Last updated
Course Appetizer or snack
Place of origin Spain
Serving temperatureHot or cold
Main ingredientsVarious

A tapa (Spanish pronunciation:  [ˈtapa] ) is an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine.


Tapas may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid).

In some bars and restaurants in Spain and across the globe, tapas have evolved into a more sophisticated cuisine. Tapas can be combined to make a full meal. In some Central American countries, such snacks are known as bocas. In parts of Mexico, similar dishes are called botanas.


Tapas bar and restaurant at Plaza Mayor, Madrid Madrid-Plaza Mayor-Tapas bar.jpg
Tapas bar and restaurant at Plaza Mayor, Madrid

The word "tapas" is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, "to cover", a cognate of the English top. [1]

In pre-19th-century Spain tapas were served by posadas, albergues or bodegas, offering meals and rooms for travellers. Since few innkeepers could write and few travellers read, inns offered their guests a sample of the dishes available, on a "tapa" (the word for pot cover in Spanish). [2]

According to The Joy of Cooking , the original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. [3] This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry (see below for more explanations). The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners created a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales. [4] The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.

Tapas have evolved through Spanish history by incorporating new ingredients and influences. Most of the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by the Romans, who introduced more extensive cultivation of the olive following their invasion of Spain in 212 B.C. [5] and irrigation methods. The discovery of the New World brought the introduction of tomatoes, sweet and chili peppers, maize (corn), and potatoes, which were readily accepted and easily grown in Spain's microclimates.

There are many tapas competitions throughout Spain, but there is only one National Tapas competition, [6] which is celebrated every year in November. Since 2008, the City of Valladolid and the International School of Culinary Arts [7] have celebrated the International Tapas Competition for Culinary Schools. [8] Various schools from around the world come to Spain annually to compete for the best tapa concept.


Though the primary meaning of tapa is cover or lid, it has in Spain also become a term for this style of food. The origin of this new meaning is uncertain but there are several theories:


Tapas (pintxos) and Jamon serrano in a San Sebastian's bar San Sebastian Altstadt.jpg
Tapas (pintxos) and Jamón serrano in a San Sebastián's bar

In Spain, [11] dinner is usually served between 9 and 11 p.m. (sometimes as late as midnight), leaving significant time between work and dinner. Therefore, Spaniards often go "bar hopping" (Spanish : Ir de tapas) and eat tapas in the time between finishing work and having dinner. Since lunch is usually served between 1 and 4 p.m., another common time for tapas is weekend days around noon as a means of socializing before proper lunch at home.

In origin, a tapa was a free portion of food, generally small, served with any drink ordered. In Spain, tapas are traditional in Andalusia, Murcia, León, Extremadura, and Ciudad Real.

It is very common for a bar or a small local restaurant to have eight to 12 different kinds of tapas in warming trays with glass partitions covering the food. They are often very strongly flavored with garlic, chilies or paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, saffron, and sometimes in plentiful amounts of olive oil. Often, one or more of the choices is seafood (mariscos), often including anchovies, sardines or mackerel in olive oil, squid or others in a tomato-based sauce, sometimes with the addition of red or green peppers or other seasonings. It is rare to see a tapas selection not include one or more types of olives, such as Manzanilla (olive) or Arbequina olives. One or more types of bread are usually available to eat with any of the sauce-based tapas.

In Andalusia and certain places in Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Galicia, Castile and León, Asturias, and Extremadura, when one goes to a bar and orders a drink, often a tapa will be served with it free. As a drink, it is usual to ask for a caña (small beer), a chato (glass of wine) or a mosto (grape juice). In several cities, entire zones are dedicated to tapas bars, each one serving its own unique dish. In León, one can find the Barrio Húmedo, in Logroño Calle Laurel and in Burgos Calle de la Sombrerería and Calle de San Lorenzo.

Sometimes, especially in northern Spain, they are also called pinchos (pintxos in Basque) in Asturias, in Navarre, in La Rioja (Spain), the Basque Country, Cantabria and in some provinces, such as Salamanca, because many of them have a pincho or toothpick through them. The toothpick is used to keep whatever the snack is made of from falling off the slice of bread and to keep track of the number of tapas the customer has eaten. Differently priced tapas have different shapes or have toothpicks of different sizes. The price of a single tapa ranges from one to two euros. Another name for them is banderillas (diminutive of bandera "flag"), in part because some of them resemble the colorful spears used in bullfighting.

