The History of Spanish Tapas
Tapas originated in Andalucia, a Southern province of Spain. The word "tapa" translates as "cover". Tapas traditionally may have been a complementary piece of sliced ham served on top of a glass of wine, but we know them today as small portions of food commonly served as a snack before lunch or dinner. Tapas can be as simple as a bowl of olives or more hearty, such as slices of Serrano ham.
The tapa was born when, due to an illness, the Spanish king Alfonso the 10th, the Wise, had to take small bites of food with some wine between meals. Once recovered from the disease, the wise king decreed that no wine was to be served in any of the inns in the land of Castile , unless accompanied by something to eat. This was a wise precaution to counteract the adverse effects of alcohol on those people who, through lack of money to buy a nourishing meal drank alcohol on an empty stomach.
Apart from the story of the royal disease we should consider the theory that the tapa first appeared because of the need of farmers and workers of other unions to take a small amount of food during their working time, which allowed them to carry on working until time for the main meal. This main meal, rich in fat, was so heavy to digest that a "siesta" had to be taken for a couple of hours before going back to the fields or to the workshop. Longer working hours in the morning meant an easier workload after the meal.
Wine was the natural accompaniment to this snack, as it induced a mellow mood and increased strength, while in winter it warmed the body as protection against very cold days in the fields and in the workshops of the Middle Ages. In summer, the drink taken in the South was "gazpacho" (cold tomato soup), instead of wine, which increased body heat rather than providing the necessary cold refreshment.
The snack is called "alifara" in northern Spain , Aragón and Navarra; and later, in the Vasque Country, it began to be called "poteo", because the wine had to be drunk in "potes" (jars).
Once the "botillerias" (bottle-shops) and "tabernas" (taverns) became established throughout Spain , the wise King’s decree remained in place. For that reason, the glass or jar of wine was served covered with a slice of either smoked ham or cheese, for two.
Spanish jamons contain less moisture than their European counterparts. Considered to be the finest in Andalucia, Spain. Still made in the traditional way, these hams are entirely cured by the warm summer winds and cool winter airs of the Sierra Nevada.