After capping off my school year with countless papers and exams, I made it my personal mission to detox from academia in the most relaxing and cost-efficient way. After briefly surfing the web, I found a great deal on a flight to Barcelona, and decided there’d be no better place to calm my frontal cortex than a Spanish beach city. After checking into my hostel in the center of the gothic quarter, the front-desk worker jumped at the chance to recommend his personal favorite place for the Spanish finger food: tapas. I had heard of the culinary custom, but wasn’t familiar with what they entailed– which would soon prove to be an embarrassing mistake on my part.
My friends and I were quickly seated at an outdoor table on the bustling street, “La Rambla.” After ordering a pitcher of Sangria for the table to share, I asked the waiter to bring us some tapas. He then proceeded to ask me a question I should’ve seen coming: “Yes, or course! Which ones would you like?” You see, I had naively thought that “tapas” were some sort of food in-an-of-themselves, and so I wasn’t aware that tapas is actually an umbrella term for all sorts of delicious Spanish finger-foods. The waiter sensed my hesitation, and handed me a menu that not only listed the tapas, but also had pictures beneath to help us better understand what we were actually ordering. Normally I’m too proud to ask for the “tourist menu” full of pictures, but in that case I really couldn’t have been more grateful.
Now, maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Of course I knew that tapas weren’t just one food! Who does this guy think he is calling himself a traveler!” Well, you are admittedly better than me. But if by chance you’re like me, and never got around to learning the intricacies of Spanish cuisine, I’ll gladly share a few anecdotes to ensure that you don’t embarrass yourself like I did!
Tapas are small sharing-sized dishes that are most often accompanied by Sangria, or other alcoholic drinks. According to Spanish legend, King Alfonso X was once sickened by a severe stomach ailment that only allowed him to consume small-plates of food spread out over time. Although some historians rather believe that the dishes originated among farmers who needed small, portable dishes to carry with them in the field while working. Either way, when standing anywhere in present-day Spain you’re never more than a stone’s throw away from a Tapas Bar.
If you’re a tapas novice, or simply just need some brushing up– here are some quick rules to help you look like a tapas expert:
Tapas are seldom served without an accompanying drink, so make sure to order one to sip along with all the snacking.
Tapas aren’t meant to take the place of a meal, but rather be eaten between them.
There are no rules! Tapas are meant to bring people together through conversation, and you’ll be golden as long as you follow the flow of things and remember to relax! Tapas can really be anything– think nuts, olives, cheeses, meats, and various forms of potato– all that really matters is the conversation happening around them.
On a last note– tapas are traditionally a Spanish food, but are becoming ever more popular in the USA! If you’re interested in meeting friends, old or new, for a talk and a quick bite, I highly recommend checking out a local tapas restaurant.