America has the hamburger, Italy pizza and Japan sushi, but Spain’s convenience snack is perhaps the most diverse of all. After all, the delicious nibbles known collectively as tapas come in so many different forms that they almost represent an entire branch of the country’s cuisine in their own right.
Perfect as an in-between snack, an accompaniment to beer and other drinks, or a light meal, tapas can be tailored to the hot summer season or winter climes. They can encompass fish, seafood, meat, sausages, croquettes, vegetables, peppers, tortilla – the classic Spanish omelette with potatoes – and ensaladilla rusa – a potato salad with mayonnaise, peas and tuna, but are always served in small portions.
The minute you fill a medium-sized plate a tapa becomes a ración, and once a dish is put before you it no longer falls within the tapas genre at all. You see, the purpose of a tapa is to offer light refreshment, often accompanying drinks but also as a small meal in its own right. In a country as diverse as Spain, different regions are famous for their own specialities, such as bacalao (cod fish) and sausages in the north, mini-paellas in Valencia and boquerones (anchovy fillets) in the region of Málaga.
The choice of delicacies is almost endless, and to tapear is to try small quantities of different dishes, often in different tapas bars in the town centres and historic quarters of cities such as Málaga, Marbella, Sevilla and Granada. Every town and village has several tapas bars in which you can sample the local cuisine, wine and atmosphere. Designed to be shared, tapas allow you to picar (pick) from different dishes, making them the ideal partner for a nice glass of wine and good company.
Marbella and other towns on the Costa del Sol organise regular Tapas Routes, which take in the best venues and allow you to follow a scenic route through historic towns and lively seaside places that are full of life, banter and delicious tastes.
Spain celebrates World Tapa’s Day on 29th September this year. ¡Que aproveche!