Tapas is a plural term, so your question should really be 'what are tapas'. There are a number of myths about what tapas is all about. Here are just a few:
well I could as usual blather all day but this tutorial should whet the appetite into a whirling dervish of needing theses little delectable nuggets of Mediterranean love....
What Tapas is Not
•Tapas is not a particular type of food. Anything can be tapas - paella, croquettes, ham and cheese on toast,a buggar, truly anything. As long as it is small and served with your drink (either free or at a surcharge), it is tapas. It doesn't even have to be Spanish - in Granada there are a number of Moroccan bars that offer cous cous, falafel and kebabs as tapas.
•Tapas is not a starter. If you start eating tapas, you finish eating tapas, and you don't stop until you're full., almost bursting at the pleasure seams and still wanting that last morsel everyone is eyeballing on the plate. It is a state of mind not a state of sanity. Well my sanity perhaps.....
•Tapas is not a collection of small dishes brought out on a platter and eaten as a main course. The Spanish have a word for this - 'tabla'. Sooooo Cascal stretches with their description of the sampler I ordered. Yet I was well aware of what they meant and was in no mind to school the cute Peruvian waiter or proper terms. Mama wanted her food. Yes he was Peruvian, we were chatting about the differences of Peruvian Ceviche VS typical California style.(by the way its corn that makes big difference )So anyhooo
The Meaning of the Word Tapas
A 'tapa' is a 'lid' or 'cover'. In the early days of tapas, a slice of cheese or ham was given with your drink and placed over your drink. All week I called my hat my Tapas, Boy Racer got tired of my personal twist on Tapas and was promptly told to "shut the f#$% up".
There is some debate over why exactly this was done:
Let me clarify. Not why I was told to "shut the F$%# up"that is clear but why the ham on the cocktail.....
•To keep out the flies.
•To hide the smell of the bad wine.
•To keep the wind from blowing your drink everywhere.
I prefer the first explanation - a piece of ham will only hide the smell of the wine until you take it off to take a drink, while if there was a strong wind, surely the first thing to go flying would be the tapas!
There is another explanation which differs from the above. It is said that there was once a sick king - which one exactly differs according to who is telling the story - who couldn't drink alcohol without taking some food with it. He issued a royal decree that insisted that everyone should take food with their drinks. A slight variation of this one is that the benevolent king simply insisted that food should be taken with any drink out of concerns for the health issues associated with drinking on an empty stomach. Mmmm me and King need the food or trouble. Me; lamp shade on head shirt off ,he probably just got a head ache.
Tapas in Spain Today
So, with all the myths about tapas out of the way, this is what tapas is today. A tapa is invariably a small dish of something edible. It may be a smaller version (normally a quarter version) of something else on the menu or it may be sold exclusively as tapas. The tapas may or may not be free( In USA not free). Unfortunately the days of free tapas are over in much of Spain. If the tapas is given to you without you having asked for it, it will be free.
If you are invited to "go for tapas", you'll be visiting lots of bars and probably only taking a single tapas in each. If you are unfamiliar with the city you are in, you may be apprehensive about moving on from a bar you have found that you like, for fear of not finding another one as good. In which case, I would suggest taking a Tapas Tour in Spain instead. Led by a local expert, you will be taken to a number of tapas bars, sampling a dish and a drink in.
So there you have a Readers Digest version of TAPAS 101.
Go forth and nibble the love done in miniature. There is a plethora of Tapas joints in the Bay Area yet sadly my backyard of Santa Cruz county has not arrived on the Tabla or Tapas. But have not fear we are in a baby Renaissance. yea never know when a bar crawl will involve little bites of Parma Ham, Boqurrones,octopus and olives.....a girl can dream.
Good night Moon...