The Real Origin of Tapas

We all love enjoying tapas, but… what does “tapas” mean and where does the name come from? Let’s find out where this tradition comes from.

The first thing to know is that, surprisingly for many English people, “Tapas” means “lids, as in”removable covers”.

The explanation is simple: Tapas come from slices of bread or cold meat (like “Jamon” or chorizo) that where put on the top of the wine jars and cups in the taverns during the Spanish Golden Age.

The obvious reason to do this was to protect the precious wine from undesired visitors (flies, mosquitos and dust).

1498 Tapas

Besides to this straightforward explanation, there are 3 main theories to explain this behavior, and all 3 involve Kings:

  1. The first theory says that Alfonso X (Alphonse X the Wise 1221-1284) recovered from an illness by having wine between meals. Once he recovered, he ordered that every tavern served small pieces of food with the wine.
  2. The second theory says that Felipe III (Philip the Third 1578-1621) ordered that the troops were served an small amount of bread or cold meat with the wine, in order to prevent them from going too drunk.
  3. The last theory is more recent, dating the 19th century. It claims that Alfonso XIII (Alphonse 13 1886 – 1941) during a trip to Cadiz was served a glass of wine with a slice of Jamon as cover. The bar tender claimed that this prevented the dust to get into the wine, and Alfonso XIII created then the tradition of covering the drinks with a slice of cold meat.

All three of them are likely to be true. The fact is that the tradition of having small dishes (as small as slices) is rooted in the Spanish culture and tradition, being documented in texts and codices of all times.

Surprised? The next time you are enjoying tapas with your friends you can share where do they come from!

Xavi

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