Tapas journey from Spain to America

Several theories exist on the origin of tapas. Share this article

It seems as though at every turn restaurants are offering up small, trendy dishes. Items like charcuterie boards, plates of fries and bowls of olives have become mainstream parts of American dining. To fully understand the concept of small plates, one must travel more than 4,000 miles to the home of tapas – Spain. 

Mystery shrouds origin of tapas
As legend has it, tapas were born out of necessity more than anything. Ask anyone who's worked in a Mediterranean-cuisine restaurant or visited the country, and they'll tell you that the story all depends on who you ask. One theory of origin stems from the fact that prior to growing into the successful vintner that the country is today, Spain had some pretty undesirable wines. In an attempt to mask the unpleasant smell and even taste of Spanish wines, restaurant owners and chefs would give patrons a small plate of free food. 

The other tale is less complex, and it's that people needed to keep flies out of their drinks. This inconvenience would force them to cover their stemware with the food in their hands. The word "tapa" is literally translated lid or cover, thus the support behind this explanation. 

Despite the uncertainties around the origin of tapas, there's no question that they've evolved and become increasingly popular among European countries and even in the United States. Any city that you visit in Spain boasts some establishments where you can get a beer and a plate of snacks for around $2 U.S. dollars.

In Spain you can get a glass of wine and a plate of ham for about $3 U.S. dollars.

Must-sees when you're in Spain
Perhaps one of the most famous strips for tapas, not just in Spain but in the world, is Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Of course, if you're looking for something that's a little farther off the beaten tourist path, you'd be happy exploring Calle Van Dyck in Salamanca, Spain – a student-centric area due to its international university.

Mallorca, a Balearic Island located off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean, also boasts an abundance of restaurants that specialize in tapas. If you're on a budget, grab some small plates from Quina Creu or La Ruta Martiana, both suggested by The Guardian. 

Despite these suggestions, you may never be able to visit what's arguably the world's best tapas restaurant – El Bulli – as it closed down back in 2011. As journalists and documentaries have explained, owner and head chef Ferran Adria's establishment stood out from the rest. 

El Bulli sets the bar high

"Many would even call Ferran Adria the world's greatest chef."

Many would even call Ferran Adria the world's greatest chef. He was able to take classic Spanish foods, for example jamon serrano – known as ham in English – and generate an entirely new concept from it. Experimentation was perhaps the foundation of his career, and each year he would close El Bulli for six months to travel for inspiration for new dishes, reported Star Chefs.

His hard work and creativity set the bar high not only for tapas restaurants but for everyone in the culinary world. His influences carry on even outside of the restaurant industry. As the Boston Globe reported, the Museum of Science will open an exhibit "Innovation in the Art of Food: Chef Ferran Adria" starting in February.

Although there are no announcements of another El Bulli opening, chefs around the globe continue to carry out Adria's legacy. Everywhere you look, establishments offer tapas made with few ingredients that pack a lot of flavor. Perhaps it's the mystery of tapas or the lust of legendary chefs like Adria, but whatever the reason, people have come to love eating small plates of food. 

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