Well, yet again this post doesn’t come with recipe. I’ll say that right up front. But that’s not for lack of trying. Instead, I’m going to share a little taste of tapas with all of you who haven’t had the opportunity to get out there and eat too much food on tiny little plates. Tapas are definitely making waves in the cooking community; they are trendy. Tapas are leaking into restaurants, bar menus, magazines, and food television. Cool. But nobody can beat the Spanish, who invented the damn things. How can you tell? Vocabulary!
First, what the heck does tapa mean? Literally its a cover, or lid. In the past, when they served you a ‘jar’ of beer, the bartender or waiter would put a little plate on top to cover your beer, to keep flies, mosquitoes, dust, or whatever other beer-threatening objects may be lurking, out. If not a small plate then, well, a slice of bread with some jamón on top. It’s interesting that the word itself has become such a globe trotter, because even though the tradition stretches back ages, the word only entered into accepted, official, Real Academia Spanish in 1939. In the words of my friend, Jose, who was happy to catch me up on Spanish culinary history, “es muy, muy andalu.” That is to say that the word tapa is actually specific to the southern region of Spain. If you go traveling within the Iberian Peninsula, the word will vary wildly with the other regional dialects and languages.
But the word that has captured my heart and captures real Andaluz attitude is not tapa, but tapear. This is a real verb in Spanish, and it refers to the very specific act of going out to eat tapas. It implies barhopping late in the evening when the sultry heat of the south is dissipating and nothing but cold beer and cheap, strong red wine accompanied by platelets of olives, fried almonds, salt cod, pork loin, slivers of cured ham, triangles of salty equally cured cheese, little fried packets of bechamel, sweet marinated red peppers, roasted potatoes in a mix of fresh mayonnaise and a piquant red sauce, pickled broad beans, and whatever the restaurant owner or chef can invent.
If you are going to tapear, you will be out in the street, chatting and lingering over your food for at least two hours. The intense aficionados will know what tapa they want to eat at what bar and will plan accordingly. You are not eating. You are not even eating out. You are out to tapear. There is a difference.
Wow, that was a lot of words.