What are tapas? The meaning of tapas revealed

There isn’t just one definition of tapas, but many

Asking a Spaniard what are tapas, is like asking a Japanese what is sushi. Tapas are an important part of the Spanish way of eating (or I should say, the Spanish way of life). However, in every region of Spain they tend to experience them in their own personal way, and that can create confusion when foreigners try to understand the meaning of tapas.

So what are tapas? Briefly, the definition of tapas could be small plates to share. But the social meaning of tapas is much more deeper than that: it’s all about the pleasure of savoring not only food but friendship and happiness.

Today I’ll be sharing with you some of the few different ways to eat tapas in Spain: all slightly different, but all sharing the same basic definition of tapas.

Learn in this blog post the definition of TapasWhat are tapas? a few examples:

The free tapa. In most areas of Spain (unfortunately, Barcelona is the exception) people would be offended if they didn’t get a free tapa with their drink: you order a glass of wine or a beer, and you get a small cheap appetizer free of charge. If you stay in the bar and keep ordering drinks, a good bartender will be offering you better tapas (evolving from a couple of anchovies for your first drink to maybe a portion of spanish omelette for your third or fourth, for instance). A great trick to get customers to keep spending their money at their venue.

Tapas bar hopping. Again, a popular way of going tapas eating in most of Spain (but not so much in Barcelona, although we try to emulate it in our Barcelona tapas tour). In many cities such as Seville, Madrid or Bilbao there are whole neighborhoods where there is a tapas bar next to the other. The meaning of tapas bar hopping is that you go to one bar, order a (paid) tapa and a drink, then move to the next bar and order another tapa and another drink, and keep going the whole night long… This blog post explains what are tapas

Tapas meal. The downside of tapas bar hopping is that in most of those bars you need to stand by the counter because there are no tables, and in general Catalan people are too lazy for that. This is why we prefer to go to a tapas restaurant, order a bunch of tapas and enjoy a relaxed meal sitting around a table. In general,  the tapas plates will be bigger than what you would get in a tapas bar.  While in other areas of Spain they call larger tapas plates “raciones”, in Barcelona we make no such difference: we aren’t that subtle with our definition of tapas.

Aperitivo. It is quite traditional in the weekends or in the summer holidays to meet friends or family at a bar before lunch, and have some drinks and a couple of tapas to share before heading somewhere else (restaurant or home) for lunch. That’s what we call “aperitivo”, or in Catalan, “vermut” (because people used to order the house vermouth to go with the food). Being  small dishes and having a strong social complement,  this also fits in the definition of tapas.Learn in this post the Definition of Tapas

 Small dishes in restaurant/bar settings. After all, any small dishes to share can be considered tapas in Spain. For instance, if we order a plate of calamari rings to share and nibble on while waiting for a paella, that can be considered a tapa. The only exception to this definition of tapas would be at home. Even when for informal meals at home, we might prepare 1 or 2 tapas recipes, we don’t really consider them to be tapas outside of a restaurant setting.

Anyway, what does the word “tapas” really mean? Share this post to hear the story of how tapas were invented!

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Now it’s your turn! Go to the comments and tell us: what’s your own definition of tapas?

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2 Comments

  1. avatar
    Posted by Marcie Layton| September 21, 2016 |Reply

    I really enjoy your posts and we had two great tours when we were in Barcelona earlier this year. N.B. I think maybe you mean tapas “hopping” as in jumping from one bar to the next. At the moment it says “hoping” which means “looking forward to”. This is true (at least for me) in terms of looking forward to your next tapa(!) but bar hopping is a more recognizable activity! Thank you for the great posts.

    • avatar
      Posted by Pilar Forns| September 21, 2016 |Reply

      ​Hi Marcie!
      Thanks for letting us know about the typo. I just corrected it.
      Great to hear that you loved both tapas hopping and hoping with us! ?

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