Tapas are a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. They may be cold (such as
mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid). In select
bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire, and sometimes sophisticated, cuisine. In Spain,
patrons of tapas can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal.
The origin is uncertain but there are several theories:
• Some believe the name originated sometime around the 16th century when tavern owners from Castile-La Mancha found
out that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of bad wine, thus "covering" it, and started
offering free cheese when serving cheap wine.
• Others believe the tapas tradition began when king Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with
small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to
customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or "tapa".
• Another popular explanation says that King Alfonso XIII stopped by a famous tavern in Cádiz (Andalusian city) where he
ordered a cup of wine. The waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham before offering it to the king, to protect the
wine from the beach sand, as Cádiz is a windy place. The king, after drinking the wine and eating the tapa, ordered another
wine "with the cover".
• A final possibility surrounds Felipe III, who passed a law in an effort to curb rowdy drunken behavior, particularly among
soldiers and sailors. The law stated that when one purchased a drink, the bartender was to place over the mouth of the mug
or goblet a cover or lid containing some small quantity of food as part of the purchase of the beverage. The hope being that
the food would slow the effects of the alcohol, and fill the stomach to prevent over imbibing.