By: Sindhuja Kodivalasa, Staff Writer
As the streets of Madrid were buzzing with people, I, along with some friends, found a typical Spanish ‘bar & café to rest for awhile. It is a sunny Tuesday but the streets are full of tourists and the city has a large floating population. Our waitress, a young girl in her mid-20s, offered us the menu. After we ordered a few drinks, she insisted on us to order some food. When I exclaimed saying that it is an odd time for a meal, she pointed out, “You’re in Spain, that is why we have tapas!”
The tapas are not a particular type of food. Anything can be a tapa – paella, croquettes, ham and cheese on a toast, friend chicken in a loaf, truly anything. The tapas are a wide variety of appetizers or snacks of Spanish cuisine. They are served both in hot and cold and have over 12 varieties to choose from. These are mostly very strong flavoured dishes with olive oil and other spices like garlic and ginger. It is often a choice between various sea foods in tomato based sauce in addition with the green or red peppers. One or more type of bread are served with these dishes.
When I initially placed an order, I was sceptical and went for a safer bet. I order fried chicken and a Spanish omelette. To my surprise both were served stuffed in bread. The fried chicken pieces and the egg along with some potato were filled in the bread and it was delicious. So I went on to order bolder choices, like seafood containing squid.
When we took the city tour, the guide gave us a brief rundown on the history of tapas. In the old days, during the reign of Alfonso X, he noticed that the workers were rather lazy in the second half of the day. He asked his ministers to look into this matter. Apparently, the workers were so poor that they could not afford both a drink and some food. So, in the afternoon they usually had only a drink and ended up a little drunk at work. As a measure to prevent this, Alfonso ordered all the places to serve food along with the drinks. This tradition has been continued and has now developed into this culture of tapas – café and bar.
Tapas have come to prominence because they keep the Spanish fuelled for their long journeys from bar to bar before their midday meal or dinner. Tapas are served day in and day out in every bar and café in Spain. This has become so much a part of the cultural and social scene that the Spaniards have invented the verb “tapear” which means to go and eat tapas!
Tapas are designed to encourage long conversations. Tapas are not unique to Spain alone, they are present in many Latin American countries but are addressed with different names. In Mexico, similar dishes are called ‘botanas’. And in some other Central American countries, such quick eats are known as ‘bocas’.
I am so much in love with the tapas that I have also booked a tapas tour. I am loving it, I know all you foodies out there will enjoy it too! When you come to Spain, eat well at the tapas, have a Shangri-La and enjoy long conversations with your friends.