Spain is known for a good many things: Flamenco dancing, siestas, bullfighting, and enjoying historically late dinners, to name a few. But if there is one prominent aspect of the Spanish lifestyle, it’s probably the tapa. Citylife Madrid calls tapas an integral part of Spanish culture, although it admits the origin story is murky. One story tells of how tapas were created by King Alfonso X of Castile in the 13th century, who decreed that all drinks be served with food after recovering from an illness that forced him to eat small bites. In another, the king decreed that food should be served with alcohol to keep the lower class workmen from getting drunk, and a third story found King Alfonso XIII being served a slice of ham to cover his drink (the Spanish word tapar means "to cover"), keeping sand from blowing into the beverage.
Regardless of their beginning, tapas are all characterized by being small plates of food that might be called "appetizers" or "snacks" in another country. They vary widely by region, with southern cities like Granada boasting free plates with every drink while northern cities like San Sebastian charge per bite, calling them pinchos (or pintxos) after the toothpick that’s used to secure them in place.
Whether you’re planning a trip to Spain to explore its famous wines or you want to throw a tapas-inspired party, these are the traditional Spanish tapas dishes you’ll want to get to know.