Tapas are all the rage in Spain, and are the norm. A ‘tapa” small bite of free food that accompanies any beverage (alcoholic or not) consumed at any bar of the Iberian Peninsula. You heard that right, tapas are free in Spain!

Tapas are one of the most acclaimed memories from any traveler who has spent time sipping a cold “cerveza” or any Spanish “vino”. Tapa literally means “lid” or “to cover” something. Every bar in Spain has its own specialty tapas, ranging from the Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp) spicy potatoes (Patatas Bravas) to stewed snails (Caracoles) or the classic serrano ham and manchego cheese.

A couple of theories indicate the origins of the famous tapa dish. The most traditional origin of tapas began with the proliferation of fruit flies around the southern vineyards during spring and sizzling summer season. Fruit flies are those magical bugs that can appear by hundreds and all disappear in a fraction of a second without a trace. They also have a “sophisticated “nose for diving in any fermented liquid, alcoholic or not.

Well, the purpose of the “tapa” was to cover the glass during conversation at the southern vineyards in the spring and summer to avoid the flying swimmers in the glass. The proprietor of one of this establishment had a genius idea……. why not placing a small plate on top of the glass?? And then they added a piece of cheese or cured meat to the lid…. This is so far, the most believe assumption about this world phenomena!

Another interesting theory of the tapas origin derived during the seasonal local festivities in Seville, located at the south-east part of the country. King Alfonso XIII was sipping a reasonable quantity of wine, when the monarch started to feel a little bit tipsy. He suddenly demanded a snack to sober up, in order to keep enjoying the vino without any symptom of intoxication. The tapa has reached incredible popularity around the world due to its simplicity in nature and ability to customize based on locality.

Let’s talk a little bit about the “Tapeo” or the tapas hopping movement, a whole entire experience that I recommend to anyone who comes to Spain! Any day is perfect for it, but one of the best days for the tapas hunt will be during the weekend, where everybody gets out of the house to enjoy the Mediterranean sun. Here’s how to master tapas hopping: Gather a small group of family or friends, find a good starting bar and keep going up or down the neighborhood streets looking for the desired specialty. Don’t forget that every glass of wine or beer will come up with a little surprise full of flavor that will continue during your gastronomical experience.

Here’s an easy tapa you can make at home and enjoy with a nice glass of white Spanish wine.

Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)

YIELD 4 servings


12 ea. Medium Size Raw Shrimp (Peeled)

4 Tbsp. Olive Oil

2 ea. Garlic Cloves Fine Sliced

½ Tbsp. Cayenne Pepper Fine Sliced

Salt and White Pepper to taste


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add garlic; cook, stirring until garlic is fragrant and golden (but not brown), about 30 seconds. Add sliced cayenne pepper, cook for 10 seconds, add shrimp; raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until shrimp are opaque for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately with some toasted bread on the side for dipping!

By: Chef Daniel Graban-Lopez

Buen provecho!