¡Vamos a tapear!
There are a number of legends as to the origins of tapas. Tapa means ‘cover,’ and one theory suggests that the idea came about when innkeepers served morsels of cheese or meat with which patrons could cover their glasses, in order to keep the fruit flies away from their sherry - the salty food meanwhile encouraging alcohol sales. Another places the origin in small snacks and glasses of wine consumed by farm workers to keep their stamina up throughout the working day.
However it began, tapas is now a mainstay of Spanish cuisine and an important part of its social fabric. Dinner in Spain is usually served between 9pm and 11pm, leaving a long time between work and the evening meal, so in the evening, ir de tapas is the thing to do. Conversation works better without one plate of food absorbing your attention: tapas is a sociable affair, encouraging sharing and talking - and moving between different bars.
Food with friends
Most small bars will have around a dozen tapas to choose from, packing serious flavour into small portions - chilli, garlic, paprika, saffron and cumin are all common seasonings, and olive oil and salt tend to feature heavily. It’s rare to find a tapas bar without olives, cheese and anchovies available; hot dishes frequently include slow-cooked chorizo, fried squid and patatas bravas. The food is best enjoyed with a glass of wine, beer or mosto (grape juice) on the side.
The Catalan capital has tapas round every corner, ranging from cheap and cheerful to the more high-end contemporary affair. Renowned bars include El Cañota, a Galician seafood specialist, and the tiny and incredibly popular Quimet i Quimet. In the South of Spain, it is common to receive tapas free with your drink - this is rarer up in Catalonia, but can be found if you look hard enough. Cal Chusco and Gata Mala are among the best in this department. There are dozens of delicious spots to discover in Barcelona.