Spanish Tapas

Posted on November 23, 2010


The first time my Catalan best friend told me he is going to bring me to a tapas bar, I have a different food experience in mind.  Philippines being a long time colony of Spain morphed the tapas into a regular man’s everyday breakfast dish in my country.  My idea of a tapa is pan-fried slivers of beef, marinated in soy, garlic and vinegar.  Imagine my surprise when we entered a Barcelona tapas bar and I was given a very long list of mouth-watering dishes.  Isn’t it nice to get this kind of surprise?

Tapas in Spain are a way of eating, a culture of savoring the wine and tasty morsels midway the main meals, which is commonly later than the regular times for lunch or dinner elsewhere. Tapas have different origins depending on who tells the tale.  It can include a practical explanation of a bar owner’s way of diverting away flies from a glass of sherry by covering the glass with a piece of bread with tiny bits of food on top of it. Some believe that tapas are started by King Alonso X, who once became so sick; he can only drink wine when accompanied by small servings of food. Once recovered from his illness, he decreed that taverns could only serve wines if accompanied by tapas. Whatever the real origin is, tapas is an experience no foodie should pass up.

Tapas vary from region to region; it’s taste and presentation molded by the region’s gastronomic traditions.  Where most tapas in Barcelona are served in small platters and accompanied by Pa Amb Tomaquet (crusty bread rubbed with tomato, garlic and drizzled with Spanish olive oil), Basque tapas are scrumptious morsels piled high on top of a slice of crusty bread, held together with a toothpick. If I probably head further west of Spain towards the direction of Madrid, I would see another version of the Spanish tapa, with a distinct flavor true to the region.

I have my all-time favorites that I always crave when visiting Barcelona.  These are Tortilla de Patata (Spanish potato and onion omelette), Calamares a la Romana, Chipirones Fritos, Patatas Bravas with Aioli, Croquetas de Pollo and those little chorizos that I can never have enough of.  When most locals pair this with beer or wine, although sometimes I do concede to drinking wine, I always break the rule and still go with my diet Coke ;)

Visiting San Sebastián (north of Spain within the Basque Country), I sampled Basque tapas in a busy lunch hour, standing up and later finally getting a small table in a jam-packed Basque tapas bar.  I can feel my adrenalin pump as I watch people pile their plates with these elaborate canapés. When sated, I watch people dutifully come back and hand the bartender their plates where they saved all the toothpicks of what they consumed.  The bartender counts the toothpicks and calculates instantaneously how much is owed.  Imagine this chaotic order in the middle of the mad lunch hour.  It was pretty entertaining to witness.

I expect if I head out further west of Spain, I would see more variations on tapas.  But I think no matter where I end up, I always would find more space in my favorites list.  I don’t think I would have any resistance at all to discovering another slice of Spanish cuisine.