The Art of Tapas in Andalucia

tapa (plural tapas) is just one of the ways you can get your food here, around the Iberian peninsula, but maybe it’s the most famous one.

One of the most popular stories about the origins of tapas claims that, back in the 13th century, King Alfonso X of Castille found that, while he was recuperating from an illness, he could only eat and drink in small amounts – resulting in one of the first forms of tapas. Another story goes that, around the turn of the 20th century, King Alfonso XIII traveled to the city of Cádiz, where he visited a famous tavern for a wine; the owner of the bar placed a slice of jamón ibérico over the King’s cup, saying it was a tapa (cover) to protect the wine from sand blown in from the city’s famously windy beaches.  The king, impressed , ordered another wine “with the cover” and, pretty soon, tapas – slices of bread topped with meat or cheese and placed over drinks to avoid dust and insects – became common across the south and center of the country.



Tapa literally means a cover or a lid – and this is a common facet to many tapas origin stories.

Tapas are, according to the Royal Spanish Academy, a small portion of any food, served to accompany a drink. Having some tapas is tapear (or picar, if the tapas is finger-food). You will also find that tapas follow the gastronomic tastes and traditions of each region in the Iberian peninsula, still the tapas of olives, nuts, meats and cheeses are universal to all areas. In addition to these typical tapas, there is a world of possibilities in the form of different recipes that tapas bars have mastered, encompassing ingredients including meats, fish, vegetables, eggs and many other foods served in small forms.

Some of the Most Appreciated Tapas

Certainly the superb jamón, the Spanish dry-cured ham, very thinly sliced, is a must-have tapa and makes a marvellous combination with fino Sherry. The Andalusian olives are also often served as tapas – like the sweet, meaty manzanillas olives from Seville, or the home-cured ones flavoured with herbs and garlic, or olives stuffed with anchovy. Amongst cold dishes on the tapas bar there are a variety of salads, some wonderfully exotic: salpicon – with chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers, prawns and other shellfish or octopus;  remojón – a salad of oranges, codfish, onions and olives; or the roasted pepper salad; ensalada campera, a lemony potato salad; or cooked fish roe dressed with oil and lemon.


Andalusia is famous for its fish and shellfish and a tapa bar is a great place to sample the array. Fried fish, from tiny fresh anchovies (boquerones) and rings of tender squid (calamares) to chunks of fresh hake and batter-dipped prawns are enticing, in deed. Look for cazón en adobo – fish marinated before frying, and boquerones en vinagre – marinated raw fish, plus the wide selection of shellfish: clams and razorshells, mussels, prawns, crab or lobster.


Then comes a variety of hot dishes. Some are cooked to order, like the prawns pil pil, sizzled with garlic and oil, while others are dished out of a bubbling stew-pot. You can savour meatballs in almond sauce, sauteed mushrooms, chicken fried al ajillo, lamb stew, broad beans with ham and of course the tortilla, crisp-fried fritters or croquettes.

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