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Friday, April 26, 2019

The Tapas Phenomenon

                       Tapas have moved beyond a bite before dinner....they're now dinner!

I'm on way way to Spain.  Tapas, which began in Spain more than 500 years ago, have morphed into the latest foodie movement.  Some years ago many upscale restaurants began offering “small plates.”  Now, it seems the new darling has become “tapas.”   Last week my local Vietnamese restaurant began offering “tapas” on their newly printed menu.  I have seen some Parisian bistros with “tapas” on their daily chalk-boarded specials.   In Italy this last autumn, I noted multiple bars in Venice now referring to their bar snacks (called cicchetti in Italian) as  “tapas.”  

The word tapa comes from the Spanish verb tapar which means “to cover.”  No one knows the exact origin of how tapas were birthed and there are probably as many tales about the origin of the dish as there are different kinds of tapas at a popular tapas bar in Madrid.  Regardless of story, most of them have somewhere the mention of a lid which has some logic since this is the literal meaning of the word.

                                           Tapas in Madrid offer the perfect bite or two.

One of the more common explanations about how tapas began takes place in Cadiz, near Gibraltar.  King Alfonso XIII supposedly ordered a glass of wine.  Seaside Cadiz is quite windy, so to protect the King’s wine from sand the bartender covered the glass with a slice of ham before serving it.  Apparently, the King liked it so much that he ordered another glass with tapa.

                       Tapas go up-market with the addition of quail eggs on top truffle deviled eggs

Other stories speak about a tapa such as a slice of bread being added to protect the wine from fruit flies.  Some folklore takes it another direction:  bars were crowded and there was no room to put a plate when standing at the bar.  Plates began to be placed on top of wine glasses out of practicality.

Tapas started out as a simple thing...a no frills "freebie" for patrons at humble bars in Spain.  Today, the scene is a quite different:  there are pricey tapas of foie gras at France's culinary temples, and every country of the world seems to have tapas on its brain.  Maybe it’s time to get in the spirit and plan a tapas dinner party to celebrate Spring.  Olé!

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