Tapas have been an integral part of Spain’s social scene for almost 800 years. Tapas are typically eaten as a snack or an entire meal, and this custom of eating small bites promotes a healthy lifestyle.
The tradition even started as medicinal advice. When King Alfonso X of Castile fell ill in the thirteenth century, his doctor suggested taking light snacks with a glass of wine at regular intervals throughout the day. Upon returning to full health, the King ordered by decree that every bar in castle serve a morsel of food with every drink.
The custom is still prevalent throughout much of Spain, though these days bars generally offer olives or nuts — which contain healthy fats — and some bars provide a baguette slice with a topping.
But tapas are generally shared with friends, and the innumerable recipes are particularly health-conscious. Tuna, anchovies, and salmon are favored ingredients as they contain high amounts of omega-3 fats, which reduce the risk of heart disease.
The Three Tapas
There are three types of tapas: pinchos, montaditos, and general tapas.
The first restaurant we try is Huerta Santa Catalina on the fringes of Plaza de la Reina in the historical center of Valencia. Here we are introduced to pinchos, bread-based tapas served in a variety of combinations held together with a cocktail stick.
Pincho is fast food, bread with various toppings typically eaten as a quick snack between meals, often before going to the cinema or a concert. Displayed behind glass-fronted counters the cost is as low as €1 or €2.
I try a croquet de jamon, melted cheese with a faint ham flavour, together with a battered calamari and king prawn combo balanced on a baguette slice. They are both are full of flavor, and although the bread is slightly off-fresh having been left out, it is still more nutritious than the McDonalds three doors down.