While the actual origins of tapas may be lost to history, many people believe that the tapas custom actually originated in Andalucía, in the South of Spain. The tradition of “tapeando” — going from bar to bar, catching up with friends, and having a little bite and drink of something delicious — can be enjoyed for very little money, which only adds to the charm of tapas.
Traditionally, in Catalonia, the Catalans were never very partial to eating “tapas”, and the popularity of going out for tapas has come and gone throughout the decades. Recently, tapas are back in favor, and in a big way. New tapas bars seem to be springing up daily, and the quality and variety of food on offer is truly fantastic.
Hundreds of years ago, tapas were originally free titbits on a slice of bread that were served with a drink – on top of the glass as a sort of lid – ostensibly to keep the flies out of the wine. (“Tapa” means lid or cover). Nowadays, tapas has became the catch-all word for three different types of servings: montaditos are the original little tapa on a slice of bread; racions are half-ration dishes; whereas a porció is a full portion. Note the names in bold are in Catalan, the local language. A good tapas bar will have a seemingly endless selection, from fried fish, seafood, meat stews, cold-cuts and cheeses, to fried veggies, mushrooms, and tortillas (not the Mexican ones, but a kind of omelette instead, named “truita” in Catalan).
As mentioned before, tapas have become increasingly popular and sophisticated in Catalonia, and a meal of tapas may set you back more than the price of a regular dinner. In larger towns, as in the port area in Barcelona, bars selling tapas are grouped together in narrow streets in the old quarter, and it is a ritual to move from one crowded bar to another sampling competitive offerings. Even in towns with no tapas bars per se will have tapas available in the local bars. This is often a good way to sample local sausages and cheeses.
Video: © The Culinary Institute of America