Known in Spain as tapas, and meze in other countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea, these small samples of various dishes are offered when someone orders drinks in taverns and bars. Tapas can be served hot or cold and provide enough food to cover people from after work until dinner time, which in Spain is held later, at 9 or 10 p.m. The main idea behind serving tapas with drinks is to keep people eating and drinking, with the thought that these small appetizers entice customers to order more once they enjoy the samples.
Spain’s various regions have their own specialties, naturally, as do the other Mediterranean countries. The cured dried ham of Spain called jamon is usually on offer, as are olives, bread to be dipped in olive oil, olives, prawns, potato omelette, cheese, vegetables and fruits. Mediterranean food is world-renown for its freshness and sublime flavors and tapas deliver the maximum amount of flavor in small bites. Tapas are meant to be shared among friends when socializing at a tavern. Think of hors d'oeuvres at an American cocktail party as the same concept operates when it comes to tapas and mezes. In the Basque region of Spain, the food samples are known as pinchos, which is a slice of bread topped with various meats, fish or cheese.
When visiting Spain, do as the natives do. Belly up to the bar and order. If the concept of tapas is intimidating, ask the server for advice on what and how much to order. Don’t be afraid to ask what type of alcohol is drunk with which tapas. For most, a light white wine, sangria or cider clears the palate in between bits of tapas. After tapas, an entrée can be ordered, but it isn’t necessary. Savor the bright flavors that various tapas provide.
Munching on tapas or mezes while sharing conversation and good times with friends highlights the sociability fostered by this enjoyable Spanish custom. However, Spaniards do go to taverns by themselves to enjoy tapas and a drink. Be sure and save the little toothpicks that often come with the tapas. The number of tapas sticks left on the plate is how a server will know what was eaten and how much to charge.