What are Tapas and Pinchos: the Traditional Spanish Food

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Tapas, the famous Spanish tapas…whether you have made a trip to Spain, or you have never been to the Iberian Peninsula, you have surely already heard of Spanish tapas.

What are tapas?

Tapas are a traditional Spanish dish. They originated in southern Spain, more precisely in Granada, and are popular especially in the beautiful Andalusia. They are a true institution.

For those of you who, at one time or another, are going to visit Seville (read also: things to do in Seville), Cordoba, Tarifa (spectacular) or for that matter any other beautiful Andalusian city, don’t forget to take a tapas tour.

The Spanish call it “ir a tapear” or even “ir de tapas” and it is a real ritual; they go from tapas bar to tapas bar between a glass of wine (in theory they are born with a glass of Sherry) and a small ration of food. Here, these small portions are what are called, precisely, Spanish tapas. Tasty dishes that make people want to drink more.

The history of tapas

Tapas are tradition and, like all traditions, they have a history, or rather, multiple histories. First, “tapear” means to cover. What do Spanish tapas have to do with the need to cover something? I’ll explain it right now.

Several stories are often connected to one tradition. In the case of tapas the one best known and believed to be valid concerns a trip to Andalusia by King Alfonso XIII. It made a stop at a bar and ordered a glass of sherry. The bartender, to avoid the possibility of bugs getting into the glass, covered the glass with a slice of ham. The king, having finished consuming the wine and ham, requested an additional glass of wine with another tapa. With this request from the king, tapas were thus born.

Different types of “ir de tapas”, in Granada

I still remember to this day that tapas bar in Granada that I entered during my itinerary in southern Spain. It was not far from the Cathedral if I am not mistaken.

It was after 9 o’clock, the little bar was full of people crowding the counter. I don’t remember how I happened upon this particular bar, maybe it was a Lonely planet suggestion, either way it was a good experience. In this case the tapa was a free accompaniment to the glass, the more rounds you made, the better quality the tapa became with each round of drinking.

I have to be honest, after a few goblets, the tapa becomes better by definition and due to force majeure.

Tapas, “racione” or “half-racione”?

Tapas are often mignon versions of classic Spanish/Andalusian dishes. For this reason, when you are in a tapas bar, you may find on the menu the words ration/half ration/tapas. This means that you will also be able to order that dish as a full-fledged course and not just a very small portion.

It tends to be the case that the tapa should be free, as I had in Granada; in fact, given also the fashionable trend of tapas, on many occasions you can choose it from the menu and each has its own price.

What are the most common ones?

A tapa is a relatively simple portion of food. Over time they have become more sophisticated; some Spanish dishes have even been prepared as tapas. Among the more traditional ones you can instead find:

  • The classic potato tortilla
  • Patatas bravas or, sometimes, potatoes ali oli
tapas spagnole cosa sono
Patatas Bravas
  • The fantastic jamon serrano (ham)
  • Cheese and various olives
  • Croquetas (croquettes) of potatoes and jamon
  • La morcilla (black pudding)
  • The Chorizo

If you are in Spain and want more ideas on which ones to eat, HERE you can get your mouth watering.

From Andalusia to the rest of Spain

This Spanish tradition expanded as a custom to the rest of Spain as well, taking various forms and various names. In fact, if you go to northern Spain to cities such as Santader in Cantabria, you will not find tapas, but pinchos.

The difference with pinchos?

Tapas or Pinchos, are they the same thing? If we were to ask a resident of the Cantabria, I think the answer would be no. Then again, parochialism is not to blame, and we Italians, gastronomically speaking, know a thing or two about parochialism.

Let’s just say that they are not quite the same thing. Pinchos are “pinched” by a toothpick and almost always the base is a piece of bread.

Differences so obvious that tapas and pinchos are considered extremely different? Not really, the concept is still the same: having a glass of wine with company, compartir (share) some food with other diners and spend some lighthearted time as rightly suggested by our Latin culture.


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