Spanish tapas means friends and family
You can keep it simple or you can make it as complicated as you like. But whichever way you prefer it, tapas is best served with an early evening drink among friends and lively company. You will not, I promise you, find a more pleasurable and flavour-filled experience anywhere in the world.
So sit back, take your time and enjoy your Spanish tapas to the full. There is no better way to sample the real essence of Spain's life and culture.
Tapas origins and influences
The origin of tapas is the subject of many an argument in the local bar. It is said that the first tapa was simply a hunk of bread which was placed over the glass to keep the flies out. Hence the word ‘tapas’ was born. Tapa literally meaning ‘cover’ or ‘lid’.
In the beginning somewhere must have been the olive - plain and simple, on its own. What better accompaniment to a glass of dry fino sherry? Or perhaps some almonds; fried in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and served while they’re still hot? These are the original tapas; the simplest of foods, requiring little or no preparation.
As the tradition developed, tapas became more of an elaborate event, with each region developing their own specialities. They were still 'little dishes' but the personalities of thousands of bar owners all over Spain has stamped them with the identities that they have today.
Spain's landscape is extremely diverse and covers areas such as mountain ranges and dusty plains, olive and fruit groves plus fertile orchards and rich arable lands.Spain also has climate extremes. Regions that are cold and wet, regions that are hot and dry, and just about everything in between. It has a huge coastline, facing both the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean sea.
Spain's fishing industry is one of the most active, and pro-active, in Europe. Hardly surprising then, that the cuisine of its coastal regions is very heavily based on fish and seafood.
A brief history
Age-old regional methods and local ingredients have been influenced throughout the country's long history by the incorporation of many ingredients and influences from different cultures and countries. The east coast was invaded by the Romans, who introduced the olive and irrigation methods. The invasion of the Moors also brought olives to the south, as well as almonds, citrus fruits and fragrant spices. The influences of their 700 year occupation remain today, especially in Andalucia.
The discovery of the New World brought with it the introduction of tomatoes, sweet peppers (capiscums), chilli peppers, beans and potatoes. These were readily accepted and easily grown in Spain's ideal micro-climates. Spanish food, and especially tapas, is based on simple methods and the imaginative use of seasonal vegetables and local ingredients. Tapas is essentially hearty and unpretentious. Ingredients are fresh, flavours are robust and recipes are easy. Preparation and presentation is generally pretty straightforward.
You'll find no 'pan-fried' this and 'sun-blushed' that here, my friend. The success of a dish is purely down to one basic rule: whether or not it tastes good. Which, I hope you agree, is how it should be.
Spanish tapas regions
The origins of tapas are hugely diverse and each region takes its influences from its different historical periods and its developing cultures.
[regions of spain] The Basque province has both wonderful fish and seafood from the Atlantic ocean and some of the finest cattle, sheep and dairy foods in Spain. Portions are large, as is to be expected in a cold climate, but the cooking has a certain refinement.
Dishes cooked al chilindrôn, in a flavourful sauce based on the particularly good local red peppers, and tomatoes, onions and garlic, are typical of Navarra and Aragon. Trout from the clear mountain streams that rise in the Pyrenees are a regional favourite, especially cooked with ham.
The food of Catalonia is exciting and richly varied and features interesting sauces, such as romesco and Allioli, aromatic herbs and noticeable similarities with French Mediterranean food, such as Zarzuela, a close cousin of bouillabaise.
Valencia and Murcia form one of the most densely populated and richest agricultural areas of Europe, and exhibit distinct Moorish influences. Here there are groves of orange and almonds, large market gardens and rice fields. The last two provide the ingredients for authentic Paella Valenciana - the addition of fish and shellfish is a modern adaptation that has become universally popular.
Andalucia is the land of olives, olive oil and sizzling fried foods, particularly the varied sea and shellfish from around the long coastline. In contrast, Extremadura is a land of tough, hardy countrymen, and simple hearty cooking with many stew-type dishes. The vast exposed Central Plain produces Spain's most well-known cheese: Manchego, as well as many other sheeps' milk cheeses. The area is most generally thought of as a land of roasts, principally young lamb and suckling pigs.
Galicia and Asturias are renowned for the quality of their fish and shellfish, and is the home of excellent Empanadas. The climate is comparatively cold and wet, so appetities tend to be hearty and the local dishes correspondingly warming and filling. Locally produced cider is popular for drinking and also for using in cooking.