November 2004 Edition
Treat Them to Tapas

The sight of a specially prepared entrée is enough to make any food lover's mouth water, but the growing popularity of finger foods is starting to put the traditional idea of "one serving per person" to shame - that's why Tapas are quickly establishing a tasty foothold on menus across Canada.

A tapa (in Spanish - "la tapa") is simply a small portion of food that Spainards traditionally eat before lunch or dinner to satisfy their appetite before the main meal. A tapas meal can be served hot or cold and is customarily accompanied by a glass of wine or beer. Tapas can be served in several ways - often it is food skewered onto a stick, but in Canada it is more commonly served on a small plate or dish.

The food served on a tapas menu can be almost anything. Very often it is a smaller portion of a larger entrée, but the tapas tradition is one that allows your creative juices to take over - the sky's the limit when it comes to the tapas menu!

For foodservice operators, creating shareable portions that translate into shareable profits is easy with the variety of appetizers available. Simply mix and match the items already on your starter menu, make a few unconventional additions or reinvent your aperitif image altogether - And voila - You have tapas! And when tapas is served it becomes so much more than an appetizer - it often becomes the main meal. Encourage customers to mix and match tapas choices, suggesting that each person order two tapas dishes for a start, and ensure they share so that everyone at the table experiences many flavours and textures.

When creating your tapas menu, put a new twist on an old favourite when you pair classic chicken egg rolls with a few new complementary companions. Place on a platter teaming with delicate beef pot stickers, lemon grass chicken spring rolls and a spicy peanut dipping sauce for an interactive Asian sampling that says nothing but "Share me!"

Or, try an Italian theme with a plate of garlic and tomato bruschetta, coin-size cheese quesadillas and a handful of mini pork tamales for an instantly popular trio of tidbits. Accent with baby field greens, offer with an array of dips and you'll instantly please your diners.

Finally, substitute cheese quesadillas for ones filled with chicken, bring in zesty beef tamales, add egg rolls reinvented with chicken, black beans, corn and spinach. Set all three on one decorative plate, and you've discovered how easy it is to transform just a few small appetizers into an assortment of dynamic offerings.

In Spain the condiment of choice when serving tapas is mayonnaise but Canadians will love their tapas menu when you use a variety of dipping sauces to enliven their tastebuds.

These bite sized happenings are the perfect opportunity to explore ethnic flavours and discover adventurous combinations - all the while providing a fun filled dining experience for your customers.¨


When in Spain

Traditional Spanish tapas dishes include Spanish cured ham, seafood such as fried calamari & baby squid, trays of pinchos (toast points) loaded with cheese, paté, chorizo sausage or cold cuts, a selection of olives, or Patatas Bravas (potatoes with tomato sauce and mayonnaise).


The original drink most likely served with traditional tapas was Sherry, however it is common today in Spain to drink Sangria, beer, or wine with tapas. In North America Sangria, beer, wine or Martini's are often served.

The First Tapas

Legend has it that King Alfonso the 10th of Spain is responsible for beginning the custom of eating tapas. When the king suffered an illness he was ordered by his doctors to take small bites of food with wine between meals. When Alfonso had recovered from his illness, he decreed that all inns must serve a small amount of food with the sale of alcoholic beverages to aid digestion and to prevent public drunkenness. The tradition of placing the food (at first this was most likely a simple slice of ham or cheese) overtop of the drinking jug ensured that impurities did not contaminate the alcohol and of course it kept flies away from the drink. The custom later led to small dishes of food being balanced on the drinking glass, usually something as simple as nuts, bread, and a slice of Spanish ham.