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Did you know what the word "Tapa" means? - Madrid Food Guru - Authentic Traveling
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Did you know what the word “Tapa” means?

Oct 17 2015

Did you know what the word “Tapa” means?

Many people don’t know that the word Tapa does not

only refer to the spanish way of saying appetizers. Tapa comes from the spanish verb Tapar, to cover. It also could be the lid of a pan or of a bottle. It s a relatively common word therefore and you can hear it every day in many contexts.


Before speaking about where the word “Tapa” comes from, which is actually a funny story, I want to give you first a bit of a context, as Tapas are a central part of the Spanish lifestyle.

Tapas are not only a small appetizer before the main dish. They are actually a life style. What I mean by this is that the most important thing about them is that they are created so you can share it with your friends and family. Rarely any spaniard would have a Tapa alone.
Tapas are also one specific category, inside the Tapa world. You also have the famous Pintxos (Pinchos) typical of the Basque Countries


Pintxos are a piece of baguette bread, cut with a diagonal angle so there is more space to place tasty colorful creations on tops. Pincho also means toothpick, and the name is given as almost always there is a toothpick that fights to keep together the overwhelming opulent ingredients.

Tapa is a small appetizer that can come in different food types, from the basic olives to the classic potato chips, but they could also be a small dish of paella, patatas bravas, just simple slices of tasty spanish Jamon (raw ham) or anything really. Depends of course on the quality of the place you are, very often all the tapas they serve are very visible behind a glass in the counter, to tempt you.


And finally we have Ración. Which literally just means portion. A ración is simply a more abundant portion of tapas, if you like it is as if with the tapa you simply tasted how good or bad a certain appetizer or meal was, and then if you liked it, you can order a full portion/ración of it. Generally tapas have slightly cheaper ingredients whereas Raciones generally are pricier and could be compared to a regular full sized dish of a restaurant.
Always to share of course! Enjoy and Buen Provecho!


Pulpo a la Gallega (o feira), a very typical example of Ración




Now, the History of the word Tapa!

When this tradition of shared tasty dishes-ready-to-bite came in, is not completely certain. Many claim that back in the 13th century the king Alfonso 10th made compulsory to every bar and tavern, the serving of a little side dish together with alcohol. This was to prevent the excess of drunkenness among workers that would risk their lives working very tipsy, but also for other health conditions.

King Alfonso X – Aka El sabio , the wiseman

Others believe that the word “Tapa” , which literally means lid , was a small dish of olives or ham, placed on top of the cup of wine, to prevent the fruit flies from flying in. Fruit flies were very common at the time, wine was stored differently, it had higher sugar level and fridges did not exist still so wine was kept in huge jugs for weeks!

Spanish Troops, maybe just before going for Tapas ;)

During the Siglo de Orothe Golden Century of Spain, some claim that the word Tapa, derives from the french word “Étape”, stage, or “Etapa” in Spanish. This word was referred to the stage in which the armies after a long journey they could stop to have a new load of food, clean uniforms and rest a little perhaps. This moment of shared entertainment, long deserved, always accompanied with some simple foods and of course, wine and beer, started to be referred as: tapear. Just like today…

King Alfonso XIII (1886-1931)

The most valued hypothesis of the origin of this worldwide famous form of appetizers, comes from the 19th century. The king Alfonso 13th, while in visit in Cadiz, a very windy province of Andalucia (south of Spain), appreciated very much the act of a young waiter which in order to protect his cup of wine from the dust of the wind, he covered it with a small dish that had some Jamon (spanih ham) on it. This combination was very appreciated from the king, and soon after that the whole country started to naturally apply it.




Curious to know where are the best places in Madrid for Tapas? Did you know that many bars offer them for free, wanna know which ones? Feel free to write us at and we will be more than happy to not only suggest you the best hidden gems in town, but even perhaps join you for a glass of wine if you want!

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