¿Te vienes de cañas?
You can easily hear from one of your colleagues as you were switching off the computer and thinking of the plans you were supposed to do that Wednesday evening, among them going to the gym. But the idea of the cañas -beer canes- is very tempting although you know it might end up taking the whole evening and maybe part of the night. And yes, you will be back to work at 9 am on Thursday morning. And it is not going to be just beers but also lots of amazing tapas you are desperate to try. The same situation takes place on a Sunday afternoon when you unexpectedly meet some friends on the street. Tapas will extend to the whole day as you catch up and try to fix the world.
These are the best experiences: those that were never planned. Having tapas also means improvisation and the surprise effect, that same one that you expect from the chef or the bar tender preparing what is going to be your favorite tapa -until you try a better one-. It is literally impossible to book a table, first because you had never planned to have tapas that day. And second, because most of the local tapas bars do not even have tables! Clients stand at the counter -most time not even sitting down- with their drink in their hands. One of the characteristics of these amazing holes in a wall is that they are always packed. And if they are not, it is whether they are not good or you are not at the right time.
The story says that once upon a time there was a king called Alfonso X of Castile who lived in the 13th century and is supposed to be the responsible of the origin of the first tapas in our history. Since his Majesty was recuperating from an illness he was told to only eat and drink in small amounts, one of the secrets of the tapas: small portions. When the king recovered ordered that from that moment on all drinks would include a small tapa. If the 13th century seems too far, there is another story that might have taken place in the 19th century in Cádiz, Andalusia where the weather is very windy. They started serving drinks with a slice of ham or cheese on top -in Spanish tapa, meaning cover or top- to prevent the sand in. Sometimes the story changes the sand for insects such as flies. Whatever their origin was, tapas are now the best companion for a drink.
Although every region in Spain has their own specialty, such as the pa amb tomàquet -bread with tomato- in Catalonia or the pinchos in the Basque Country, there are some tapas that you can find everywhere: tortilla de patatas, patatas bravas -french fries served with a spicy sauce and alioli- or croquetas. If you do not know what to order the best way is -if you do not have any food allergies- to trust the waiter and let him or her surprise you. Most places offer the tapa del día -tapa of the day- which can also be one of their specialties. Many questions concerning the ingredients are never welcome either because the waiter is too busy serving more clients or because it is literally impossible to know the whole list of ingredients that a particular tapa has. In some areas of Spain such as the Basque Country or Asturias you are expected to help yourself choosing from a huge variety of pinchos or pintxos sitting on the counter -small snack spiked with a toothpick on a piece of bread-. They are to be found in taverns while you enjoy a glass of cider. So be curious!
Every food can actually turned out to be a tapa. The easy ones to prepare are obviously olives, cheese, ham, some canned food -which in Spain can be delicacy such as the anchovies marinated in vinegar, garlic and oil- but there are also very elaborated tapas. Since the 1990’s the concept of tapas has changed but it has actually been in the last 20 years that most prestigious chefs have created their own sophisticated tapas which are impossible to prepare at home unless you have a Master’s degree in molecular cuisine. Nowadays most Michelin starred restaurants also serve their versions of tapas. In these cases please do not forget to make a reservation.
A great deal about the experience of tapas is to socialize. Having tapas in good company tastes better and everybody knows this. Unless you are tasting tapas for a culinary magazine you will never go alone. And even if you did, you would immediately make friends. This is probably why it is so common to see groups of friends bar hopping. You would typically have one drink and a tapa at a spot. In many places -especially in the south of Spain- a free tapa is offered together with the drink. In Spain we don’t split the check when tapas hopping but each of us takes care of a ronda. One of the most gratifying sounds when you are leaving a tapas bar is to hear the waiters ringing the bell and saying bote! as they put the tip in the tip pot. Yes, we tip. Most times we would round up the check. There is even a special bell the waiters ring for letting people know they have received their tip.
Tapa´s party can go on and on for hours.