History and Origin of Spanish Tapas

Tapas have long been associated with Spain. Actually, tapas is synonymous with Spain. Wherever you go in Spain, even in the smallest village, you can always get some tapas. As with so many things that have a long history, it is sometimes impossible to know the origin. The same goes for tapas –   they have a long history and as with so many things, the real origin of the custom of tapas is unknown. There are, however, two stories about the origin of the tapa in Spain:

The first one is that the Spanish King Alfonso X, also called Alfonso the Wise, was suffering from an illness and was ordered by his doctors to consume small amounts of wine spread over the day. In order to avoid the effects of the alcohol, he consumed small bits of food every time he drank wine. He liked this so much, that after his recovery, he ordered that in all public houses of his kingdom no drink would be served without a tapa.

Another story that King Alfonso XIII is the one who introduced the tapa to Spain. The story goes that he was on a visit in Jerez when he entered a public house and ordered a drink. He saw that the waiter covered the glasses with a slice of ham, and when he asked why he did this, the waiter explained that the tapa (literally meaning cover), prevented any foreign objects such as dust or insects from entering or falling into the precious drink. The King and his entourage were impressed and adopted this custom. Soon, it became a custom throughout Spain and is still a celebrated custom today.

Tapas have evolved over the years and what was once just a simple slice of ham, chorizo or cheese, can nowadays be pretty much anything that is served with drinks. In fact, the Real Academia Espanola, the guardian of the Spanish language worldwide, describes tapas as “a small portion of any type of food that is served together with a drink” (Pequeña porción de algún alimento que se sirve como acompañamiento de una bebida.).

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