Spanish kitchen has its roots in people's cooking. It is simple, traditional foodbased on the ingredients available locally or the crops that grew in the region. The various mountains in the Spanish lanscape acted as natural obstacles for communication and transport till the last half of the 20th century. This is the main reason for such a variety and differences from region to region.
Tapas are snacks eaten between main meals as food that allows the body to survive until lunch or dinnertime (“tentempié” or “tapita” custom extended amongst Mediterranean cultures). They are also a good opportunity to socialize and discuss work-related topics.
Legends over the origin of tapas.
- A story claims that while on a long trip, King Alfonso the 10th, the Wise, had stopped in a tavern in Cádiz, and he ordered a glass of jerez (sherry). It was windy, so the inn keeper served him his glass covered by a slice of jamon bellota to prevent the sherry from getting sand. The king liked it (although we wonder if the ham wouldn't have been sandy), and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or “cover” just like the first.
- Another version claims that the same king, due to an illness, had to take small bites of food with some wine between meals. Once recovered decreed that no wine was to be served in any of the inns in Castile unless accompanied by something to eat.
- There is also a legend that says that during the Kingdom of the Catholic Kings and due to the increase of criminality and violence caused by workers coming out of inns after drinking high quantities of beer and wine, the innkeepers were forced to serve the alcoholic beverages with a tapa, in principle cold (jamon bellota, manchego cheese,etc). Customers must first eat the tapa in order to drink. This way the alcohol did not fell into empty stomachs and people were not so drunk.
- A more realistic approach is that the tapa first appeared because of the need of farmers and workers of other unions to take a small amount of food during their working time, which allowed them to carry on working until time for the main meal. This snack was taken with wine, as it induced a mellow mood and increased strength, while in winter it warmed the body against the cold days in the fields. In summer, in the South they drank “gazpacho” (cold tomato soup), instead of wine.
Many dishes are prepared today using the same cooking methods and ingredients as they were two or three hundred years ago. What is sure is that food in Spain is fresh, abundant and full of taste and the Spanish love their food dearly.