Whenever you think of Spain you can’t remove one precise image from your mind, which fits perfectly into the idyllic and sunny frame where you see yourself sipping Sangria with Flamenco music in the background: an appetizing plate of Spanish tapas.
Tapas, an appetizer that has become truly emblematic for the Iberian culture, made their way to the Olympus of international culinary tradition and are officially recognized as a dish that deserves respect. But how did this happen?
Most people, foodies or not, know what tapas are but it’s curious that the latter actually have historical roots dating back to the times of the Catholic Inquisition. It is said that those small and delicious dishes were being served to travellers in order to reveal converted Jews, because they would reject the inviting recipes based on meat, ham and other non-kosher ingredients.
May this be true or not, what we do know is that the tapas have been part of the Spanish food culture since centuries and the trend seems to be growing.
The word “tapas” comes from the Spanish word “tapar”, which means “to cover”. Due to the hot climate, in Spain there has always been a problem with eating warm dishes outside, because of flies attacking the food. Therefore, the smartest foodies (or the hungriest ones) started covering the plates with bread slices or even flat cards when not eating the food. At some point this seems to have turned into a widely spread habit of creating a top cover with a snack.
Nowadays, the word tapas is being used for both cold and hot dishes, usually small portions served within typical Spanish pottery. The difference between tapas and other food is the fact that a tapa is not a complete meal, but the modern food habits have created dinners based on many different tapas combined together and shared among a group of people.
A tortilla is the Spanish version of the well-known omelette. History teaches us that the invention of this dish dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. During that period there was a big famine among the Spanish population, especially in the countryside and eggs were a rare good. That’s why some farmers invented a new version of the omelette with less eggs and potatoes used instead, able to feed 5-6 people. During our tapas tour through the beautiful Old town of Marbella you can try a delicious home-made Spanish tortilla and many other gourmet tapas.
The world-famous Spanish patatas bravas are one of the most traditional tapas dishes. The potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces, are pan-fried and then served with a spicy tomato sauce and pepper added on top. This is a dish that you definitely can’t miss during your holiday in Spain and you can eat it at every time of the day.
The world-class cured ham Jamón Serrano is THE Spanish export product par excellence. Since antique times, Spanish farmers have always produced dry cured hams. The word “serrano” comes from the Spanish word “sierra”, which means mountain. This because the ham was cured in mountain areas with moderate climates, usually from the month of November onwards. The simple process is based on covering the meat with salt, then washing and hanging it in dry and ventilated rooms. The hams are ready after about a year, the long and natural curing process justifies the not so low price of this tasteful and healthy product. Jamón Serrano is one of the highlights of Do Eat Better’s tapas tours in Spain.
The so-called croquetas are well sized, they usually can be eaten in a bite, after being deep fried. They contain ham, béchamel sauce, flour, salt and pepper, other ingredients can be added to create new variants of the traditional recipe. Croquetas are typically served as tapas but they can also be added to meat and fish as a side dish. There are variants with cheese and without ham for vegetarians.
This tapas dish finds its origins in the very south of Spain, in Andalusia. The shrimps are pan-fried in hot olive oil (Spanish olive oil is one of the major export products of the country) with garlic and sometimes pepper, so that during the frying process they assimilate the flavour of those spices. The shrimps are then served in a small pot or plate within the cooking oil, while they are still hot, and covered with a lid in order to keep them warm. That’s why the gambas al pil pil are the most iconic expression of the word tapas, because they are still being covered and served like the original dishes.
After reading our suggestions and curiosities on the Spanish tapas, if you feel ready for trying the recipes in their home country Spain, join the gourmet tapas tour of Do Eat Better Experience.
We have created amazing food tours and cooking experiences that will show you how and what local people enjoy eating. Typical dishes, served in different restaurants, will present you the local food culture.