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Going Out for Tapas… a Way of Life?

Going for tapas is not only about eating something... it is no longer a slice of cured ham with a glass of wine, but more about haute cuisine, tapas routes, a new way of understanding cuisine and social relations. So... Vamos de tapas?

If you search the internet for the origin of tapas you’ll find a huge variety of different explanations: economic, anthropologic, historic… Some attribute their origin to important Spanish monarchs, such as Alfonso X the Wise, or the Catholic Monarchs… all very mediaeval and royalist!

However, if we put these questionable royal origins aside, we can trace the custom of serving a small plate of food with wine back to the 16th century. Although in those times they weren’t called tapas. Quevedo, in his novel ‘The Spanish Sharper’ calls them avisillos, Cervantes, in ‘Don Quixote’ used the term llamativos, both meaning provocative, implying that they provoked thirst. It wasn’t until after the 1930s that the first written reference to tapas was made.

If we look at its etymology, a tapa refers to tapadora, something that covers something else. It seems therefore that the origin of tapas stems from the food that was used to cover the glass of wine so that nothing could fall into it. References can also be found from the 16th century, in the classic ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, which on several occasions tells how the glass was tapado (covered), by food.

But others defend the argument that the custom of covering the glass with a salty piece of food – cured ham, chorizo, cheese – rather than stopping things from falling into the drink, was actually to make people more thirsty. Others argue that it was to compensate for the effects of alcohol, or the heat that labourers had to withstand, that prevented them from eating too much… It is likely that there is no single origin, and that all of these different opinions aren’t contradictory but complementary.

However, if we compare tapas with other traditional starters, beyond the different culinary or food traditions, we are looking at the same product: small portions of food, accompanied by an alcoholic drink.

So, what’s the difference? It’s not just the flavours, it’s the context! Other traditional dishes could be considered starters to a main meal. Tapas on the other hand aren’t about sitting down and remaining seated. Eating tapas is about going for tapas: from bar to bar… meeting people, and discovering places.

Tapas became really popular in Spain after the 1960s; times of change, when bars stopped being taverns frequented solely by men, to become meeting places, somewhere to socialise, the ‘internet’ of that era, and a new way of life.

Going for tapas is not only about eating something… it is no longer a slice of cured ham with a glass of wine, but more about haute cuisine, tapas routes, a new way of understanding cuisine and social relations. So… Vamos de tapas?


Drankes Tabanco
3 Windmill St,
London W1T 2HY


62 Goodge Street,
London W1T 4NE


27 D’Arblay
St London W1F 8EP


Brindisa Soho
46 Broadwick St,
London W1F 7AF


192 Acre lane
London SW2 5UL


Rosita & The Sherry Bar
124 Northcote Road
London SW11 6QU


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