A Short Guide to Tapas


When it comes to Spanish food, many people think of probably the world’s most famous series of bar snacks, tapas. Served either hot or cold, these varying dishes have become enshrined in Spanish culture and can encourage conversation.

A delicious tapas menu will often consist of many items that include: olives; Spanish cured ham; tortilla (potato omelette); calamares (fried squid rings); arroz del dia (rice of the day); gazpacho (refreshingly cold tomato soup); patatas bravas (fried potato in a spicy sauce); and fried chorizo with cider.

This week, Pullmantur provides a short guide to Tapas – taking a look at the history behind this Spanish staple that you may be able to enjoy on a cruise around the Iberian region or Canary Islands.



The word “tapas” comes from the Spanish verb tapar which means “to cover”. There are many theories when it comes to the origin of tapas, but one of the most popular is that, in some occasions, a piece of bread or a slice of ham was placed over glasses of sangria or sherry to protect customers’ drinks from fruit flies between sips. Spanish ham and chorizo were quite salty and so customers would be encouraged into buying more drinks.

Another theory suggests the tapa was born when the Spanish King, Alfonso 10th, the Wise, needed to take small bites of food with his drink. After his recovery, he decreed that no wine was to be served in any of the inns in the castle land unless served with something to eat. This was introduced to counteract the effects of those who would drink on an empty stomach due to lack of money.

Whatever the origin of tapas may be, it has been influenced by many different cultures throughout its journey to where it is today. When the Romans invaded, they brought the Mediterranean flavours of the olive. When the Italians invaded North Africa, they were introduced to almonds, citrus fruits and fragrant spices. Other ingredients followed the discovery of the New World and saw the introduction of chilli peppers, tomatoes, maize and potatoes.


Tapas dishes form the basis for a very sociable meal, with many of the items being ideal finger food. In Spain, Tapas is often eaten standing up and a large collection of small dishes can soon build a wonderful family meal. Due to the siesta, Spaniards often dine quite late in the evening, sometimes as late at 11pm. This can often lead to hunger in the afternoon and tapas is often seen as a snack to see people through to the late evening meal.

Do you pay for tapas if it’s accompanied with your drink? Simply put, no. If you decide to visit a Spanish bar, sometimes a dish is given as a sign of gratitude for ordering drinks. What you may get with your drink though could vary and if you catch a glimpse of the waiter reaching for the mussels, it’s okay to tell the waiter when they bring the plate over.

Additionally, different regions of Spain have variations of tapas. For example, inland Spain endures longer and colder winters and so comfort is found from patatas bravas and stuffed peppers. The further south you travel, the colder and more refreshing the tapas is likely to be and if you travel along the coast, you can expect to be treated to wonderful seafood.

Types of Tapas


As stated previously, tapas has been influenced many times and one region of Spain will differ from another. If you’re looking to try tapas for free, Granada has long been considered to be the Spanish capital of free tapas.

Traditional dishes include: aceitunas (olives); allioli (literally just garlic and oil and is often served with bread or potatoes); boquerones (white anchovies); calamares (fried squid rings); chorizo al vino (chorizo sausage cooked with wine); empanadillas (turnovers filled with meat and vegetables); pimientos (peppers); manchego cheese; and various seafood.

Some places even take tapas to a whole new extreme with gourmet tapas. Huge international interest in the Spanish bar snacks has led to chefs refining ingredients and dishes to a higher market. Dishes are often experimental and can include cod in squid ink batter; lobster and neat canapés that would be ideal with an afternoon tea.

Many Pullmantur cruises can take you to Spain, where you will be able to experience authentic tapas for yourself! Whether you decide to take a cruise around the Iberian region or the Mediterranean, Pullmantur is sure to bring a strong flavour of Spain to your travels. Interested? Why not contact us today via our Online Form or request a call back.