In Culture, Europe, Food, Spain, Travel, World Cuisine on May 9, 2012 at 8:38 pm
Español: Tapas en un establecimiento de Barcel...

Español: Tapas en un establecimiento de Barcelona (España) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We took a friend of ours visiting Europe for the first time to a restaurant specialised in Tapas. Her reaction?

How wonderful to be able to share your food instead of having to order your own stuff.”

She looked so blissful at that moment that we were sure, we could have served her absolutely anything and it would not have mattered as long as it was Tapas style.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, tapas is not a type of cuisine or food, but the style of serving food in small portions. In Spain you choose your food and then the quantity: a small/medium/large portion. Often there are only two options. This allows you to taste a variety of local food and it is cheap! Also you have absolute control on the quantity so you don’t run the risk of overdoing it. A plate of tapas could be something as simple as ham on bread ( you are in luck if the ham is one of those awesome cured spanish hams) to their famous thick tomato soups to more sophisticated stuff involving meat and careful cooking.

During our visit to Andalusia in Spain, we were completely bowled over by the tradition of tapas. And at least in Grenade, every time we bought a drink, we were served tapas on the house! A native explained to us that it was first put into practice to make sure that people were not drinking too much on an empty stomach. Now it has become a matter of tradition. He also told us that it was much more frequent in the south of Spain than in the north.

'Oreja de Cerdo', here served in a tapas bar i...

‘Oreja de Cerdo’, here served in a tapas bar in Madrid, are grilled pig’s ears. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have to admit that in Grenade, I was often surprised at the quantity of food served as tapas. The type of food served varied from bar to bar. At one place we were served ham and bread, at another the famous spanish omelette.

At a small bar, on new year’s eve, when they had nothing else to serve their clients because they were out of supplies, we saw them pulling out some loaves of bread, slapping a thin slice of ham between two slices of bread and then grilling it before offering it to us, even though we had only one glass of wine between the two of us. And this was when we were close to midnight with most people heading to the main square in front of the Town Hall. Everyone was past caring about social etiquette, but they did not break away from the custom of offering at least something to anyone who ordered a drink. We went back to the bar the next day, impressed by what we had seen, and we were rewarded by a plate of tapas which more than made up for our dinner!

Pinchos de tortilla en Barcelona

Pinchos de tortilla en Barcelona (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our Spanish friend told us that it was a matter of pride for the natives of Andalusia to serve free tapas with every drink ordered. We nodded our heads politely, not wanting to upset his spanish patriotism by telling him that the day before we had been to a bar where they did not serve any free tapas. Outrageous! Instead we smiled politely at his face glowing with pride and inwardly blamed capitalism and too much commercialisation for stealing our freebies.

We realised later where we had gone wrong when we heard that a friend had managed to get his free tapas at the very same bar. Hungry and tired after having walked all morning to Sacromente and back, we had ordered our food too fast. And since we had ordered our own food, the bar did not think of throwing in our freebie alongside. 😉

Coming back to why my friend was sighing so blissfully on being served tapas, it is because in India when we go to restaurants, one does not order food each one to himself. Rice or curry or whatever is meant to be shared, which is why you are served empty plates and the food separately so you can serve yourself the amount you want. You always discuss and agree on what to eat mutually and with a bit of bickering, of course but ultimately everyone gets to taste everything on the table.

I have never really been able to get out of being Indian when it comes to eating at restaurants in Europe. I feel so alone ordering for myself, as if I was responsible for what I choose. (What? I thought that was confined to life, career etc!) And the instances when your food is not amazing and everyone around you is sighing how wonderful the food is, I can’t help feeling low at having made an awful choice. I prefer it the Indian way where you are all sighing or grumbling about the same food.

In any case, our friend who had spent three weeks travelling in Europe, was so tired of ordering food for herself all the time that she just sighed in relief when she realised she could just sit back and let others take over 😀


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