What are Tapas? ….What’s Tapas Food? …..And how do you eat them?
In short, tapas are small, delicious dishes, carefully created using traditional recipes that are designed to be savoured among company, and never rushed.
We are often so busy running around, that grabbing a quick snack on-the-go is the norm. The thought of spending an hour or two (or even three) sharing a few snacks in the afternoon, just seems like a pipe dream. But when in Fuerteventura, enjoying a few plates of tapas with friends is a regular occurrence.
What’s Tapas Food?
Tapas are basically normal food, but smaller portions of it, and enjoying a few Tapas with friends is an experience. It is also a great way to spend a lazy afternoon (or evening) and is a social event that should definitely be enjoyed when visiting Fuerteventura and a good way to try various dishes, all in one go, and experience new and exciting foods that you have never considered before.
What is Spanish Tapas?
The word “tapa” is derived from the Spanish verb ‘tapar’ which means “to cover” and this relates to the history that surrounds their creation. The origin of tapas is believed to come from Andalusia in mainland Spain, in particular the taverns that served their World famous sherry.
Salt & Flies
Some areas of Spain are hot, dusty and very agricultural, so naturally flies are a necessary evil. Fruit flies in particular were often attracted to the sweet aroma of the sherry and so a slice of bread was placed over the top of the glass to prevent them from getting in. It would be lifted each time the person wanted a sip of the sherry and then replaced again, like a lid or cover. Bar tenders soon realised that the high salt content in ham or chorizo made their patrons drink more, so they began replacing the little bread slices with cured meats and this is where some clever bar owners began to get inventive. They created a variety of small snacks, that accompanied the sherry perfectly, and it was not long before the tapas themselves became just as important as selling the sherry was.
Traditional Spanish Tapas
The tapas that we enjoy now have evolved through Spanish history, as different cultures invaded and bought their own tastes and ingredients with them. The Romans invaded and introduced olives, which are now a huge part of Spanish cuisine. A few centuries later the Moors arrived bringing with them more aromatic choices such as almonds, citrus fruits and fragrant spices. Then, thanks to the advancements in ocean travel and intrepid sea-faring explorers like Christopher Columbus, potatoes, peppers, corn, chili peppers and bell peppers were introduced from what was then known as ‘The New World”. All of these foods are still grown in abundance across Spain and it’s islands and have found their way into the kitchens of the tapas bars. Added to them are other local and regional produce, including fresh fish and seafood from the ocean, locally farmed meats, homemade sausages, cured hams and cheeses from the farms and wild game such as rabbit.
Take Your Time
When visiting a tapas bar, expect to pull up a chair and relax. Tapas are a sharing food. They are small, perfectly formed dishes which are laid out in front of everybody and usually shared with friends. There is no set rule, but typically you can characterise tapas bars into two categories – those with a menu and those without.
Tapas Bars with Chiller Cabinets
Most tapas bars are busy little places, often family run and very popular among the locals. They are a hive of activity from around 11am and will remain that way until late in the evening. Often in these kinds of busy bars, many of the tapas on offer will already to prepared and laid out in a cold cabinet on or near the bar area. This cabinet is usually glass fronted so you can see the tapas and simply pick whatever you like the look of. Don’t expect the contents of the chiller to be labeled, as they will usually be filled with whatever the chef fancies cooking that day and the most popular dishes that always sell. They could be anything from egg to octopus to goat, so if you are a fussy eater, then understanding a few words of Spanish could really help. And if you fancy trying your hand at speaking a few phrases, then click here for our Learning Spanish – Tapas Bars article, as we have put together a few of the more popular ones for you.
When you have chosen your tapas, the bar tender will then prepare your choices by heating up any that are designed to be served warm, such as Tortilla Español, or plate up those which are better enjoyed chilled. These will then be served to you, usually accompanied with freshly sliced bread and local sauces known as Mojos.
Tapas Bars With Menu’s
Restaurant owners know that tourists and holiday makers love trying new things, so they print menu’s in different languages to make choosing tapas easier. Also, recent legislation has changed the look of most menus and now you will see allergen advice on each of the dishes too, so you can choose ones that suit your specific dietary requirements. In larger restaurants, they are used to dealing with large parties, so you also get a choice when it comes to portion size. For a breakdown of what’s what, here is a little guide to help. Once you have chosen your dishes, relax. The kitchen staff will begin preparing your choices and whilst you sit and enjoy a few drinks, will go back and forth to your table, serving the dishes as soon as they are ready. You will usually be served some freshly cut bread and sauces to accompany your meal and not all of the dishes will come out at the same time, so don’t wait for everything to arrive before beginning to eat as some are designed to be served sizzling hot, such as Gambas al ajillo.
Menu of the Day
Something to watch out for outside busy, smaller tapas bars is a sign which says ‘Menu del Dia’. This is a set menu, which usually includes a starter, main, dessert and drink for a really good price, usually somewhere between 8-14 Euros. These are a favourite with the local workers and although there will only be a choice of a few dishes, will allow you to experience food that you have never tasted before and recipes which have been passed down through generations.
Tasting Tapas Menus
A popular choice, especially for holiday makers, is a set tasting menu. These are options which restaurants have designed so that you get to try all of the really popular dishes, and a few more traditional ones for a set price. You will see them advertised outside bars and restaurants and are usually in form of a certain amount of tapas for a set price. These are usually put together to cater for couples, a family of four or a large group, so the amount of tapas served will vary, according to the price. These are a good way of trying lots of different flavour experiences and you get to eat the dishes that the locals usually do.
What’s tapas food cost?
Many people that visit the island for the first time, often want to try the local cuisine but are a little nervous when it comes to ordering. I mean, do you really want to spend 10-15 euros on a plate of food that you maybe don’t like? The answer is probably ‘no’. So this is where tapas are an ideal choice. Typically, tapas cost just a few euros per portion. Some are a little more expensive than others, as the cost of the ingredients push up the price a little, but to keep things simple, around 5 euros a dish is roughly what you can expect to pay. For set tasting menus, this price is often lower and you can find offers for as little as 10 Tapas and a bottle of wine for around 20 euros.
Tapas and Time
Eating tapas can take hours and you will often see people sitting around enjoying each other’s company over a few drinks, while the waiters bring out copious amounts of small plates that everybody shares. Tapas are a great way to try lots of different dishes and many of them are made from traditional recipes that have been handed down through the generations. So, if you really want to embrace the local way of life and have an afternoon to remember and dishes to savour, then maybe is time you gave tapas a try.
And, if you fancy trying to recreate your own tapas at home, and love plump, fresh prawns… then here are a few great recipes to get you started.