Where do tapas come from?
Few things are as peculiar to Spain as the concept of tapa. This distinct item of Spanish gastronomy has been exported to the rest of humanity and finds literary references in texts by Quevedo, for whom they are “avisillos”, or Cervantes, who refers to ‘tapas’ as “llamativos”.
And just like everything that is good, many lay claim to its authorship. From the primitive custom of accompanying alcoholic drinks with ‘something’ to eat to mitigate its effects, supposedly promoted by Alfonso X, the Wise, to the fact that they say that the country workers used it to prevent the flies from landing in their drink. But the most widespread of the theories speaks of Cádiz and a bar called Ventorrillo del Chato.
Located on the Vía Augusta Julia and still open today, this bar overlooking the sea received a highly illustrious guest in the early 20th century: King Alfonso XIII. Tired on his travels, the monarch asked for a glass of wine to get his strength back.
The barman served the liquid in the royal wineglass. Outside on the beach, the wind was blowing hard and lifting the sand. The innkeeper realised that there was a risk of some grains of sand ending up in such an illustrious glass and spoiling the drink, so he took a slice of ham and placed it over the wineglass.
With the glass covered in this way, the barman approached the Royal table and gently placed it in front of the monarch. When the king tried to take a sip of the drink, the slice of ham prevented the liquid from going down his throat. “Forgive my boldness”, he said to the King, “but I put on a lid [tapa, in Spanish] to prevent sand from getting into your glass”.
Alfonso XIII, with his turned up moustache, ate the slice of ham, sank his drink and asked for another, but one “with the same lid”. The royal flatterers laughed at the King’s sense of humour and ordered other glasses with a tapa.
More than a century later, tapas have spread around Spain and have conquered foreign lands. The super chefs of nouvelle cuisine reinvent them with new techniques; the local bar gives this omelette so famed amongst the knowledgeable; tens of franchises bear the name with pride... And all thanks to a barman, a King, and a little wind that raised the sand.
Images: Carlos de la Calle, Ignacio Fando, Gonzalo Hörh y Patronato Provincial de Turismo de Cádiz
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