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Nobody really knows the true origin of tapas although there are many theories and historical figures involved around various stories, the origin of Spanish tapas remains a mystery to this day and it can be left to the individual as to which theory they find the most plausible.

The first thing to recognize is that three kings are involved in the whole tapas theory, not the "Los Reyes Magos" on January 6th where the kings deliver presents to the children but another three kings of old namely, King Alfonso X, King Alfonso XII and King Felipe III. One of the more popular origins lies with King Alfonso X who reigned over Castille in the Thirteenth century. It is said that the king had become very ill and as a result was only permitted to eat small bites of food and a little red wine throughout the day. Eventually the king recovered from his illness and immediately declared that no inn in Spain was to serve wine unless it was served with a little bite to eat.

There is certainly truth in the fact that small bites of food served with every glass of wine or glass of beer absorbs alcohol. This appears to have been recognized by king Felipe the third who, over time noticed that the work rate and performance of his subjects was suffering due to the fact that they were inebriated after consuming generous rations of alcoholic beverages. The kings' problem became particularly prominent during the winter months when more wine was consumed to "warm up". Tackling what must have been a rather annoying issue the king began to order small plates of food such as bread and cured ham to help absorb the wine thus increasing the work rate of his subjects.

King Alfonso the twelfth also had a practical solution to a problem which occurred whilst on route through Cadiz in Andalucia. The province of Cadiz lies near the southern Andalucian coast and as such is quite windy. The story goes that king Alfonso had stopped outside a tavern and was given a goblet of wine from the tavern owner along with a slice of bread and cured ham, because the wind was blowing up the sand the king placed the bread and ham on top of his goblet to prevent the sand from spoiling his wine. Upon ordering again the king then asked for another "tapa" to cover his wine.

"Tapa" ~ to cover

Another somewhat far-fetched theory with the same thinking as king Felipe is that it was the Spanish army that invented tapas. Why? To prevent the soldiers from coming home drunk after a night out and subsequently suffering from hangovers the next morning thus reducing their performance . . . It is indeed very true that in Spain if you go bar hopping it is not as easy as one might think to "get drunk" as you are constantly filling your belly and absorbing the alcohol.

Lastly we have the old story from workers in the campo (farm workers). It is said that working in the fields after a large meal at lunchtime was near impossible so farm workers took small portions of food that they would eat throughout the day thus not working on a heavy stomach. There were no lunchtime break in those days just regular short breaks in which the workers enjoyed some wine and of course tapas. These small dishes would take the form of olives, cheese, slices of serrano ham or cured sausage.

There is a more practical theory of course and that is that in days gone by the goblet of wine or beer was "covered" to prevent natures most annoying invention - the Spanish fruit fly from landing in what was at the time a valuable and savoured beverage. No matter which legend or theory you believe is the most plausible one thing is true and that is tapas are still very much alive in the Granada region of Spain. A small plate of food to accompany your glass of wine of beer which can range from a simple plate of salted almonds, Serrano ham on bread to a serving of paella or garlic prawns. True Spanish tapas are free, gratis, no charge and will, in most cases follow your beer or glass of wine. The region of Granada is one of the only remaining parts of Spain where tapas are served free with your drink.

More recently with the advent of the celebrity chef, cooking programs and "tapas bars" the legend has become somewhat of a business. There is of course nothing wrong with that but with tapas becoming more and more elaborate, larger and expensive one can truly appreciate the old Andalucian culture of tapas when enjoying a lazy afternoon outside a bar in Granada or Seville. Tapas are also a social event, in fact Spaniards do not tend to have tapas in their own homes, tapas are, all about friends and gathering socially to enjoy a drink or two and have a bite to eat.

You never know what tapas you will receive, you can order tapas in many bars throughout the Granada region but waiting to see what you get with your first beer adds that little bit of excitement to the afternoon, it is purely up the bars discretion whether you get tapas at all or indeed what kind. Weekends are a favourite time for tapas as this is when the bars come alive, in many places you can admire the bain marie's behind the hot counter brimming full of clams in tomato salsa, paella and a whole range of speciality dishes conjured up by the resident chef or "cocinero". In rural bars (and all over Andalucia) "jamon" is a firm favourite, an economical way of serving delicious finger food, more often than not the barman will seemingly disappear to the other end of the bar, give a his knife a quick sharpen and carve off a few slices of ham before putting it on a plate and placing it conveniently next to your glass.

Orce tapas: The village of Orce pronounced (or-thay) is your typical white washed village high up in the Altiplano in Granada province. Orce also boasts seven bars which, for a small "pueblo blanco" with a population of only 1200 is quite a few! Using Orce as a typical example of an Andalucian village here is a short list of some of the more delicious weekend tapas which you may (or may not) expect upon visiting a rural village bar in Andalucia.

  • Serrano ham and almonds
  • Patatas Bravas (Potatoes in brava sauce)
  • Spanish Tortilla (Spanish omelette)
  • Clams in salsa
  • Gambas al pil pil (chili garlic prawns)
  • Marinated anchovies
  • Albondigas (Spanish meatballs)
  • Braised chorizo in red wine
  • Serrano ham croquettes
  • Pork in sherry

Whether we have to thank a Spanish King from centuries ago, the army or farm labourers tapas have become embedded in Andalucian culture and are still available in bars today throughout Granada, a tradition that is enjoyed by Spaniards and tourists alike every day.

May we suggest . . . ?

Serrano Ham direct from Spain : www.orceserranohams.com

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