The Tale of Tapas: from the 19th Century to 2017

In honor of World Tapas Day, we’re going to take you on a culinary trip back in time, to the very beginning of Spain’s foodie claim to fame: the tapa. There are many legends regarding the birth of tapas and how it evolved into the beloved “small bites meant for sharing” that we know today. Whether we can thank King Alfonso XIII, King Fernando XVII or King Fernando VII…nobody is quite sure. However, whichever king it was, we know that the story goes something like this:

The history

Once upon a time, in Spain’s southernmost region of Andalusia, existed a king (arguably King Alfonso). As the King was journeying through the south, he wanted to take a pit stop to quench his thirst. So, he stopped in a tavern and ordered a glass of sherry wine. When the waiter brought out his glass of wine, it was covered, or “topped” with a piece of ham (although some say it was cheese, and others a slice of bread). The glass was covered to prevent sand, dust, and bugs from blowing into his wine. Although the King knew the purpose his “top” served, he ate it anyway! Hence the word “tapa”, which means lid. He enjoyed the snack with his wine so much, he continued to order a “small bite” to accompany his drink at every bar he went to thereafter!

The King’s custom spread across Spain. In fact, soon after the birth of the tapa, national laws were made stating that it was mandatory for a tavern to serve a small snack with every drink ordered. Bar owners saw the benefit in it as well; by serving a salty snack, bar goers drank their drink faster, yet didn’t get drunk as quickly. King Felipe III saw it as a solution to a bigger problem, and enforced the law to prevent drunken sailors from getting out of control.

The evolution

The tapa started out as a simple, savory snack; a few slices of cheese, ham or chorizo usually served with a slice of bread. Since the 19th century, needless to say, the tapa has evolved into something much, much more complex. While many traditional tapas bars throughout Spain still serve the timeless classics, the tapas culture is ever-evolving as an icon of Spain’s culinary identity.

Let’s fast forward to 2017. Modern and innovative gastrobars are continuously becoming more and more popular throughout the country, especially in metropolitan areas. These nouvelle-styled gastrobars feature traditional flavors like ham, grilled meats and regional cheeses, mixed with out-of-the-box ingredients like fruit compotes or caramelized onions. There are also many international-fusion tapas bars that incorporate flavors and styles from abroad, like Mexican-styled tapas, mini hamburgers and sushi tapas.

While tapas greatly vary from region to region, from simple to elaborate and traditional to nouvelle, one thing remains consistent: tapas are to be shared with friends and family in a social and joyous atmosphere. While it is no longer “law” to serve a complimentary tapa with every alcoholic drink (although in some cities like Granada, the tradition still holds true) it is custom. You will rarely find a group of friends enjoying a drink in a tavern without something scrumptious to share!

Now that you know the history of tapas, it’s your turn to celebrate World Tapas Day on June 15th and tapear! The question is, what’ll it be, traditional or modern?

Written by: Casie Tennin May 31, 2017  

And now, the winners of a tasty tapas kit from our #TapasDay quiz What kind of foodie are you? The winners were picked randomly amongst the contest participants, which was available on our Facebook page from May 16 to June 4. Winner 1 - Nancy Kunkel DeFauw Winner 2 - Ruby Espinosa Winner 3 - Fred Fanning Thank you all for participating, and to the winners: ¡que aproveche!

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