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Spanish Tapas: First Impression of a New World of Food

“Ah, you’re studying abroad in Spain?” people would say. “They have such good tapas!” Or, “Let me know if Sevilla’s tapas are as Barcelona’s!” And of course, I nod my head and make sure I let them know.

But as I board the plane, I realize I still haven’t gotten a good idea of what tapas means. People tell me they are mouthwatering and you can smell them from blocks away, and sure enough! They are, and you can. But is this thing called tapas a dish? A style? One piece of meat? As a 19 year old guy, I can’t say that the words “little plate of food” get me very excited.

And so, my study abroad adventure begins. I arrive in the vibrant, beautiful city of Sevilla, Spain, and that night, I am going out for tapas. As a self-proclaimed tapas rookie, here are the things the Spanish locals have taught me on my journey to enjoy Spanish cuisine.

Going to eat tapas is the classic Spanish social event

Tapas is a style of eating, and specifically, to the portion size of the food you order. Spaniards are extremely social, and several nights a week, you will find yourself going out to eat with friends and family. Yet, instead of ordering your “meal,” you and your friends order an assortment of small appetizers, if you will, and share everything. These small plates are called tapas. So, not only do you eat tapas, you “go for tapas” (tapear).
Ask any local the history behind tapas, and you will hear some creative mix of legend and tradition. But, the consensus generally remains the same: wanting to socialize and have a drink, Spanish workers would go out to eat during their long mid-day break. However, no one could be expected to go have several drinks and go back to work performing their best, so people began to order a small plate of food to accompany their drink. The saucer of food would be brought out of the kitchen on top of the glass, literally as a “cover,” or tapa, on your drink. Practical idea turned into custom, custom turned into tradition, tradition turned into culture.
And yet, let us never forget how delicious these local foods are. What are you in the mood for? Something warm to fight off the cold weather? What you need is Sevilla Stew, made with fresh beef broth and the most tender meat the city has. Or the stuffed baked potato, so rich it almost tastes like a dessert. Or maybe you’re wanting some finger food tonight? Go for the little bites of fried fish, or the creamy potato croquettes, or the small sandwiches called mondatitos. You can never go wrong with a fresh ham, cheese, and tomato mondatito, made on steaming, freshly-baked bread. Or should I recommend the cheese tapas, with the finest European cheeses? Maybe some ratatouille? Mini Mediterranean pizzas? We’ve got more – french fries, olives, the best mushrooms in the world. Chicken breast, garlic spinach dip, shrimp, paella, world-famous jamón the list goes on! Can’t make up your mind? Ask the waiter his personal favorite, or be adventurous! With six or eight to share, there will be plenty to go around. With your drink, new friends, and Spanish in the air, your experience with tapas will surely be one to remember.
¡Buen Provecho!

Delicious potato-filled croquettes

Steamy ratatouille (baked vegetable stew with cheese)

Mushrooms and french fries

Baked tomato with cheese and herbs

Tapas restaurants love to proudly display their Iberian ham legs

  • Jansen Nash is the Spring 2014 CEA MOJO in Seville, Spain.
    He is currently a sophomore at Clemson University.


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