Tapas: A Spanish Food Adventure

A tapa is an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine and translates to a small portion of any kind of food, similar to Chinese dim sum. It may be cold or hot. In the early days of tapas, a slice of cheese or ham was served with your drink and placed over the mouth of the glass (saved on washing plates). They were basically designed to tide one over until the traditional way of eating dinner very late in the evening, when most Americans are already sleeping. It may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are fried baby squid). In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire sophisticated cuisine.

Legend has it that Castilian King Alfonso the Tenth (circa late 13th century) had once been stricken with a serious illness which only allowed him to consume small portions of food with small amounts of wine. (Perhaps he just got too hungry between lunch and dinner.) The U.S. has adopted this cuisine through tapas restaurants, wine bars and some micro breweries, as opposed to Spain, where it’s usually served up in simple tapas bars. Popular dishes include many traditional Spanish delicacies that are worth trying (be very brave, now):

Albóndigas – your basic meatballs

Aceitunas – assorted olives (no meal is complete without them)

Bacalao – salt cod, breaded and fried or stewed in tomato sauce

Boquerones – anchovies, marinated or deep fried

Berenjenas – eggplant/ (aubergine) can be raw or cooked

Cazón en Adobo – fried marinated dogfish (a type of fish, not dog)

Caracoles – snails,usually baked with spices (similar to French escargot)

Calamares – fried squid rings

Chipirones – a bit different, small squid cooked on a griddle

Chorizo – a popular spicy sausage

Gambas al Ajillo – fresh prawns in sizzling olive oil with garlic and peppers

Gazpacho – a cold tomato-based chopped vegetable soup

Jamón Serrano/Iberico – Spain’s favorite ham (similar to Italian prosciutto)

Melón con jamon Serrano – melon and ham

Morcilla – black pudding (blood sausage)

Paella – a national dish

Pisto – stew of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and zucchini

Pulpo – your basic octopus

Queso con membrillo – cheese with a sweet quince sauce

Salchichón – any spicy sausage or salami

Tapa de sardinas en tomate – sardines with a tomato sauce

Tortilla – omelette with potato and onion (not like the Mexican tortilla)

Sorry, no mac and cheese

If you are confused or overwhelmed, ask the server for assistance. One of the great advantages is that someone at your table is likely to enjoy a dish that maybe no one else does, so it won’t go to waste.

For many, tapas is an acquired taste. For others, simply not their cup of tea. But it’s definitely worth a try with a few good friends (who are culinary “good sports”). It just might lead to a new cuisine for the adventurous diner, so check it out. You can do it.

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