Tapas: A Delightful Culinary Tradition from Spain!

A little History

Tapas are a Spanish meal of lots of little dishes to pick and choose from as you are enjoying a glass of ice-cold dry sherry. There are lots of different things you can use in a tapas selection and some are similar to the Italian antipasti. All of them are quick and easy to prepare and are more ideas than actual recipes. See if there's a Spanish restaurant near you and have a chat with them about their favorite tapas. Try some of the following:

Thinly sliced chorizo sausage or Serrano ham

Marinated black and green olives; cooked small waxy potatoes tossed in Spanish olive oil with some strips of roast red pepper and fresh thyme leaves

Thin slices of fried black pudding in a fresh tomato sauce

Wedges of tortilla/Spanish omelets

Cooked squid or octopus rings in a lemony dressing

Steamed broad beans tossed in olive oil with fresh mint and lightly cooked red onion and garlic

Good bread

Marinated roast vegetables such as courgettes, aubergines, peppers and onions

Tapas: A world of flavors

The Spanish love their tapas. Participating in the tapeo is part of their savoir vivre in large cities and small villages alike. Come early evening in any Spanish town and you'll see people at the bar, sipping a glass of Rioja and sharing a couple of tapas dishes. Bit different to a pint and a packet of salt and Lineker crisps in your local. But teeny tiny bits of food that you nibble with a glass of wine - where's the fun in that? Well that's just a myth. Tapas is not just olives and the odd prawn or garlicky potato - it's a cuisine unto itself, where the fun is in quantity as much as in quality.

All in one

Before experiencing tapas in Spain, my knowledge of it extended to chorizo (spicy sausage), patatas bravas (spicy, fried potatoes) and Spanish tortilla (potato omelette). And that was in Bar Solona in London's Soho. But an actual tapas bar in Barcelona, Spain introduced me to a cuisine that I have not been able to stop eating since. It is like eating all your favorite foods in one meal without feeling like a greedy pig. In fact, I visited one place, which claimed to have over 200 different dishes - and it was no lie. It was like being in the Harrods food hall but actually being able to afford most of it. On that particular occasion, there were four of us and we shared about 20 dishes... and four pitchers of sangria...

Pigging out

So what do you get in this tapas malarkey? Well if you go to Spain, you'll find, from region to region, the tapas varies as much as the landscape. But some foods are found pretty much everywhere. Sausages and hams are particularly prominent. Chorizo, spicy sausage in red wine sauce is an all-time favorite as is jamon serrano, which is air-dried ham, slightly salty and very tasty. The variety is enormous and you can quite easily pig out on this alone. But don't neglect all the other dishes on offer. Chicken, pork and lamb also feature, and while these are not the most common tapas dishes, they can be really tasty and make a filling portion especially when served with rice or spicy potatoes.

I see food!

But it's fish and seafood, which really glow in the glory of tapas. As an ex-seafood hater, this often proved problematic, as it looked so tempting yet I knew that I didn't really want to know what was underneath the shell. But things change and people change and finally prawns and mussels have been warmly accepted into my diet, as has most fish. But if you are also a fan of octopus, squid, anchovies, sardines, lobster, crab and all those other weird and wonderful animals of the sea, then the average tapas bar will literally leave your mouth watering. Garlic and olive oil are the most common flavors but peppers, garlic mayonnaise, batter, and red and white wine are all added to enhance flavors. Paprika and saffron are often used to add a delicate but flavorsome touch.

Flesh-free zone

But vegetarians need not run away from this fish-fest. There is plenty to be eaten that was not once alive. Paella is probably one of the most popular Spanish dishes and can be prepared vegetarian, with chicken, with seafood or a combination. Made with corn rice, it is healthy, filling and very tasty. It often sticks to the pan when cooked but this gives it flavor and it is not uncommon to eat out of the pan if there are only a few of you.

If you're into cold vegetable soups, gazpacho is pretty yummy while Spanish omelets made with potatoes are another winner, as is the variety of vegetables cooked in garlic and oil and often seasoned with paprika. Pan Tomacat, a Catalan specialty, is a good side order - toasted bread rubbed with garlic and tomato seeds, plus there's garlic bread, though far tastier than the Pizza Hut offering. Patatas bravas, the spicy fried potatoes and potatoes with garlic are a must-taste - and if you fancy something healthier, there are usually plenty of different salads on offer including ensaladilla rusa which consists of vegetables and dollops of mayonnaise. And if you're feeling cheesy, well, the choice is immense but try manchego cheese, quite nutty in flavor and preserved in olive oil. Lip-smacking stuff.

Regional Influences

The Italians call it antipasto, the Chinese dim sum, the Turks maze, the French hors d'oeuvres and the Spanish tapas. But, unlike their cousins around the world, tapas are more than just appetizers.

When savored at dinnertime with a glass of sherry, a full array of these tasty miniature morsels can be a meal in themselves.

The word tapas means lids or covers, and tapas were originally pieces of bread or cured ham placed on top of a wine glass to keep dust and flies out.

Limitless Variety of Tapas

The ingredients that go into the making of Spanish tapas are limitless, and the combinations can stretch as far as the imagination. Vegetables, seafood, poultry, dairy and meat are all part of this grand culinary experience. The key to quality tapas is freshness and prime ingredients.

Tapas can be served hot or cold or at room temperature. Most are not difficult or time consuming to prepare.

From the Smallest Villages

Throughout Spain from the smallest villages to the largest cities, you'll find tapas bars and restaurants offering dozens of tasty varieties, served in individual ceramic oval dishes and accompanied by a glass of sherry.

In Spain the tapas experience goes hand-in-hand with hospitality, friendship and conversation. Guests traditionally linger for hours in an atmosphere that encourages friendly interaction.

Source: HungryMonster Staff Writers.