Tapas Time

In response to a special request from a reader, I wanted to take an afternoon break and talk tapas. As the days grow warmer and the nights grow longer, tapas are the perfect mid-evening patio snack.

As you may have witnessed in Spain, dinner is often served at 9, 10, 11 p.m. and beyond, making a small plate of food in the mid-afternoon or early evening essential (to boosting your energy so that you may dance at the disco until 3am). But more than merely a famish-prevention mechanism, tapas offer an opportunity to pause at the end of a long day and enjoy some epicurean delights.

If you are interested in culinary anthropology, as am I (thanks Alton Brown), you might be intrigued by the roots of this Spanish past-time, which I discovered in The Joy of Cooking. Tapas comes from the Spanish verb, "tapar," meaning "to cover." In bars throughout Andalucia, sherry drinkers were given bits of bread topped with meat to cover their glasses and prevent pesky fruit flies from sipping on their sweet libation. Bartenders soon noticed that cured meats like ham and chorizo also made the bar patrons thirsty, increasing alcohol sales. And, just like that, a match was made in culinary heaven...

You need not be in Barcelona or Madrid, however, to partake in tapas time. Next time you serve an especially late weekend dinner, start with some tapas to tame your hunger. Savor a glass (or three) of
sangria. Play a little Gipsy Kings. In no time, you'll be transported to Espana.

But, what to serve for your tapas?
Tortilla espanola is a classic potato omelette (very much like a quiche) that can be served room temperature and is easily jazzed up with a dollop of aioli or some pureed roasted red peppers. A little crusty bread is essential for most any tapas service, as bread soaks up all of the yummy briney juices that emanate from olives or pickled peppers.

Another tapas must-have are slices of Serrano ham (similar to Italy's prosciutto) and manchego cheese.

At my favorite tapas restaurant in Maryland, José Andrés'
Jaleo, the certain star of the tapas menu were the "datiles con tocino," dates wrapped in bacon and deep fried. Wipe your drool, yes, they were that good.

Once you provide the basics, tapas are only limited by your imagination. Just keep your choices to small, two to three bites per guest. I aim to present mostly ready-made goodies like olives, ham, cheese and bread, and then make one special nibbly bite. Salud! Images borrowed from MuyMalbec, AdventuresInAndalucia, RidgeEstateOliveOil & Latina.


  1. Merci beaucoup, Pink Frenchie . . .

    I'll try the tortilla espanola this week, for a test run. My specialty food store has manchego cheese and serrano ham and those divine Spanish olives! A little sangria, a little vino tinto and some Gypsy Kings and I do have a summer party!

  2. When my sister lived in Spain, we'd visit her in the summer. It was too hot to even wander into the kitchen. Besides no one in Madrid seemed to cook, not with all those tapa bars and divine fresh take-home-finger-foods in their delis. In the early evenings, adults would enjoy these in the park outside their apartment towers with friends and a glass of vino. Spaniards love to socialize.

    One evening, my sister introduced us to tortilla espanola, the Spanish omelet. Near her apartment was a place called El Rey de la Tortilla that served at least a dozen types of tortillas espanolas from the classic potato one, to roasted garlic, red peppers and more. She'd call in her order and we'd pick it up in a large pizza box, take it, a loaf of crusty bread and vino to the park. It made for a scrumptious meal!

  3. Hi honey! This has me absolutely starving, especially the image of the melon and proscuitto, YUMMM!!! I've been slowly introducing Matt into tapas over the last six years, they don't do much tapas down South! Tee hee! Hope you have a great week sweets. xxoxo

  4. Jaleos in my most favorite restaurant ... I like the shrimp with garlic, the manchego cheese with green apple, and the tortilla de patatas. You can find the full menu here: www.jaleo.com. :-)

  5. Thanks, all! And, Trish...tapas in the South were often met (in my experience) with culinary confusion. I remember once when I suggested going to a Tapas Bar for dinner with friends, their Southern ears (mixed with my Midwestern accent) heard "Topless Bar." Uh-oh....


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