Tapas today are without question the most international element of Spanish cuisine, having become an exclusive culinary category, and we shouldn’t be surprised. There is something incredibly satisfying about enjoying a bite of something delicious alongside a cold drink. And while we were making do with the salted peanut or crisp in Britain, the Spanish were revolutionising the art of savoury snacking.
So where did tapas come from? Why are they called tapas and who invented them?
There are many different explanations surrounding the origin of tapas, many of which involve medieval kings and other historic figures. Although most accounts claim it originated in Andalucía, different regions of Spain all individually claim to be the birthplace of this popular Spanish tradition. Perhaps one of the most important clues to understanding the mystery is the origin of the word itself. The word tapa means ‘lid’ and comes from the verb tapear, meaning ‘to cover’. Many people say that the custom of tapas came about when bar keepers began covering their customers’ drinks with a slice of bread, ham or cheese to stop flies and dust from entering.
According to popular legend, it began in the 13th century, under King Alfonso X ‘The Wise’. He was prescribed a large quantity of wine whilst recovering from an illness and ate small portions of food to diminish the effects of alcohol. The method proved successful and he insisted that every household should serve a small portion of food alongside the drink to prevent public drunkenness.
Another theory suggests that the origin of tapas comes from the fields and workshops of the Middle-Ages. Workers that would labour from dawn till dusk would only take short breaks to avoid wasting precious daylight. Their lunch would consist of something quick, easy and inexpensive (slices of sausage, olives, chickpeas etc) to keep them going.
Whether there is any truth in these accounts, we don’t know, but whatever the origins, the art of tapas will keep evolving and Camino will continue to create fresh, exciting and sophisticated tapas!