the appetizer:

Though Spanish cuisine has roots in Roman and Mediterranean cooking, influence from Jewish and Moorish settlers differentiates Spain's cooking from the rest of Europe. Later, Spanish conquistadores brought back numerous foods from the Americas that were then introduced to the rest of Europe, including potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and beans.

Global Destinations



"Participating in the 'tapeo' provides an opportunity to feel the pulse of the nation and to be charged with its electricity..."

—Penelope Casas

A dining craze across the US a few years ago, "tapas" are little dishes of Spain served before lunch and dinner in bars and taverns. There are as many variations of tapas as there are cooks in Spain, or maybe more. What are they? small portions of food which are served as part of the social scene. Spaniards go to bars to converse, join friends, argue, joke and flirt. Tapas are provided to keep them going, and are rarely eaten in lieu of a main meal. The best tapas bars are in the larger cities and near universities or towns where people happen to arrive at tapas time, such as where commuters end up.

Tapar means "to cover" and the first tapa was a slice of ham served on top of a sherry glass, reportedly to keep out the flies. Barkeeps discovered the saltiness of the ham spurred beverage sales, and a tradition was born. Today, every region has its own specialty tapas.

Envision this: 8:00 PM—a tapas bar in Madrid, patrons lined up at the bar, calling their orders to the bartender. In a few minutes, the crowd will be so large it will spill out into the streets, carrying their wine glasses and tapas with them. You elbow your way in and are immediately seduced by the aromas of garlic, olive oil, shellfish, ham, cheese, saffron... coming from a spread of hand-made pottery bowls brimming with tapas. The last bar you were in had a list of them on the wall, but here, patrons just take what they want as the evening drives on, keeping their own track of these treats and paying up before they go. In some bars, tapas are served on toothpicks and these are used to tally the bill. You eyeball the bowls and start to take your first round of tapas. It's hard to tell what some of them are, but here's what you end up with:

That's more than enough for now! You still have dinner to eat.

Tapas, The Little Dishes of Spain, by Penelope Casas
1991, Alfred A. Knopf

Penelope Casas introduces you to this charming custom and then provides over 300 recipes for making tapas here, using the traditional ingredients of Spain. Consult this book before you go, then come back and recreate all those luscious goodies with true authenticity

Update: A new, revised edition of Tapas was released in 2007. Our Cookbook Profile of Tapas, with sample recipes, is included in the links below.


Spanish Cookbooks with Recipes

Tapas by Penelope Casas


More Spanish Tapas Recipes

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This page modified January 2007