Its thought that the tapa was born when, due to an illness, the Spanish king Alfonso the 10th, the Wise, had to take small bites of food with some wine between meals. Once recovered from the disease, the wise king decreed that no wine was to be served in any of the inns in the land of Castilla , unless accompanied by something to eat. This was a wise precaution to counteract the adverse effects of alcohol on those people who, through lack of money to buy a nourishing meal, drank alcohol on an empty stomach.
Once the “botillerias” (bottle-shops) and “tabernas” (taverns) became established throughout Spain , the wise King’s decree remained in place. For that reason, the glass or jar of wine was served covered with a slice of either smoked ham or cheese, for two reasons: first to prevent insects or other impurities falling into the jar and secondly, for the guests to soak up the alcohol they had drunk with something solid, as King Alfonso had advised. This was the origin of the tapa, a solid food that covered the wineglass.
The traditional drink with the tapa is wine, either “peleón” (young and cheap) or “reserva” of each region:
young “txakolí” in the Basque Country
Penedés or Cava in Cataluña
Ribeiro in the Northwest
Young Valdepeñas or Rioja in Castilla and in the centre
Jerez in the south
Also in the south “gazpacho” (cold tomato soup), is very popular in summer as it’s a very refreshing drink.
In Asturias and in northern parts, where apples grow in abundance, cider replaces wine.
TYPES OF TAPAS
Tapas recipes vary according to the taste and gastronomic traditions of each region.
Olives, dry nuts, as well as many kinds of cold cuts supplemented with bread and the famous Totilla de Patata could be considered the most traditional type of tapas, that we could find in every region.
The many varieties of olives - green, Manzanilla, crushed, big, stuffed, flavoured or stoneless - are in themselves the subject of a book.
Together with the olives, slices of garlic or smoked-ham sausages, slices of cheese or jamón curado.
There are also fried tapas like “Boquerones” (whitebait), calamares, chorizo, croquetas, patatas , “torreznos” fried pork skin, or small shrimp omelettes to name a few.
TAPAS PREPARED WITH SAUCES
Casserole stews as well as the Madrilenian “callos”, the Almagro's aubergines or flavored string beans.
San Sebastian in the North of Spain is known by having the best tapas or pintxos.
Pintxo is a word that has spread throughout Spain to refer about tapas. It comes from the fact that in San Sebastian you have all the different tapas on the bar, you grab anything you want. They have a woodstick or pintxo that helps when you want to grab them. As you finish the different tapas you leave the pintxos on a plate.
That helps the waiter, knowing how many you’ve had by counting the number of pintxos on the plate.
The most singular aspect of the “tapeo” (the art of eating tapas) is its ability to bring people together. At the time of tapeo conversation plays an integral part of the tapeo ritual.