Size matters. Especially when it comes to tapas.

Tapas is as much a way of life for the Spanish as it is a catch-all term describing the finger food you’ll find in bars throughout the country.

Originating in Spain tapas comprises a wide variety of appetisers or snacks served in small portions. In Spain, tapas is a late-night affair savoured while wandering from bar to bar. On weekends tapas is typically eaten before a late lunch

Colin Bond is head chef and owner of Jah Bar in Sydney’s Manly and Dee Why. He discovered the joys of tapas when he was living in Minorca in Spain’s Balearic Islands.

Though tapas is typically regional in nature, Colin describes his take on the cuisine as “modern Spanish, like you have in a tapas bar in Barcelona.”

Tapas

“We try to keep our food quite light, mainly. We’re catering to an Australian diet,” Colin Bond of Jah Bar said.

 

Tapas comes from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover”. One tale is that a piece of bread was once put over a glass to keep flies away and this was how tapas got its name.

Another tale from the Middle Ages is that King Alfonso X of Castile became ill and returned to health by eating snacks and taking nips of wine between main meals.

His recovery was so good he made it law in his kingdom that taverns could only serve patrons alcohol if it was accompanied by a portion of food.

Many more stories like this abound.

From Barcelona with Love

Typical tapas menu staples include calamares fritos (fried calamari), dry-cured hams jamón serrano and jamón ibérico, croquetas (croquettes), tortilla (potato omelette), champiñones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms) and countless others.

“We cater to tastes from the heavier and more traditional,” Colin said, “Such as beef cheeks slow-cooked overnight in fino sherry to seafood grilled with lemon juice, olive oil and salt.”

With their coastal lifestyle and multicultural eating habits, people in Australia have a different palate. “We try to keep our food quite light, mainly. We’re catering to an Australian diet.

“We have fish tacos on the menu, which is a sashimi-style dish on a crunchy taco shell. It was a special at first but it exploded. We sell twice as many of those than anything else.

“Everybody eats the right amount for them and they take their time to enjoy the flavours and textures of the dishes,” he said.

After all, the delicious small portions of tapas are designed to be enjoyed leisurely in a group, a style Australians are discovering as more tapas bars spring up around the country.

Tapas

Smaller portions and cheaper prices allow diners to explore a far greater range of dishes than if they were ordering from a conventional menu. Sample enough individual tapas and they constitute a solid meal.

As for variety, tapas can be a world tour for your tastebuds on tiny plates. “No one ever gets bored with tapas,” Colin said, “With smaller portions, people can try a bit more variety. It’s a little bit more interesting.”

Made to share

The tapas trend isn’t just about great food it’s about even greater connection and sharing.

For Colin, the greatest pleasure of tapas is the sense of community it engenders. “It’s a unique way of dining. It’s about bringing people together and sharing food, chatting and drinking,” he said. 

Tapas

“Tapas is a unique way of dining – it’s about bringing people together and sharing food, chatting and drinking,” said Colin Bond of Jah Bar. 

Dishes are served in a relaxed, communal atmosphere where every diner can sample the right amount of food for their appetite at a leisurely pace.

One thing’s for sure; with tapas, the emphasis isn’t just on the food. It’s about fresh, seasonal flavours, local produce, sharing and conversation. Above all else, enjoying a balance of different kinds of food in moderation with your favourite people.