Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June Is Tapas Month

You might remember that, some time ago, I promised to return to tapas, first addressed with the help of my saucy sous-chef, Stephen, in The Tapas Episode. I think it's been more than half a year since that promisory post, but tapas have been on my mind, not to mention in my belly, since then and I've taken some important steps to bring you more about tapas--primarily these were eating steps, interspersed with relatively random cooking, researching and photographing steps. As a result of these selfless efforts, I am now ready to usher in--I believe a drum roll is in order--Tapas Month.

Oh, the succulent treats and spicy bits of information that Tapas Month will offer! Oh, the delectable photo spreads! Oh, the trusty recipes! Oh, the coveted tapas bar recommendations! Oh, if only you could trust me to deliver. Ahem.

Well, deliver I will! And, as an amuse bouche of good faith, I'm going to first serve up some juicy tapas trivia. Well, maybe not that juicy. Actually, probably just this side of dry. Still, the point is that I'm making an effort. An effort you might look upon kindly next time you're on the verge of taking me off your reading list after an embarrassingly long absence of posts.

There is a problem with tapas in Barcelona about which you may not know. Tapas, despite their near ubiquity in the city, are not really a Barcelona thing. Sort of like churros. Despite the fact that you can get them, Spaniards will tell you that they're not really as they should be.

What does it mean to be so prevalent and still not to be a "Barcelona thing"? Well, for one, the tapas tradition--that of accompanying an afternoon or evening drink with a small serving of food--really arose south of here. In parts of southern and central Spain many bars serve a free tapa or two with the purchase of a drink, such that the "tapeo", or going from bar to bar sampling tapas and drinking your face off, is sort of like a regional sport. The only bar that I know of that upholds this tradition in Barcelona--only occasionally and sometimes only if you look like something of a local, which apparently sometimes I do and sometimes I don't--is De Tapa Madre (c/Mallorca 301,, a dependable spot in the Eixample. The rest often charge an arm and a leg for the small tidbits that some southerners consider to be their rightful due with the purchase of an alcoholic beverage. This is what Spaniards really mean when they say that tapas aren't a Barcelona thing--they're not free; they're not even cheap. (One of the exceptions to the "not cheap" rule is El Xampanyet in the Born, pictured above and to be discussed in another post.)

That said, there are many excellent tapas bars in Barcelona and, if one looks at expense issue from another perspective, Barcelona is probably one of the best spots in Spain to sample some high quality, highly inventive, highly eclectic tapas. More on that later.

For today, I will leave you with this slightly unappetizing thought: The word tapa (from the verb "tapar", literally to cover) is thought to have evolved from the centuries old practice of using a piece of bread or cured ham to cover glasses of wine in bars in order to prevent flies or dust from falling in. Happily, we currently live in more hygienic times and your ham is now (usually) served on a plate.

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