opular lore claims that tapa, which means lid or cover, originally referred to the practice of placing a slice of ham or bread on top of one’s glass of wine or beer to keep out the flying insects. People took to this utilitarian snack (and who wouldn’t want a nibble of fine cured ham with their early-evening sherry), bringing the drink-and-appetizer tradition to life.
Owing to Spain’s rich growing soil and varied terrain, each region developed its own little dishes based on seasonal, local ingredients. Coastal towns took advantage of the thriving fishing industry, the interior produced ham and other meats and a wide array of vegetables, and the south brought more fresh produce including citrus and olives. Rustic preparations and hearty flavors have always characterized this finger-licking culinary tradition.
Spain boasts a highly sociable culture. Friends regularly gather in bars after work to enjoy their version of happy hour complete with lively conversation, a glass or two of wine, and complimentary snacks. And since each bar specializes in certain dishes, diners will often stop at multiple places in an evening to sample the best that each has to offer. Bars usually have several types of tapas dishes ready and warm or at room temperature for ease of service.
DIY Tapas Party
Small plates of savory finger foods and a few bottles of robust Spanish wine are pretty much foolproof ingredients for a successful party. Just make sure to cook up a proper selection of tapas to showcase this good-time cuisine. Must-have dishes include:
- Marinated olives – Store-bought olives (green and black) can be marinated easily in a mixture of garlic and herbs. Try serving them heated for a surprising treat.
- Fried, salted almonds – Prized Marcona almonds are the best type of almond for this dish.
- Tortilla – This egg-and-potato omelet is a staple tapas offering. Potatoes and onions are fried in olive oil before being bound into an inches-high “cake” using seasoned, beaten eggs. Tortilla is often prepared with additional ingredients, such as sliced mushrooms, peppers, or chorizo.
- Patatas Bravas – Cubed potatoes fried in olive oil until crispy and golden are a super popular Spanish tapa. They are served with a drizzle of tomatoey, sometimes creamy, sauce that’s spiked with smoky Spanish pimenton (paprika).
- Jamon Serrano – Accompanied by traditional tomato- and garlic-rubbed toasts, this renowned dry-cured ham makes a perfect party nibble. Salty Serrano ham is similar to prosciutto, but has a richer, slightly gamier flavor and drier texture.
- Chorizo – Sausage and meat dishes are very popular in central Spain, especially the spicy pork sausage known as chorizo. Whether sliced and simmered in seasoned red wine or sizzled on a clay platter, this flavorful sausage is a tailor-made toothpick snack.
- Boquerones – Marinate white anchovies in vinegar or fry them in oil.
- Croquetas – Most every bar in Spain will offer these round, golden-fried nuggets of seasoned béchamel, which is simmered until thickened, flavored with bits of Serrano ham or vegetables, and coated in breadcrumbs.