Tapas are the appetizers famous in Spanish cuisine, and which in recent have gained popularity in metropolitan areas around the country. The word "tapa" actually means lid in Spanish, and some say the word originated because the original tapa were slices of bread used by those sipping sherry to guard their glasses against fruit flies. Whether this is true or not, no one knows. What is true is that tapas have become an integral part of Spanish cuisine and culture. In northern Spain, they are called pinchos, "bocas" in Latin America and "bocanas" in Mexico.
There are multiple explanations regarding the origins of tapas. The one I found most interesting was the following: legend has it that King Alphonse the Wise was recovering from a disease. His physician recommended that for a speedy recovery what he needed was small plates of food with a glass of wine, a few times throughout the day. Apparently it worked. Once recovered Alphonse declared that no establishment in his kingdom would serve wine to its patrons without a small dish of food to go along with it. Whether this is true or not, no one really knows. It does make for interesting conversation though!
As can be expected tapas are subject to regional differences, and can also be eaten hot or cold. They are also unique to different establishments who often boast to carry the best shrimp tapas, or the best chorizo tapas in Spain. Yes they are proud of their culinary abilities!!! It is said that tapas are meant to encourage conversation since the focus is not so much the big meal, but the interesting small dishes everyone is ordering and sharing.
The diversity of tapas evolved from the multiple ethnic influences that came into contact with Spain, from the Romans in antiquity who introduced olives, to the Arabs who brought with them almonds, citrus fruits, and exotic spices. My family and I usually have a tapas dinner Friday nights when no one wants to cook a meal after a hard week at work.
If you want to host a tapas party, I suggest 2 things: ease and variety. Provide your guests with a mixture of hot and cold, sweet and savory. Also, don't forget to add a bit of color into your food display. Remember we eat with our eyes. Here's a small smattering of some of my favorite tapas. Make one, make them all. Enjoy with a glass of your favorite beverage.