First: A few things you should know about "tapas"
What are 'tapas'?
A 'tapa' is a small dish or snack that comes for free when you buy a drink in Spain. Tapas is infamous all throughout Spain but in the southern region, specifically around the Granada area, they took the concept to a whole other level... In the city of Granada, you actually get something like a small meal each time you order any drink - yes, even when we're talking 1€ red wine! Most other parts of Spain keep it simple - here, the tapas usually consists of a little plate of olives or chips.
Why is it called a 'tapa'?
The rumor has it there once was a Spanish king who was crazy about sweet wine. Getting tired of pouring new wine every time a fly landed in the king's glass of thick sweet liquid, a servant one day decided to put a piece of jamon (cured meat or serrano ham) on top of the glass. As the wine was served before the king he asked;
"What is this on top of my precious wine?" to which the server answered;
"Your highness... it's a 'tapa'" (tapa literally means 'lid' or 'cover' in Spanish)
Ever since then, the snacks coming with a serving of alcohol have been called tapas.
Why did 'tapas' become so popular?
At one point in history, the Spanish lower class was very poor. Knowing the laid-back Spanish mentality, it's not hard to believe that their 'siestas' (long lunch-breaks) were spent drinking beer and wine rather than eating food - after all, they could only afford to buy one or the other. A clever Spanish king noticed how all of his workers were becoming increasingly more unproductive after their lunch breaks and made a law saying that some sort of food must be served with each alcoholic beverage. With a little 'tapa' to balance out the alcohol, the workers became less drunk, more satisfied and at lot more productive. They were so happy with their king's decision he was since then called "the wise".
I was told both of these stories by professional tour-guides, but I've heard more than a few versions so don't read too much into it...
Recipe for 3 extremely easy and cheap DIY tapas!
We highly highly recommend you invest in a great book to really get the most out of this wonderful food. We personally purchased Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition and found it to be filled with incredible recipes. It also does a great job giving you the historical context which we feel is crucial for really ‘getting’ tapas. Now on to our 3 favorite recipes:
1. Montadidos (cured ham/chorizo sandwiches):
This is the absolutely cheapest and most traditional tapas. We liked it enough that we ate it for breakfast for approximately the entire month we spent in Spain.
1 Baguette (or 'pan' as they say in Spain)
1 package of chorizo or jamon (cured and sliced deli meat)
Salt and olive oil to taste
Manchego cheese (or other type of hard cheese)
Garlic powder/chili powder/oregano
1. Slice the baguette horizontally, all the way through. Cut the two halves into smaller, serving sized slices (the smaller, the more traditional and 'tapa-ish')
2. Pour olive oil as you like over the slices and add salt and spices.
3. If you are using cheese, add the sliced cheese on top of the bread
4. Slice the tomatoes thinly and put one slice on each 'tapa'
5. Finally, add your choice of cured deli meat. Our personal favorite is chorizo. 'Iberico' means refined and is the most expensive type. We like the red and juicy type, 'chorizo pamplona'.
Price: 2 EUR (3$) for 10+ servings (if you keep it basic)
2. Salmorejo (cold vegetable soup):
Salmorejo is a traditional Andalusian soup based off blended veggies, olive oil and eggs. It is similar to 'Gazpacho' and is traditionally served cold.
8 ripe tomatoes
1 green pepper
3 garlic cloves
2 slices of bread
About 125 ml of olive oil
white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Chopped hard-boiled eggs
Flakes of tuna
Chopped fresh onion
Chunks of serrano ham
Chopped green pepper
1. Chop the tomatoes, green pepper and garlic coarsely.
2. Put the chopped vegetables in a mixer, adding the bread soaked in a bit of water, most of the olive oil and salt to taste.
3. Pulse through until the 'soup' looks even. Add some water just to reach a creamy texture.
4. At the end, add the vinegar and mix again.
5. Check the seasoning, adding more salt or vinegar and maybe more oil if necessary.
6. Serve cooled with your choice of toppings and maybe a slice of fresh, crusty bread.
Price: 3 EUR (4$) for 5+ servings (if you keep it basic)
3. Spanish tortilla (potato quiche):
Spanish tortilla really means Spanish omelette and is in, the southern region, usually made with potato and onion and eaten for breakfast or as a tapas. Serve on it's own or on bread.
2 green onions
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste
1. Slice the potatoes (peeled or unpeeled) into disks between 1/4 and 1/8 inches wide.
2. Pour the olive oil into a pan and heat it over medium-high heat. Start frying the potato slices in one layer. Working in batches, fry until they are lightly browned, not crispy. When they're done, let the potatoes dry on a paper towel and salt them well.
3. Sauté the onions. When they are just starting to crisp, turn off the heat. Arrange the onions so they are evenly covering the bottom of the pan. Arrange the potatoes on the pan in a scalloped pattern.
4. Turn the heat back on to medium and pour in the whipped eggs. Make sure the eggs coat all ingredients in the pan. Let this cook until you see the edges of the tortilla begin to set, then set the heat to low and wait 'till all the egg is set.
5. flip the tortilla out of the pan onto a plate so the bottom is turning upwards. Let it cool, cut into wedges and serve. It’s also good at room temperature/cold, and will keep a couple days in the fridge.
Price: 3 EUR (4$) for a big tortilla
DIY traditional Spanish cocktail 'tinto de verano':
It's not tapas if it isn't served with an alcoholic drink. Although pre-made, 'Don Simon' Sangria or cold beer are definitely recommended, but it's very easy to make your own 'tinto de verano' (summer wine) just like they do in the tapas bars.
Cheap red wine (preferably from a box)
Sparkly lemon flavoured soda (Casero seems to be the popular choice in Spain, but Sprite or 7up works)
A slice of orange or lemon
1. Put a few ice cubes in a tall glass
2. Optional: If you want to make a more intense and elaborate cocktail, add a shot of vodka.
3. Add the red wine and soda in a half and half ratio.
4. Finish with a slice of fruit and stir.
Price: 1,5-3 EUR (3-4$) for 2-2,5 L
There you go, simple and cheap tapas just like they do it in Spain, served with the Spanish version of a 'Radler'!