Tapas

Tapas Cheese Pâté Sausage Refreshments Foo

A tapa is an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine and translates to a small part of any kind of food, very similar to Chinese dim sum. It may be hot or cold. In the early days of tapas, a slice of cheese or ham was served with your drink and put over the mouth of the glass (saved on washing plates). They were essentially designed to tide one over until the traditional means of eating dinner very late in the evening, when most Americans are already sleeping. It could be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are fried baby squid). In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into a whole sophisticated cuisine.

Legend has it that Castilian King Alfonso the Tenth (circa late 13th century) had once been stricken with a serious illness which only allowed him to eat tiny portions of food with small amounts of wine. (Perhaps he just got too hungry between lunch and dinner.) The U.S. has adopted this cuisine through tapas restaurants, wine bars and some micro breweries, as opposed to Spain, where it is usually served up in simple tapas bars. Popular dishes include many traditional Spanish delicacies which are worth trying (be very courageous, now):

Aceitunas – assorted olives (no meal is complete without them)

Berenjenas – eggplant/ (aubergine) can be raw or cooked

Caracoles – snails,usually baked with spices (like French escargot)

Calamares – fried squid rings

Chipirones – a bit different, little squid cooked on a griddle

Chorizo – a favorite spicy sausage

Gambas al Ajillo – fresh prawns in hot olive oil with garlic and peppers

Gazpacho – a chilly tomato-based chopped vegetable soup

Jamón Serrano/Iberico – Spain’s favorite ham (like Italian prosciutto)

Melón con jamon Serrano – melon and ham

Paella – a national dish

Pisto – stew of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and zucchini

Pulpo – your basic octopus

Queso con membrillo – cheese with a sweet quince sauce

Salchichón – any spicy sausage or salami

Tapa de sardinas en tomate – sardines with a tomato sauce

Tortilla – omelette with potato and onion (not like the Mexican tortilla)

Sorry, no mac and cheese

If you are confused or overwhelmed, ask the server for aid. One of the wonderful benefits is that someone at your table is likely to enjoy a dish that perhaps no one else does, so it won’t go to waste.

For many, tapas is an acquired taste. For others, simply not their cup of tea. However, it’s definitely worth a try with a few good friends (who are culinary”good sports”). It just might lead to a new cuisine for the adventurous diner, so take a look. You can do it.

 

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