Tapas is more than just food – it's the beating heart of the Spanish menu. But just what makes it so effortlessly timeless? We take a look at where the culture of tapas began, and fast forward to today to find the tastiest twists on this traditional fare.
Defined simply as a small portion of any Spanish dish, the origins of tapas are widely disputed. Some say the name came from the verb 'tapar', as tavern owners served their sweet alcoholic drinks with an edible 'cover' to protect them from fruit flies.
Another theory states that King Alfonso XIII was served a cup of wine covered with cured ham to protect it from the beach sand in windy Cadiz. Though surprised at first, the King ordered another wine 'with the cover' after enjoying his first taste of tapas so much. Honestly? We can't blame him.
Whatever the true history, it's no doubt that tapas had humble beginnings. And truth be told, the basics of traditional tapas still apply.
Modern day takes
Nowadays tapas is a way of life. Lunchtime meet-ups? Tapas. After-work drinks? Tapas. Midnight bar hopping? Tapas. But while traditional bars are sticking to the classics, there's a new food movement bringing tapas up to speed with modern tastes. We've scouted out the best contemporary takes on traditional tapas dishes, right here in Madrid.
1. Mini tortillas de patata con jamon y trufa, Taberna Degusta
Taking one of the most popular tapas dishes and twisting it into something exquisite, Taberna Degusta know a thing or two about tortillas de patata. With 20 different flavours of tortilla alone, you'd be forgiven for taking your time over this one. But we reckon the ham and truffle option is number one. Delicately salted ham and earthy truffle are the perfect partners for this simple tortilla dish – you're sure to want seconds.
Where: Taberna Degusta, Lista
2. Chorizo dulce con mahonesa sriracha en pan gua bao, José Luis
A clash of cultures if ever there was one, this Asian-Spanish fusion sees traditional bao buns paired with sweet and spicy Spanish ingredients to create one hell of a dish. José Luis fill soft, doughy bao buns with sticky chorizo before drizzling with spicy sriracha mayonnaise. Not one for the faint-hearted, this small dish has an almighty kick and is the perfect balance of old and new.
Where: José Luis, Castellana
3. Brocheta de pollo con salsa de mango y curry, Mas Que Menos
Another fusion of the sweet and spicy variety, this sticky chicken dish at Mas Que Menos is finger food at its best. Skewers of sumptuous chicken are grilled and finished with a mango and chilli sauce – sweet, spicy and addictive, we're willing to bet this won't last long.
Where: Mas Que Menos, Recoletos
4. Tartar de salmon noruego con aguacate y chips, El Recuerdo
We couldn't talk about modern cuisine without bringing the trendy avocado into the equation. And thankfully, El Recuerdo has given us the perfect excuse with this drool-worthy dish. Light, creamy avocado is paired with fresh Norwegian Salmon tartar to create sushi-like tapas that's perfect for summer evenings. Pair this with white wine and sunshine – it's a no brainer.
Where: El Recuerdo, Cuatro Caminos
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