A tapa is an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine and translates to a small portion of any type of food, similar to Chinese dim sum. It can be cold or hot. In the early days of tapas, a slice of cheese or ham was served with the drink and placed over the mouth of the glass (which was kept in the wash dishes). Basically, they were designed to ease one up to the traditional way of dining very late at night, when most Americans are already asleep. It can be cold (like the mix of olives and cheese) or hot (like the chopitos, which are fried baby squid). In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into sophisticated cuisine.
Legend has it that the Castilian King Alfonso X (towards the end of the 13th century) had once suffered a serious illness that only allowed him to consume small portions of food with small amounts of wine. (Maybe he got too hungry between lunch and dinner.) The United States has embraced this cuisine through tapas restaurants, wine bars, and some microbreweries, unlike Spain, where it is usually served in simple tapas bars. Popular dishes include many traditional Spanish delicacies worth trying (be very brave now):
meatballs – your basic meatballs
olives – assorted olives (no meal is complete without them)
Cod – salted cod, breaded and fried or stewed in tomato sauce
Anchovies – anchovies, marinated or fried
Eggplants – aubergine / (aubergine) can be raw or cooked
Dogfish in Adobo – fried marinated dogfish (a type of fish, not dog)
snails – snails, usually baked with spices (similar to French snails)
squid – fried squid
baby squid – a little different, small squids cooked on the grill
sausage – a popular spicy sausage
Shrimp Scampi – fresh prawns in sizzling olive oil with garlic and peppers
Gazpacho – a cold tomato-based chopped vegetable soup
Serrano/Iberian Ham – Spain’s favorite ham (similar to Italian prosciutto)
Melon with serrano ham – melon and ham
blood sausage – black pudding (blood sausage)
Paella – a national dish
Gun – stewed tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and courgettes
octopus – your basic octopus
Quince cheese – cheese with sweet quince sauce
Sausage – any spicy sausage or salami
Tapa of sardines in tomato – sardines with tomato sauce
tortillas – tortilla with potato and onion (not like the Mexican tortilla)
Sorry, no macaroni and cheese.
If you are confused or overwhelmed, ask the server for help. One of the big advantages is that someone at your table is likely to enjoy a dish that perhaps no one else is enjoying, so it won’t go to waste.
For many, tapas are an acquired taste. For others, it’s just not their cup of tea. But it’s definitely worth a try with some good friends (who are culinary “good sportsmen”). It could lead to a new kitchen for the adventurous eater, so check it out. You can do it.