If you have ever been to Spain you most likely have run into a plethora of bars and restaurants offering a large variety of the so called tapas. These are small snacks based on typical local food such as ham, seafood or Spanish omelette accompanying a drink – in most cases wine or beer. Tapas are all around the country although the size and price may vary significantly across regions. When guests come to visit, any Spaniard will take them to the bar next door to taste these small delicacies.
However, the origin of this custom has little to do with enjoying food in good company. Several legends, as to where tapas come from, exist and date centuries back. Two of the most prominent ones involve two kings. The first, Alfonso X known as “the Wise” – from the XIII century – was said to have had to drink two daily glasses of wine per a medical prescription. Honoring his name, he decided to accompany this drink with a small portion of food so that the alcohol would not cloud his judgment. Shortly after, he issued a law according to which every tavern should serve such a snack in order to lower the undesirable effects of alcohol among the kingdom’s inhabitants, thus leading to the creation of what later would be called a tapa.
The other legend deals precisely with the origin of the name tapa and it moves us several hundred years forward to the reign of Alfonso XIII in the XIX century. It is said that during one of his journeys around the south of Spain the king decided to take a break in a tavern located in front of the beach where he asked for a glass of wine. Suddenly the wind blew and formed a sand cloud that threatened to spoil the king’s drink but fortunately there was a quick-witted bartender who decided to cover the glass with a slice of ham. Here it must be noted that tapa is Spanish for “cover” and tapar means “to cover”. It is told that the king adored the bartender’s resolution and asked for a second glass of wine together with its tapa (cover). This would give rise to the name of this small snack, which is nowadays the seal of identity of Spanish cuisine.