What is Spanish tapas? What does it take to run a successful tapas bar?

Tapas bars are the latest dining craze across North America, quite successful I must admit. Tapas are little dishes of Spain served before lunch and dinner in bars, taverns and small restaurants. There are as many variations of tapas as there are chefs in Spain, or maybe even more. What exactly are the Spanish tapas? Tapas are small portions of food which are served as part of the social scene in cozy bars and small restaurants to converse, meet friends, argue about sport, joke and flirt. Tapas are served to keep them going, and are rarely eaten in lieu of a nice after-work drink. Some examples of tapas are calamares a la plancha, croquettas de jamon, stuffed mushrooms, salmon croquettes, mini quesadillas and camarones al ajillo from my TAPAS MENU. If you are using original Spanish products such as Jamon Cerrano or Manchego cheese, they will definitely lend a lot of credibility to your tapas menu. (Jamon Cerrano is the Spanish counterpart of the Italian prosciutto, and Manchego cheese is a hard sheep milk's cheese aged in natural caves. The closest relative of Manchego is the Pecorino Crotonese from Italy.)

The best tapas bars are located where people happen to arrive at tapas time, such as where the working people end up their day. Tapa in Spanish means simply "a lid" and the first tapa was reportedly a slice of ham served on top of a sherry glass, in order to keep out the flies. If you are about to open a tapas bar I am sure that this is not one of your priorities to keep the flies off your customers' drinks, nevertheless you should try to include in your concept something that is authentic and would appeal even to a guy from Barcelona visiting your bar. That means, beside an extensive Mediterranean themed appetizer menu, you should also offer a small plate of Spanish delicacies for a minimal price with the order of an alcoholic beverage. However, it is not a good idea to give your tapas for free with your drinks, because it might get you a bad name amongst the other bars in the city and might be interpreted as a sign of desperation by your customers. A small platter of Spanish tapas (or "meze" as it is known in Eastern Europe and the Middle East) can be all it takes to make your place the favorite spot in your city for an after-work drink with friends. And, of course, we shouldn't underestimate the potential of good atmosphere and great service, but this is a topic for another article.

The image below is a simple tapas plate, made of cold cuts, olives, tomato and feta cheese.

Tapas plate

Spanish tapas

Chef George Krumov
About the author: George Krumov is a Red Seal certified chef with many years of culinary experience working around the world in Europe, the Middle East, the cruise line industry and North America. In the last two decades he has headed the kitchens of several restaurants in Canada, and ran his own restaurant.

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