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GO FOR TAPAS: VAMOS A TAPEAR!
 
(2024 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: MARY LUZ MEJIA



The tradition of enjoying a spread of sharable plates is popular the world over. You’ll find mezes in Greece and Turkey, botanas in Mexico, and bocas in Central America. But in Spain, it’s all about the tapas. These aren’t just little plates of food, they’re a cultural hallmark throughout the country. Here’s how to tapear like a local.

But First, La Historia: The Tapa Backstory

There’s no single answer as to how these tasty tidbits came to be, but there are fun theories about tapas’ humble history. Tapar in Spanish means “to cover” and it’s said that as early as the 17th century in Spain, one savvy barkeeper covered their patron’s glasses with a salty slice of ham to keep dust and fruit flies out of their sweet sherry. It’s said King Alfonso X saw this as he made his way through Andalusia on official business and asked for his next tipple “¡con tapa!” (with lid). Whatever the story, it’s safe to say that the tapa is a huge part of the country’s proud gastronomic heritage.

The Weekend Afternoon Tapa

I studied Spanish as a foreign exchange student in high school to perfect my native tongue. On weekends, my host family liked taking long, post-lunch walks, followed by a few alfresco tapas. Casual snacks of patatas bravas—crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, olive-oil-fried potatoes smothered in a spicy tomato sauce—would land at the table next to mini shot glasses full of summer-fresh, blitzed tomatoes, garlic and sherry vinegar for a refreshing gazpacho cold soup. Manchego sheep’s-milk cheese triangles would join the spread, along with some piping hot, ham-flecked, crisp-fried croquettes that are creamy, bechamel-smooth on the inside. The parents always enjoyed a caña (small glass) of local beer, while we sipped on a soda.

You’ll find restaurants, markets, bars and even hotel patios throughout the country offering tapas any day of the week. You want to meet up with friends post breakfast hours? You’ll usually get together over a beer, glass of wine or vermouth, with a few simple tapas ranging from 1€ and up.

The Weekday or Any Day Tapa Tour

After work, your colleagues might entice you to go for tapas (“¡Vamos a tapear!”)—a few bites after work and before dinner which is usually served late around 9 to 11 p.m. If you’re a bigger group, you might hear someone order a “media ración” or half a dish of say four croquettes. If they order a ración, a full plate, you’ll get the house specialties and share them amongst your friends (hot tip: this is likely less expensive than ordering single tapas for the gang).

Tapas bar hopping is a tasty way to explore a city’s tapas scene. In the heart of Rioja wine country, for example, Logroño’s must-try tapa is the “champis.” This hot, seared mushroom cap dotted with garlic-parsley butter houses a baby shrimp and gets skewered onto a baguette slice for one delicious mouthful. Tuck into a champis and sip on a glass of red Rioja in most any bar on what locals call La Laurel (Calle Laurel) next to the San Blas Market.

When in the city of Leon, try the Castilian specialty, cecina, which dates back to the 4th century BC. Savour a slice in the city’s fabled Húmedo neighbourhood where the salt-cured, air-dried beef has the nuttiness of jamón with the minerality of an aged steak. You’ll get it served on a baguette slice with a glass of the local Bierzo red wine, offered in a customary chunky glass. No matter where you go in Spain, whether you’re in a big, inland city or small, coastal town, there’s another tapa packed with gastronomic history to discover and share. ¡Listo!

Fun Fact: A Tortilla de Patatas is Not a Frittata

While both are egg-based dishes, they are worlds apart. A frittata is an Italian, open-faced omelette that’s finished in the oven and can include veggies, cheeses and meats. A tortilla de patatas is Spanish and made with eggs, potatoes, onions and olive oil. Once done cooking on one side, the tortilla is flipped onto a plate before being slid back into a hot pan. Both are served room temperature, but one bite of the custardy centre, made slightly sweet thanks to the caramelization of onions and potatoes in olive oil, and you’ll taste the difference!

 
 
 
 
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