Tapas can be "upgraded" to bigger portions, equivalent to half a dish (media ración) or a whole one (ración). This is generally more economical when tapas are being ordered by more than one person. The portions are usually shared by diners, and a meal made up of raciones resembles a Chinese dim sum , Korean banchan or Middle Eastern mezze .

Common Spanish tapas

Banderillas, skewer with pickles Banderillas de encurtidos.jpg
Banderillas, skewer with pickles
Papas arrugadas with red mojo sauce Papasarrugadas.jpg
Papas arrugadas with red mojo sauce

Similar styles in other countries

The term tapas narrowly refers to a type of Spanish cuisine. More broadly, a similar format of dining is referred to as “small plates”. Such dishes are traditionally common in many parts of the world, and have become increasingly popular in the English-speaking world since about 2000, particularly under the influence of Spanish tapas.

North America and the United Kingdom

A Spanish restaurant in Stapleton Village, Staten Island TAPAS.JPG
A Spanish restaurant in Stapleton Village, Staten Island

Upmarket tapas restaurants and tapas bars are common in many cities of the United States, Mexico, Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. As with any cuisine exported from its original country, there can often be significant differences between the original Spanish dishes and the dishes as they are served abroad.

A tapas restaurant in Leeds, England Brewery Wharf, Leeds (10th May 2010) 004.jpg
A tapas restaurant in Leeds, England


In Mexico, there are not many tapas bars. However, the "cantinas botaneras" come close to the Mexican version of a tapas bar, but they operate on a very different business model. The appetizers ("botanas") keep coming as long as the patron keeps ordering beer, liquor or mixed drinks. The more the patron drinks, the more they eat. These establishments, some over a hundred years old, such as La Opera, are particularly popular around the Centro Histórico in Mexico City, but there are similar cantinas farther out in other regions of the city (as in Coyoacán) and its metropolitan area, or even in other cities like Guadalajara, Jalisco and Xalapa, Veracruz.


Due to the strong Spanish influence in the Philippines which was for 333 years a colony of Spain known as the Spanish East Indies. Tapas cuisine is usually served tapas-style to accompany liquor or beer. It is known locally as Pica-Pica , meaning finger food among the middle and upper class markets; or the Tagalog pulutan term used by the masses which literally means to pick up.

Argentina & Uruguay

Picada is a type of tapas eaten in Argentina and Uruguay, usually involving only cold dishes, such as olives, ham, salami, mortadella, bologna, different types of cheese, marinated eggplants and red pimentos, sardines, nuts, corn puffs, fried wheat flour sticks, potato chips, and sliced baguette. It may also include hot dishes such as french fries, pizza or milanesa.


Tira-gostos (Portuguese pronunciation:  [ˈt͡ʃiɾɐ ˈɡostʊs] ) or petiscos ( [peˈt͡ʃiskʊs] ) are served in the bars of Brazil and typical as tapas-like side dishes to accompany beer or other alcoholic drinks. The better bars tend to have a greater variety, and rarer, more traditional, dishes (using, for example, lamb or goat meat, which are relatively uncommon in the diet of urbanites in southern Brazil).

People from the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, which had the most Portuguese and the second-most Spanish immigration in Brazil, are among those who are most proud of their bar culture as a symbol of the city's nightlife, but bars that serve a variety of tapas-like side dishes are common in all state capitals and cities with more than 700,000 inhabitants.

Many tapas typical of Spanish cuisine that are rarer dishes in Portugal are more easily found in Brazil, due to the presence of the cultural heritage of the Spanish Brazilians as a result of immigration.

Venetian cicchetti

Cicchetti are small tapas-like dishes served in cicchetti bars in Venice, Italy. Venetians typically eat cicchetti for lunch or as late-afternoon snacks.


In Korea, drinking establishments often serve anju (안주) of various types, including meat, seafood, and vegetables. In Japan, izakaya are drinking establishments that serve accompaniments similar to tapas.

See also

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