Tapas originated in Spain as a prevention of over-imbibing and to keep unwanted “ingredients” from finding their way into the drinks.
When you say paella people in many places of the world will get back to you and say Spain. The seasoned traveler will even specify Valencia in relation to the famous rice dish. When you say tapas people will still say Spain, where it all began. But this aperitif’s popularity has spread like wildfire across continents these past years that soon people will have lost sight of its country of origin.
Well, before that happens let’s set the record in stone: Tapas, by its very name which is the Spanish word for “cover”, from the Spanish verb tapar (“to cover”), is, sorry about the redundancy, Spanish. It runs the whole gamut of appetizers in the Spanish cuisine.
Folklore grows around traditions, obscuring the true origins of these traditions in the course of time. And yet there is a core to – the only sure fact in any of – this folklore that will remain unalterable regardless of subsequent folkloric embellishments. Where Spain’s tapas are concerned the core of the myths of their origins has always involved some solid food, usually a thin slice, to cover the glass, goblet, flask or bottle containing the alcoholic drink.
There are a couple of reasons why a slice of something edible (tapas) must cover the drink. First, to oblige the drinker to eat it before he begins to drink. Otherwise he risks getting drunk either because of drinking on an empty stomach or he over-drinks to compensate for lack of food.
Secondly, tapas protect the drink from flies and some such. This is especially true in Andalusia where the sweet sherry and the malaga, a sweet fortified wine like the jerez dulce, are irresistible to flies.
Here is the fact then: Tapas originated in Spain as prevention of over-imbibing and to keep unwanted “ingredients” from finding their way into the drinks.
At its most basic, and especially in the olden times, tapas could be just a simple slice of bread that the wife of a shepherd would have packed with her husband’s bottle of wine so he wouldn’t get drunk while he’s out there herding the sheep into pasture. Most likely, she would have added something fortifying to the bread, like ham or chorizo (sausage).
Today there is no end to the variety of the famous tapas served in bars and restaurants – in Spain and around the world. They could be just a small platter of olives, an exalted gourmet concoction for the most refined of palates, or something in between.
One reason why tapas have become so embedded in Spanish culinary culture are the notoriously late lunch and dinner in Spain (from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM, and between 9:00 PM and midnight respectively). Obviously the people will have to take something (tapas) to stave off their hunger before mealtime.
Another thing: Like his French neighbor the Spanish takes his food seriously, taking his time to enjoy it. But he is also the kind who enriches that food with stimulating conversation. So therefore it’s not unusual for him to go to a bar, meet up with his cronies there, and order several tapas to take the place of a proper meal. Tapas are easier to manage than the courses of a sit-down meal which require too much concentration, preventing him from focusing on the earthshaking conversation.
It often happens that instead of having tapas in one single bar, the Spanish will go bar-hopping (ir de tapas). This delightful custom which suits the Spanish perfectly, and the fact that tapeo has spread well beyond the Spanish borders, were showcased in the recent multicultural TAPAPIES, a tapas fest in Madrid’s central barrio of Lavapies.
Between the 17th and the 27th of October the Association of Businessmen of Lavapies District 12 organized the third edition of Tapapies. Fifty-six bars and restaurants serving 75 different terrific tapas, of which 28 were European, Asian, African and North and Latin American concoctions, participated in the fest. The rest of the tapas were Spanish. Each cost a pittance: €1.00.
Tapapies (the acronym of tapa and Lavapies as well as tapa and pies, pies being the Spanish word for feet, an allusion to the fact that tapas are eaten standing on one’s feet ) transported visitors to foreign lands on board the tapas. A “trip” to the Philippines was made possible by a Wok of rice, chicken and vegetables at the El Economico-Soidemersol Restaurant; to Greece, by way of a tapa at the Loukanikos; to the Scandinavia through a tapa of galette stuffed with salmon and cream cheese at the Como la Copa de un Pino Restaurant, etc.
In 2011 only 31 bars and restaurants participated in Tapapies; in 2012 the venues jumped to 56.
Mahbubul Huq of Bar Fantastico, which specializes in Thai-Bangladeshi food fusion, sold 8,000 tapas last year. For this year’s fest he created the Fantastico multifeet (multipies) pincho.
Among the most popular tapas were Achuri’s taco de burkinés (corn omelet, frijol, meat, tomato and the aromatic coriander); Portomarin’s ribs with barbecue sauce in honor of the United States; the “multifeet pincho” made of marinated chicken with Indian and Bangladeshi spices and bathed in Thai peanut butter and coconut milk; the burrito secreto at the O Pazo de Lugo made from Spanish-Mexican recipe employing a secret Iberian ingredient.
The crowds from five continents were extra-delighted to stumble on street parties during the Tapapies to the tunes of the musical groups Lucky Dados (rock), Devariétés (cabaret) and Million Dollar Mercedes Band (Balkan melody).
Wouldn’t you be looking forward to next year’s Tapapies? Great tapas and great ambience are an infallible ingredient for great fun.
GUIDEPOST: How’s the Tapapies doing so far?
MR MANUEL DIAZ, press officer of the Association of Businessmen of Lavapies District 12: Great! We’re going to have an even bigger success than we had last year.
GP: What do you mean by “even bigger success”?
MD: Last year, which was the second edition of Tapapies, we sold a total of 210,000 tapas to more than 90,000 visitors. By the first weekend of this year’s Tapapies nearly 60,000 people have already joined us and we’ve sold 150,000 tapas. After that first weekend there still remains one solid week ahead of us! [Note: This interview was conducted on 25 October, on the eve of Tapapies’ second and final weekend.]
GP: You’re very optimistic which is of course a welcome change from the doom and gloom that’s been gripping the country since the beginning of the economic crisis. The dark mood continues to prevail despite the “promising” macroeconomic indicators.
Have you thought of what will happen to your bright forecast if something untoward, like rain, occurs? That’ll be throwing a wet blanket on your party. And, you know, rainy weather is likely in autumn.
MD: The rain won’t bring on catastrophic results! Remember that people come to Tapapies to eat tapas inside bars and restaurants.
GP: We’re glad to hear that. By the way, apart from the obvious economic gains for the bars and restaurants, what else do you hope to profit from Tapapies?
MD: Tapapies has a long range goal. Tapapies is designed to attract people to Lavapies in a way that those who are visiting us for the first time will get to know the barrio better and come back again and again.
MD: That’s an erroneous stereotype. People who don’t know Lavapies will think differently once they’ve come here. That’s why we’ve thought of organizing the Tapapies – not so much for the immediate great results of serving exquisite tapas as for converting our barrio into a popular tourist destination.
GP: Good luck! Tapapies is the right step toward achieving your admirable goal.
Thanks for talking to us, Mr Diaz.
All the tapas, bars, restaurants and people mentioned and/or shown here formed part of Tapapies.
Use of photos authorized.
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