If you have heard anything about the food scene in Spain, then you more than likely know that Spain is known for tapas. Tapas are small bites that have become a fixture of late-night cuisine in many bars and restaurants across Spain. In fact, “tapas” comes from the word “tapa” which means “top” or “cover,” because the tapas were served free with drinks on small plates that would usually top the glass. Today, local chefs have developed tapas into their own sophisticated category. Taking part in the late-night tapas culture is an essential part of visiting Spain.
The History of Tapas
Like many popular foods around the world, the true origin of tapas is unclear but there is a well-known legend that has long been accepted as the official origin story. Thirteenth-century King Alfonso the 10th of Castille was said to have fallen terribly ill so that during his slow recovery he could only stomach very small portions of food, and these small bites evolved into the bar-favorite, tapas. Also, tapas more likely originated as a functional device, whether to encourage those who could not afford regular bar food not to drink on an empty stomach or as a quick break between meals for fieldworkers to keep their energy up. When done right, tapas can help you experience a cross-section of Spanish culture.
So the question is, when in Spain, where can you get the best tapas experience? First of all, the most consistent characteristic of tapas is that they are meant to accompany alcohol rather than stand-alone as a meal. If you have seen tapas bars that charge expensive, sharing-size portions, then these are not true tapas. As tapas crossed the ocean into the states, they have somewhat lost the original cultural intent, as did many of the Spanish restaurants in heavily-touristed areas of Barcelona. The key when looking for authentic tapas in Spain is to remember that most are comparatively inexpensive or even served free with drinks.
Types of Tapas
A tapa isn’t any particular dish. You could enjoy fried croquettes, patatas bravas (potatoes) and mussels, or the tapas could simply be pickled olives, almonds, or cheese. On a menu, you might also see tapas as raciones ( a portion size for two), pinchos or montaditos that are served on bread, or platos combinados similar to a charcuterie board.
Visit Spain With AESU!
AESU offers unique, thrilling travel programs for college students and young professionals at affordable rates. Each trip is action-packed and informal—designed just for people your own age. We are also able to design custom tours just for your group.
AESU offers several trips to Spain, including Spanish Fiesta, Euro Explorer and Continental. Explore Spain and its spectacular landscapes. Try a variety of authentic Spanish tapas and delicacies from all over the country!
2020 tour dates are now available and selling quickly! If you have any questions or want help booking your European adventure, please contact AESU by calling 800-638-7640, or fill out the contact form found on our website. Follow AESU on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.