What is the history of the tapa? Spain and Tapas: “Tapa” literally means lid or cover. Legend has it that in the 13th century King Alfonso the X, known as the “wise one”, passed a decree forcing all taverns to serve a small portion of food with every wine served in order to reduce the effects of alcohol.
But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the term “tapa” was coined during the reign of King Alfonso XIII. The monarch was visiting Cadiz on the southern coast of Spain, and decided for a stop at the beachside Ventorrillo del Chato Inn, which still exists today!
He ordered a sherry wine and just as the waiter served it to him, a gust of wind blew into the room and the waiter quickly put a slice of “Jamón Serrano” (Spanish cured ham) on top of the glass to avoid any sand from getting inside the glass, the King asked why the piece of ham was on top of his glass and the ingenious waiter responded “a tapa your majesty”.
The Monarch loved the idea and ordered another one, so the waiter repeated the same operation. The Spanish Tapa was born and the term “tapa” spread throughout the whole kingdom until today. Have you ever thought this could be the history of the tapa?
Similarities with the English Sandwich
The Spanish Tapa is very similar to the Anglo-Saxon legend of the Earl of Sandwich, he loved playing cards and did not want to stop for a lunch break, so he ordered two pieces of bread, some meat and slapped them together, eureka!, the sandwich was born.
Today, Spanish tapa bars have been popping up around the globe. The global term “tapa bar” is an establishment that serves small bite-size portions of just about anything from chicken-nuggets to salmon with goat cheese on a toasted French bread. The idea is to share these bites in a less formal sociable manner standing upright at the bar or sitting down at a quaint tavern-style table.
The term “tapa” in Spain is also quite ambiguous, not all “tapa” bars offer traditional Spanish food. There are fast-food franchise “tapa” establishments and all the way up to sophisticated fine-dining ones.
Generally speaking, a tapa for a “Madrileño” could be a free small sample of a traditional dish you get when you order any drink, (except coffee or tea). Or it can be a larger portion to share with the people they are with, called “raciones” or “portions”.
Hence, the Spanish verb, “irse de tapas”, “to go out for small or big portion of bites in different bars”, where each bar is famous for its home-style “tapa”.
Madrileños only settle for best tapa bars.
We take you on a historical downtown tour of Madrid alongside our favorite traditional Spanish tapa bars and restaurants of Madrid. If you really want to experience the best native tapa experience alongside with its history, then it’s a must for your to try the historical tapas tour.