As some of you may know, I live in Madrid, Spain and I love it. I actually really love traveling and finding out interesting facts about all the cities I go to, or have gone to. So, I decided to add another section to my blog…The Postcard section. Although I have not been traveling so much lately, I want to try and give you some cool facts about cool cities as often as I can! So here is my first postcard from Madrid, Spain, my current home and an interesting story about one of its most prominent traditions. Tapas.
The tapas tradition has become very cool and very fashionable around Spain. I know I love the idea! Not only here, but many restaurants in other cities have adapted the idea of serving free food along with an ordered drink. Ever wonder how this tradition came to pass?? It all started in Spain.
Royal Tapas with Sand
From Hidden Madrid: Madrid’s Oddities and Curiosities Written by: Mark and Peter Besas
(An amaaazing book full of interesting stories on Madrid)
To talk about Madrid and not mention “tapas” would be a sacrilege. You will find that in almost any bar, when ordering an alcoholic drink, the bartender will, at no extra charge, place an appetizer on a small plate next to the drink. These tapas range from olives to potato chips to a wedge of tortilla española (Spanish omelette), to jamón serrano (cured ham). Locals will sometimes skip dinner altogether and instead make rounds of various bars consuming a variety of tapas. Every Madrileño and foreigner has his or her own favourite tapa bars around the city.
There are many stories as to how this tradition came to pass. The following is the most widely-accepted story.
In the 13th century, during the reign of Alfonso X, known as “The Wise,” came down with an illness. His doctor advised him to drink sips of wine accompanied by small bits of food between meals. The treatment went well and he soon recovered. The King realized that the advice was excellent and that he shouldn’t be the only one to follow the doctor’s recommendation. So he passed a law that required all taverns in Castile to serve gratis a small portion of food with all the wine that they sold. It was actually a very sensible law because at the time, Spain agricultural, and it was normal for most workers to take a mid-day break from work to have a drink. Being poor, they would abstain from food and often return under the influence of alcohol. The new law attempted to allay this problem since having a small snack would prevent them from drinking on an empty stomach.
As for the term tapa, it apparently dates back to a trip taken by King Alfonso XIII in the early 20th century. The king was traveling to Cadiz with his entourage and stopped to rest and have a drink at a beach tavern called El Ventorillo del Chato (which still exists today!). Alfonso ordered a glass of sherry, but as he was about to take a sip, a strong gust of wind swept a cloud of sand from the beach. The waiter, quick to react, placed a slice of cured ham over the king’s glass. Alfonso, not understanding, asked what the waiter what he was doing. The waiter said, “Tapa” which literally means, “cover” and he used the ham to cover the glass of sherry from the sand. The King was so amused that he ordered his next sherry to be accompanied with a tapa, and so did his entourage. And so the term was coined.
We confess that we’ve always wondered what that first slice of ham with sand on it tasted like.
…my favourite tapas bar? El Tigre…If you are in Spain, or ever come to visit,
it definitely should be a stop on your list!