The origin of tapas can be traced back to the 13th century and the Castilian King Alfonso X, who, legend has it, suffered from an illness that required him to eat small portions of food accompanied by a little wine between main meals.
Once he had recovered, Alfonso ordered that no wine should be served in the taverns of Castile unless it was accompanied by something to eat. Spanish taverns usually served wine in jars, and, following the introduction of the king’s new law, the receptacles were topped with a slice of bread with jam or cheese. This also helped prevent impurities from entering the wine. Tapa is in fact the Spanish word for cover or lid.
Now that the alcoholic beverages served in taverns and their modern counterparts have evolved into contemporary drinks culture, the tapa itself has blossomed into a vast and varied world of culinary originality. Tapas offers the perfect occasion to socialize before dinner, particularly as Spain is famous for getting to the dining table only late in the evening.
Spain is a large country, and it has a wealth of gastronomic expressions in its various districts. In the Basque Country, tapas are called pintxos, which means "skewers." They consist of a slice of bread with various toppings, spreads, cheeses or fish, and they are usually served with toothpicks or skewers to facilitate handling.
The most common recipes in Catalonia include patatas bravas (diced potatoes, fried and served with a spicy sauce), calamares fritos (fried squid rings) and pan con tomate (a slice of bread with tomato spread). Esgarrat is typical of Valencia and consists of grilled strips of peppers and salted cod, served cold.
In Andalusia, where Seville is considered as the tapa capital, you will certainly find pescaito frito (battered fried fish) and Jamón Ibérico (cured jam, a speciality of the area).
Madrid is famous for its callos a la madrileña (made with tripe and sausages). However you can also savour other delicacies such as the famous tortilla española (an omelette with potatoes), different types of croquettes, olives and the popular gambas al ajillo (prawns served with a garlic sauce).
These are only a few of the many flavours of tapas you can taste during your trip to Spain. You can enjoy the ritual at one of the many tapas bars, and you can always request a glass of wine to make this experience 100% Spanish.
For the best tapas in town, Luxos recommends:
Madrid: Casa Gonzalez
Founded in 1931 this beautiful tapas bar stays true to its traditional roots serving jamón ibérico de bellota with cured manchego cheese alongside an impressive selection of wines.
Calle León 12, Tel: +34 914 295 618, casagonzalez.es
Simple food, done well at this small tapas bar in the Raval district.
Calle Botella, 11-13, 08001 Barcelona, Tel: +34 933 15 48 72, arumerestaurant.com
Marbella: El Pozo Viejo
This beautiful traditional building was the former residence of the first mayor of Marbella and you can still see 'the old well' (el pozo viejo). Serving up traditional and modern tapas made with locally sourced produce this is a must visit when in Marbella.
Plaza Altamirano 3, 29601 Marbella, Tel: +34 952 82 25 57, www.elpozoviejo.com