I think by now tapas has become part of menu offerings in restaurants worldwide, but for those who haven’t taken notice, or perhaps don’t think tapas is their cup of tea, so to speak, let me shed some light on what tapas are.
It’s not so difficult to understand this culinary phenomenon if I explain it as analogous to appetizers. These small plates, which originated in Spain, are typically bar snacks served along with wine or beer. I say “typically” because in Spain, tapas are more than just small plates. True to their Mediterranean origins, “real” tapas include olive oil, garlic, seafood, onion, fish and seafood, a variety of pork products and an array of cheeses.
All in the name of tapas
As for the name tapas (plural), this apparently derives from the practice of covering a glass of wine with a small plate, or maybe a slice of bread, to keep out flies. (The definition of tapa is “cover” or “lid.”) Other lore has it that King Alfonso X, aka the Wise King of Spain, who, after falling ill to the extent that he could only consume small amounts of food and wine, ordered that taverns must serve small amounts of food with wine. Some said this had more to do with forestaling drunkenness than having to do with anyone’s good health. Yet another legend says that less-than-savoury barkeeps used small pieces of cheese to cover up bad-smeling wine.
So what is tapas, really? Award-winning chef and restaurant owner José Andrés, who is familiar to many because of his participation in the annual Cayman Cookout, was quoted in a Washington Post article a couple of years ago as saying, “If you ask 50 million Spaniards, they will give you 50 million definitions. Is tapas a whole bunch of dishes, or a way of enjoying life? I would say both.”
I think that sums it up pretty well!
Tapas menus in the Cayman Islands
Among my favourite tapas offerings at restaurants in Grand Cayman are coconut shrimp, conch fritters, Caribbean lobster bites, goat cheese tarts, yellow fin tuna carpaccio and the classic shrimp cocktail. Pairing these bites with a glass of Pinot Grigio or perhaps a cold beer suits me as a fine way to enjoy Happy Hour or a late-evening gathering with friends.
Now that I have sorted out all things tapas, I strongly recommend finding a seat at one of the many delightful restaurants in Grand Cayman – with friends or family – and asking to see the tapas menu. From there, everyone’s taste buds are in for an adventure, particularly when new combinations of small bites are introduced. Savour them all, and let a little bit of Spanish history, tradition and legend seep into the enjoyment of this long-standing culinary experience.