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Totally into tapas

Small snacks, finger food and light bites: Spain is famous for it. Why is tapas so popular?

Spanish finger food? Not many Dutch stew lovers would call it a meal. But Spaniards do. Recent research has shown that over half of Spaniards prefer to eat tapas for dinner when they’re out, and if possible spread over various bars and in the company of friends. Of course, it also has to be late in the evening and with a glass of wine, manzanilla(the famous sherry) or a beer. In Spain, you don’t just eat for the food – it’s also part of your social life and identity. Food is deeply rooted in Spanish culture.

The verb tapar means ‘to cover’, which explains one of the legends about the origin of the small snacks you eat with your drink. In Seville, cafe-goers would cover their glasses of beer and wine with a saucer or piece of bread to keep the flies away. And if you have a plate on top of your glass, you might as well put some olives or a piece of cheese on it. It’s also very practical – since people usually stood in these bars, it was an easy way of handling a snack. Over the centuries, tapas has played a significant role in Spanish culinary tradition. There are local specialities and different names (such as the pintxos in the Basque Country), but Andalusia is particularly well known for its tapas. It’s the only region where you can get a free tapa with every drink. And if you drink enough, you can collect enough for a complete free meal during the better tapas pub tour.

Salmón and escabeche

In addition to traditional tapas bars, Spanish chefs are opening restaurants serving new, imaginative tapas. Take world-famous chef Ferran Adriá and his brother Albert. They put your oysters in red escabeche (sour marinade) and squid with black truffle and egg yolk. The traditional escabeche marinade is easy to make. Part of the cooking process relies on the vinegar in the marinade, just like with ceviche. We didn’t make oysters – we made salmón and escabeche.

How to make it

Cut a 1kg salmon fillet into cubes of roughly 5cm and place the cubes next to each other in a shallow pan. Sprinkle the fish with sea salt, black pepper, a few bay leaves, chopped parsley, two sprigs of thyme and two cloves. Make sure that the cubes of salmon are covered with herbs and spices. Pour the escabeche over the salmon, which you make from two tablespoons of Spanish paprika (pimentón), half a litre of olive oil (extra virgin), 1.5 decilitres of cider vinegar and 1 decilitre of white wine. Bring it slowly to the boil. As soon as it starts to bubble, remove the pan from the heat. Cover the pan and leave the salmon to continue cooking in the liquid. Serve as tapa on toast and sprinkle the fish with some extra escabeche.

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