Understanding Tapas

Bar Estella Sevilla

The word Tapas has been stretched to the limit across global and fusion cultures.

Indian, Italian, Chinese, Indo-Portuguese… anything that comes in a smaller serving that isn’t a starter seems to be a Tapa now.

The origin of the real, the classic spanish Tapas is disputed but stems from alcohol and a small serving of food.

Whether King Alfonso X and his restorative sips of sherry with a bite sized morsel in the 1200’s or the more recent covering of a glass with a small slice of ham or bread to keep out the flies is the source, we all are aware of the idea.

The iterative evolution from simple slices of iberico to individually styled creations is obvious. As each bar developed a better menu the clients would gravitate. With time specialities of the region, the bar and the chef would predominate, be impersonated and emulated such that regions would develop a style.

A style that may hark back to tradition or be modern, seasonal and creative.

Some tapas are well known and archetypal – Patatas bravas, Albondigas, croquettas. Others very specific to a town or even a bar. The terminology is often local dialect, and the description on a blackboard may not translate with precision.

Despite the smug TV food presenters suggesting that you can just walk in to a traditional local bar and order with an air of coolness and aplomb, the situation generally becomes a busy barman shouting in unintelligible Spanish and ordering by pointing with a red face and a somewhat deflated affect.

In bigger cities the menu may be translated, although that is not always overly helpful. Take Boquerones for example. Lovely anchovies. White flesh and silver backs. Preserved in a gentle vinegar, olive oil, garlic. Easy one, yet they could be served over some potato slices. Fried and presented with lemon. Mixed in a salad of peppers.

The key to enjoying and ordering Tapas is to be adventurous. Don’t expect as it may not be what you thought. There are classics but there are also tales on the classics.

On the whole you will be pleasantly surprised. Even if not you can just move on. Most tapas are cheap and small. If its not to your taste then the next one may be.

Order another glass of fino and try another. It’s what its all about.

Bar Corba, Jerez de la Frontera