Tapas and Pinchos: Facts, Fables and History

Ever wondered where tapas came from? And what is a pincho exactly? 

Benidorm and Spain in general are famed for their delicious tapas. These snack-sized morsels are indeed one of the gastronomical highlights of European cuisine.

The birth of tapas

The word ‘tapas’ comes from the Spanish verb ‘tapar’ (to cover). Their illustrious history goes back to ancient days.

In Andalucia, for example, the traditional glass of sherry would be covered with a slice of bread. A simple and practical way to keep fruit flies and other flying insects from helping themselves to that precious liquid.

Canny bartenders

Bartenders began adding a slice of meat, usually either ham or chorizo, something salty to induce more thirst and yes, folks, sell more sherry.

And thus, tapas were born, gradually becoming as important as the drink (although that’s debatable)!

Distinct regions

Different regions of Spain have their own ideas about the origins of tapas. In Castile-La Mancha for example, it is said that the tavern owners discovered that the pungent aroma of mature cheese effectively masked the taste of bad wine. Hence they began to serve a small piece of cheese with each drink. Tsk!

In Cadiz, on the south coast and routinely battered by the hot Levante winds of North Africa, they say that tapas were born after King Alfonso XIII (1886 – 1941) visited the region.  

Kings and law-makers

The story goes that the king stopped by a local tavern and ordered a glass of wine. The owner presented the drink to King Alfonso covered with a slice of ham to prevent sand from blowing into it. When the king finished, evidently pleased, he ordered another, with ‘a cover.’

Over the years, actual laws have been passed that obliged tavern owners to serve just a small amount of food with each alcoholic drink. Take for example Felipe III (1578 – 1621), who in an attempt to curb drunken behaviour by rowdy sailors did just that.

The law stated that each goblet or mug of alcohol had to be served with a small ‘covering’ of food, as part of the drink’s purchase. The hope was that the lusty Spanish sailors would fight less as a result of the food slowing down the effects of the alcohol!

Enter the ‘pincho’

In much of northern Spain and Benidorm, tapas are also known as ‘pinchos’ (or ‘pintxos’ in the Basque region). Thus named because of the tooth-pick (pincho) running through them. This prevents the topping from falling off the bread.

Whilst it’s very common for Spanish diners to order 2 or 3 tapas each and share the resulting feast between the table, a ‘tapa’ can be upgraded to a ‘ración.’ This larger, meal-sized portion of the snack-sized ‘tapas’ is handy if you have a favourite and the snack-sized portion is simply not enough!

And now for the bit where we make you dribble. A quick low-down on the most typical, tasty tapas, whether in Benidorm, or elsewhere in Spain. Demystified, for you dear reader.

Tortilla (omelette)

Delicious Spanish omelette. The thick, chunky kind made with potatoes. Usually served with bread. Variations include adding spinach and sometimes sweet red pepper. Not to be confused with the ‘omelette’ below, which is the thin, French version that the Brits are used to.

Pimientos padrón (padron peppers)

Miniature sized green peppers, usually pan-fried in olive oil and served with a sprinkling of rock salt. Savoury and sometimes with a nice spicy kick. It’s normal to eat with your fingers, chewing away the soft green flesh and discarding the core and seeds.

Croquetes 

These are made with creamy potato then fried with crispy breadcrumbs. Often filled with meat or fish too. 

Calamares a la Romana (Roman style squid)

These morsels of deliciousness look a bit like onion rings. They are not. They are made from squid, unapologetically deep-fried in batter. Usually served with a chunk of fresh lemon.

Jamón Iberico (Iberic ham)

A plate of gorgeous, Spanish dry-cured ham. An iconic Spanish dish served with bread or pan con tomate (see below).

Patatas Bravas (fierce potatoes)

They look like mini roast potatoes but they’re actually fried. Served with a spicy sauce of either ali-oli (similar to garlic mayo) or salsa brava, depending on where you go. Salsa brava is made from varying mixtures of tomato, pepper, garlic and chilli. It’s one of the spiciest dishes you’ll find in Spain.

Pan con tomate (bread with tomato)

This is a typical accompaniment to just about everything. It consists of toasted bread, smothered with fresh tomato, olive oil and salt. Commonly eaten on its own for breakfast in northern Spain.

So, now you know the history and you've heard the talk. Time to walk the walk ladies and gents. Get out onto the bustling Benidorm streets and try some. Mmm!

For a great list of tapas restaurants in Benidorm, just click here.

For general info about food and drink and dining out, click here.


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