According to legend, while King Alfonso X traveled through the southern region of Spain, he stopped to rest in a small town in the Andalucian province of Cadíz and ordered a glass of sherry. Cadíz is known to have strong gusty winds throughout the year, so the inn keeper placed a slice of ham over the sherry to prevent it from getting dirty. Upon finishing his drink, King Alfonso X ordered another and this time he specifically requested another tapa or “cover,” to come with it. And there, in a small, dark tavern in the middle of the 1200’s is where Spanish tapas were born. (Or so they say!)
Other stories claim that King Alfonso X ordered taverns to serve food with their glasses of wine, so the alcohol didn’t go straight to the drinker’s heads on an empty stomach. Some come from a simpler reason: to keep the pesky Spanish fruit-fly out of beverages.
Tapas can can consist of almost anything: meat, vegetables, fish, cheese, bread, olives, hot, cold…the list goes on. In my mind, I consider tapas to be about a “quarter” of a regular meal size. In Spain, most restaurants offer a racíon, a full-sized plate of food, media racíon, a half plate and then a tapa, what I consider to be half of the media racíon.
These small meals range between 1€ and 3€, so you can order a couple of them at one restaurant or go “tapas bar hopping” and not do too much damage to your wallet. Add in a couple drinks, either wine, beer, sangria, or tinto de verano, and you’ll be enjoying the typical late-night Spanish dining culture!