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Tapas: A Moveable Feast
Originally a lid used to tapar (cover or close) a glass of wine, a tapa is a kind of hors d'oeuvre that sometimes comes free with a drink: the term supposedly came from pieces of ham or cheese laid across glasses of wine to keep flies out and to keep stagecoach drivers sober. The history of tapas goes back to the 7th- to 15th-century Moorish presence on the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors brought with them exotic ingredients, such as saffron, almonds, and peppers, and a taste for small delicacies that eventually became Spain's best-known culinary innovation.
Often miniature versions of classic Spanish dishes, the individual pinchos or tapas, or the larger raciones, which usually feed a few, allow you to sample different kinds of food and wine with minimal alcohol poisoning, especially on a tapeo, the Spanish version of a pub crawl: you walk off your wine and tapas as you move from bar to bar. In the tapas bars you can test the food without committing to a sit-down meal. Here are a few standards to watch for: croquetas (béchamel and meat with a fried bread-crumb crust), tortilla de patata (Spanish potato omelet), chorizo (hard pork sausage), gambas (shrimp grilled or cooked in parsley, oil, and garlic), patatas bravas (potatoes in spicy sauce), and boquerones en vinagre (fresh anchovies marinated in salt and vinegar).
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