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Find out about Spanish Tapas and how they originated...

Updated on April 2, 2016

Colourful Spanish Tapas


Just the ticket!

Over the many years I have lived in Spain, I have never tired of the omnipresent 'tapa' available 'on tap' (!) in the famous 'tapas bars' throughout the length and breadth of the country These are traditionally small bite-sized snacks often on display in Spanish bars and intended to be taken together with a small glass of wine or beer. I find them just the ticket when I have no time to shop/cook/get home for lunch etc., and on several occasions I have survived for a few days at a time on 'tapas' alone! In Some places they are often only available before lunch-time late morning and before dinner in the evening. (A very important fact to note in order to avoid great disappointment!) You do not usually find tapas in restaurants or cafeterias in Spain as they tend to be considered a speciality in themselves. However, I wonder how many people are aware of the interesting historical origin of the Spanish 'tapa'.

What a great idea

Glasses of red wine, safe from all impurities!
Glasses of red wine, safe from all impurities! | Source

History or legend?

The meaning ' una tapa' in English is 'a cover' or 'lid'. Some historians believe that it refers to a small snack served in a 'taberna' in Spain, its origin dating back to medieval times. One theory is that it had become noticeable that flies and other impurities were attracted to the wine in clients' drinking vessels by tavern owners and so it became customary to serve the wine or beer with a kind of cover, or 'tapa', consisting of a piece of bread large enough to cover the cup itself. This obviously prevented any undesirable visitor from landing in the cup.However, there are several other theories...

King Alfonso X the Wise

King Alfonso was certainly very wise!
King Alfonso was certainly very wise! | Source

King Alfonso X The Wise

Some historians believe that 'tapas' were all due to King Alfonso X The Wise, medieval King of Castille, in the XIII century. It is said that Alfonso became ill and was not able to take wine, so his physicians advised him (very wisely) to take small bites of food to accompany his wine! When he recovered he issued a decree obliging all tavern owners to serve small pieces of food with wine or beer served and apparently this law is still in force as it has never been removed! 

There is more!

However, the origin of 'tapas' has also been attributed to two other kings! It is also said that King Felipe the Third of Spain (1578-1621) ordered a small snack of food to be served with all alcohol, in order to keep his subjects sober, or at least more sober. Apparently, the effects of alcohol were imparing his subjects capacity for work on the lands (for him, no doubt!)

Feast for a king?

King Felipe could never have imagined what he started...
King Felipe could never have imagined what he started... | Source

Another Alfonso


Another legend tells that really it was all down to King Alfonso XII (1857-1885) while travelling along the windy coast of Cádiz in Andalucía. When he stopped for a well-earned rest, he was served wine by a local tavern owner on the beach. Because the coast of Cádiz is so windy, sand was blowing into his drink and the tavern keeper covered his goblet with a piece of Spanish cured ham! Apparently he asked for another wine with a 'tapa' or cover to keep the sand out!

WHAT A SPREAD... | Source

You have got to try them for yourself!

In the midst of all this myth and legend I can only recommend you to get down to your local 'bar de tapas' to deliberate on the historical origins of such wonder, while you let your eyes drift lazily along the splendour of colours spread before you enticingly across the bar! Only there will it become clear that the origins although fascinating, really do not matter all the time.

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You can also comment below if you found this article interesting.

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Which 'tapa origin' theory do you feel is most probable?

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Try cooking tapas yourelf with these recipes


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