variety of choices. Enjoy the tapas tradition!
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