“Tapa” literally means “a cover” or “a lid”, of that we can be certain. You can now find it in all corners of the world, but where does Tapas come from? From the ordinance of Kings to more ordinary things, Spanish folklore has several explanations as to how Tapas came to be.
Here are a few of the more common ones. We know which one we think the most likely, but we´ll leave you to decide for yourself.
King Alfonso X of Castille
One of the most popular stories harks back seven hundred years.
It claims that in the 13th century King Alfonso X of Castille found that, while recuperating from an illness, he could only eat and drink in small amounts – resulting in the first form of tapas.
His Majesty thought it was marvellous and, on his recovery, decreed that all drinks should be served with a small snack.
King Alfonso XIII in Cadiz
Another story states that his much later 19th-century namesake, King Alfonso XIII, once ordered wine in a popular tavern in Cadiz.
Since Cadiz is known as being a very windy area and dusty with it, the bartender kindly served it with a slice of ham on top to keep the sand out.
The king enjoyed his wine and ham so much, he ordered the same again and, as is often the way with kings, in doing so started a trend.
The Farmers of Seville
Other origin myths are more humble.
According to some, tapas began at a farmers’ bar in Seville where the bartenders would serve beer or sherry with a saucer on top to keep the flies out. Then they realised that they could use the saucer to serve a little ham, some olives, some cheese.
The clever move made customers come back, thanks to the bar’s apparent generosity.
The Standing Story
One says that, since tapas bars used to be standing-only affairs, people who ordered a snack had nowhere to put their plate but on top of their glass – hence the tradition.
The Cover Up
Another story claims that Tapas was born of the deceitful dealings of sneaky tavern keepers. Their cunning plan was to use a plate of strong cheese as a diversionary tactic that would allow them to serve cheap and bad wine. They hoped the pungent cheese would leave their punters in a state of olfactory confusion, and so wouldn’t notice how bad the beverage was.