Tapas, an Andalusian custom throughout Spain, are an informal style of eating. One of the pleasures of Spain is to go on a “Tapeo,” to move leisurely from bar to bar in order to sample the delights of the tapas, as the fancy takes one. Spaniards commonly stop at tapas bars after work, before dinner or on the weekends to pass the time with family and friends.
Tapas can be considered a menu category, more than simply hors d’oeurves or appetizers intended to compliment the main meal, but in fact constitute meals in their own right. They are often miniature, self-sufficient dishes of brilliant flavors and intriguing presentation. A meal made up of tapas is commonly known as a “Vino Espanol.”
The word “tapas” literally means lid, and the first tapas were slices of bread used to cover glasses of wine in small shops to keep the wine fresh. Soon the glass or jar of wine was served covered with a slice either of smoked ham or cheese, with two aims: first to avoid insects or other impurities that could fall into that jar or glass and second, to entice customers to order food. Other accompaniments soon followed, and were known as “small bites.” Today tapas are appetizers, but of a variety and quantity unknown in other countries. These snacks are so popular that often at “tapas time,” patrons spend the whole evening nibbling, skipping the nighttime meal altogether.