Spain has many cultural traditions – flamenco and siesta being among the most well-known. Then of course, there are tapas. Delicious, perfectly sized and representative of a true Spanish experience, these plates are so important to the Spanish that they are asking UNESCO to put them on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List, alongside Brazilian capoeira circles and Korean kimchi.
What would make something that sounds as simple as a bite sized dish UNESCO worthy? While I don’t pretend to be an expert, there are plenty of aspects of tapas that make them culturally unique in their own right.
A Range of Artistic Flavors
The most common tapas include the tortilla Española, patatas bravas, and croquetas. But the further you dive into the tapas culture, the more variety and the more flavorfully complicated tapas you will find.
Aside from the common tapas that you can find almost anywhere in Spain, each region, and you could even say each bar, has their own tapa character. Tapas is a form of culinary art, with the fiercest competition showcasing their masterpieces in regional concursos de tapas (tapas competitions). It is a point of honor if your bar wins the competition, and the signs immediately go in the windows for all to see.
The Perfect Size
Maybe some people would argue against this point, but there are so many benefits to the bite-sized tapa. How many times have you gone to a restaurant and seen several things on the menu you would like to try? If you have friends with you who are interested in the same thing you can order all of them and share. But the sheer beauty of tapas is that you can try as many as you want, until you’ve had your fill, at 2-4 euros a piece. What more needs to be said?
The Tapear Experience
The Spanish love tapas so much and it is such a unique experience that they have a verb for it: tapear. When you tapear you go out with the intention of bar hopping and eating a variety of tapas.
Other than the American concept of bar hopping, there is nothing similar to this unique cultural experience. When you tapear, yes you are enjoying a cold caña or glass of vino with your friends, but you are also eating with them and reveling in the delicious flavors in this one bite sized plate. The Spanish are so warm and welcoming that you very well may end up in a conversation with the people standing next to you. Then before you know it, it’s time to head over to the next bar with plates and plates of tapas jam-packed onto the counter. As Jose Andrés, the premier tapas expert in the US said, tapas are “a commitment of people, being together, going from place to place, sharing experience.”
It is ultimately up to the United Nations to vote on whether or not tapas will receive UNESCO protection, but whether it’s voted through or not, tapas are wonderful and unique in their own right, and the tapear experience is just as well.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out and tapear.
Nina Lee is a Brooklyn native flying across the world as often as is possible. She wears her heart on her sleeve and carries her pen and passport in her ink-stained hand, sharing her travel stories and personal journeys in the hopes of inspiring and connecting to others. Currently based in New York City, she’s excited to be heading back to Spain indefinitely this coming summer. Find more of her travel stories at worldintowords.com.