What are tapas?
"Tapas are Spanish Appetizers, small servings of food
eaten before - or instead of - a meal"
Tapas, montaditos, pinchos (pintxos in Basque), banderillas, raciones,
cazuelitas, pulguitas - all are variations on the same theme: small servings of
food eaten before a meal. While today Spaniards rarely have to explain the
nature of Tapas to visitors, the meaning of the term has taken on outside Spain
doesn't convey the full sense of the ritual that is such an important part of
our daily existence.
The tapas experience
Many cuisines offer foods meant to awaken the appetite. Variously called
antipasti, hors d'oeuvres, or mezes, among countless other names, these dishes
are typically eaten at restaurants or at home just before, or as part of, a meal
-or in the case of trendy small-plates restaurants, as meals themselves. In
Spain, however, eating tapas is a separate dining experience that, in principle,
does not substitute for a meal. And Spaniards do not eat tapas at home. In fact,
the term tapas and its various regional
equivalents have come to imply the act
of going out: de tapeo means barhopping, or the art of eating while
Even small villages have clusters of bars with inviting counters full of
finger foods and a sea of cured hams hanging from the ceiling. Happy patrons
walk in, usually in groups and, depending on the region, order a zurito (minibeer)
or a fino sherry along with an array of tapas. Each bar has its specialty or
specialties, and Spaniards are particular about what eat where. After completing
the first round of lively conversation and small plates, the group moves on to
the next bar, often only footsteps away.
In the tapas bars of Andalusia, small cazuelas of sizzling garlic
shrimp and platters of deep-fried little fish served with fino are familiar
sights, while in the Basque Country, typical pintxos include sliced bread
topped with baby eel salad and sautéed mushrooms skewered on toothpicks. Equally
popular in every region is tortilla española, the potato and onion omelet
that appears in a trio of guises: a ración (larger appetizer-sized
portion), a montadito (a small slice of bread with a topping), or a
pulguita (a tiny bread roll, usually no longer than three inches, split and
filled). Platters of sliced jamón ibérico, commonly offered as
raciones, are also beloved across Spain.
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Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain, by Penelope Casas
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