What is Tapas

What is Tapas and where did it originate from?

A tapa is an appetiser or snack in Spanish cuisine and translates to small portion of any kind of Spanish cuisine.

Tapas may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as puntillitas, which are baby squid, flour coated and lightly fried).

In some bars and restaurants in Spain and across the globe, tapas has evolved into a more sophisticated cuisine. Tapas can be combined to make a full meal.  In some Central American countries, such snacks are known as bocas. In parts of Mexico, similar dishes are called botanas.


The word "tapas" is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, "to cover", a cognate of the English top.

In pre-19th century Spain, tapas was served by posadas, albergues, or bodegas, offering meals and rooms for travellers. Since few innkeepers could write and few travellers read, inns offered their guests a sample of the dishes available, on a "tapa" (the word for pot cover in Spanish).

According to the Joy of Cooking the original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Bartenders and restaurant owners created a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales. The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.

Tapas has evolved through Spanish history by incorporating new ingredients and influences. Most of the Iberian Pensuila was invaded by the Romans, who introduced more extensive cultivation of the olive following their invasion of Spain in 212 B.C and irrigation methods. The discovery of the New World brought the introduction of tomatoes, sweet and chilli peppers, maize (corn) and potatoes, which were readily accepted and easily grown in Spain's microclimates.

It has also been claimed that tapas originated in the south of Spain during the time of the Spanish Inquisition as a means of publicly identifying conversos, Jews who had converted to Christianity. Since tapas often consist in part of ham or other non-kosher foodstuffs, the reluctance of the conversos to eat whatever tapas dish was offered to them could be taken as a tacit admission that they had not abandoned their Jewish faith, thus tapas was a tool of the Spanish Inquisition.

There are many tapas competitions throughout Spain, but there is only one National Tapas competition which is celebrated every year in November. Since 2008, the City of Valladolid and the International School of Culinary Arts have celebrated the International Tapas Competition for Culinary Schools. Various schools from around the world go to Spain annually to compete for the best tapa concept.


Traditional Spanish Tapas includes but is not limited to :-

  • Albondigas - Spanish meatballs
  • Gambas Pil Pil - tender prawns cooked in garlic, chilli & olive oil.
  • Tortilla Espanola - Traditional Spanish Omelette filled with potatoes & caramelised onions.
  • Puntillitas - baby squid, flour coated and lightly fried
  • Patatas Bravas - fresh fried cubed potatoes topped with either aioli or tomato sauce



United Kingdom


Upmarket tapas restaurants and tapas bars are common in many cities of the United Kingdom.  As with any cuisine exported from its original country, there can often be significant differences between the original Spanish dishes and the dishes as they are served in the United Kingdom]