Saturday, 4 May 2013

Barcelona - Tapas (Food series 1)

This weekend a friend is here to visit us from London. When he arrived it was lunch time and we sat down to have some tapas.

Tapas is a very popular lunchtime meal in Spain. The word ‘tapa’ means 'to cover' that explains its history and tapas is generally made up of many small dishes or snacks. They may be cold (olives, ham or cheese) or hot (patatas bravas, garlic prawn). Similarly to the Greek mezze or to the Chinese dim sum, combining a number of these dishes will make a full meal. They generally don’t come at the same time so that instead of focusing on one meal people can focus on the conversation and on enjoying each other company.

According to history they evolved from Andalusia, South of Spain. In the taverns to prevent fruit flies getting in their drinks they used ham or chorizo slices to cover their glasses between sips. The tavern owners knew that salty meat activates thirst so in order to put up the alcohol sales they started to make little dishes to accompany the drinks. Later these little dishes became just as important as the drink itself.

There are many legends that surround the origin of tapas as well. My favourite is that a king (let’s stick with Felipe II although nobody can vouch for him) passed a law that when wine is served it has to be covered with a top containing a small quantity of food. This was to prevent rowdy sailors and soldiers from getting drunk quickly.

Whatever the origin, tapas is one of Spain’s most famous signature dishes. There are tapas competitions every year and I’m definitely planning to be there this year!
Let’s have a look at some of the basic tapas meals.

Whenever we have tapas, we start with this. They use the crunchiest bread slices, get the juiciest tomatoes and rub it over the bread, sprinkling it with olive oil.

Patatas bravas
This is white potatoes cut up in square pieces and served hot with some sauce, usually mayo and tomatao sauce or the two mixed. I know, it sounds so ordinary but still somehow tastes different. I think it is always a measure of a restaurant how well they make this simple, basic dish.
Also, if you want to decide how expensive a restaurant is, usually looking at the price of the patatas bravas will give you a good rule of thumb.  

Small green peppers. They are usually just fried in olive oil and covered with salt. They have a certain taste that I absolutely love. I always make sure we order some.

Garlic prawn
Another basic dish. Usually not enough garlic for my liking but still very tasty.

There are many more, cured ham and chorizo play a huge part together with a variety of sea food. Usually when you go to local bars they will have their own tapa they are famous for. Spanish people often go ‘bar hopping’ and have only one or two tapas in each bar.

I love tapas as you’re not limited to having only one of the many delicious meals on the menu. Sometimes you just want a few bites of many dishes to know how they all taste. Also, tapas is made to share so it’s a great to have it with friends, just like we did with Mike.

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