Spanish Tapas

"Tapear" means, in English, to go for tapas. However, in Spain it means so much more than just that.  It conjures up images of groups of friends or family eating and drinking over lively conversation, standing in bustling bars, or sipping sangria and sampling snacks on teeming terraces in summer.  It is more than just a meal, it is a social event and highly respected ritual that is full of life and flavour.

Many different legends or rumours surround the origin of tapas. However it is widely believed that the term first showed up around the thirteenth century in the south of Spain, and referred to a piece of ham or cheese placed on top of a glass of wine to keep flies or sand out, creating a lid, or "tapa".  Another story tells of a king who, while recovering from an illness, could only have wine with small bits of food throughout the day.  He liked this practice so much he declared that all bars in the kingdom should offer some kind of snack with every alcoholic drink- the drink to help with the swallowing, and the food to keep the alcohol from going to the heads of poor patrons. Yet another story holds that bar owners used to give customers a free piece of strong cheese or sausage to disguise the taste of cheap wine that they were serving. In any case, tapas slowly began to evolve from mere function into something more of a fashion, and business-wise bar owners started using tapas to attract more customers to their establishments.

Eight centuries later, while tapas usually aren't free like they used to be, they remain more popular than ever in Spain and even abroad. As traditional as this custom may be, it is anything but old-fashioned, as creativity and innovation are encouraged and even awarded- particularly during some of Zaragoza's great tapas competitions.

Tapas in Zaragoza

Zaragoza is a city where going for tapas is very much part of life for many people. In fact, this is a city well-known as one of the best tapas places in Spain. Tapas can basically be eaten anytime of the day, but most commonly are had as an hor d'oeuvre, appetiser or "aperitivo" before lunch or dinner.  They're often even eaten as dinner itself, especially on weekends.

Popular tapas in Zaragoza are "pinchos" (kebabs, barbecued meat on a stick), fried foods and fish, like croquettas or calamaries, small sandwiches, "montaditos" ( a small toast with something on top, like a piece of fish or meat), "patatas rellenas" or "bolas" (ball of deep fried mashed potato filled with tuna or meat), sausages (chorizo, longaniza, or morcilla), ham and cheeses.

To accompany tapas, people generally prefer a glass of wine or a small beer, called a "caña" in Zaragoza.  Go for a "tubo" if you'd prefer one size up or a "jarra" for one that's even bigger.  At some places here you can order a "tabla" or "verbena" which is a wooden board that comes with a selection of different tapas to try for around 13€.  A good place to get this "verbena" is either "La Republicana" on Méndez Núñez street or "Bodeguilla de la Santa Cruz" on Santa Cruz street. Both eateries are in the historic center.  Don't miss the bars that only serve one tapa that's so good that it's all they offer. On Calle (street) de los Mátires, try the bar with delicious garlic mushrooms, or the famous cheese bar, called "Bar Estudios" on Estudios street.  If seafood is more your thing, check out "Marisquera Tony" on Don Jaime street or "Casa de Mar" on Esubio Blasco street.

Usually it goes one tapa per person, and one drink with each tapa. But don't limit yourself to one place, as this is a city packed with bars to choose from, usually side by side and all at great prices. The best areas to go to are: "Casco Viejo" (the historic center), Calle Mayor, Plaza Santa Marta, the Centre, and the University zone.