I worked one state north of where I live. When I retired, it seems that some people whom I admired and liked hanging around with got left behind along with my career. I have not been away from work so long to miss work so much, but I have missed them. They were in town on business, and several of them thought to call me. That made me feel good. No one can make you feel like you matter better than your friend.
So, it fell to me to find a good place for us to talk, and share a meal. As I perused the restaurant choices, my eyes fell upon a tapas bar. Honestly, I never have paid much attention to tapas. The name implies girl food to me. All of my visiting friends were men. But, this particular tapas bar had its own home brewery in the basement of a two-hundred-year-old house in the old town section of the oldest town in our region. For some reason, this felt right.
But, I had to be certain about what a tapas was. The name is Spanish, and basically it is meant to describe appetizers that have earned their way into main course status. They can be a hot dish or cold, and they can be constructed of meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, and most any other edible. They are small portions, as one might expect of an appetizer. Yet, the size is not meant to deny, but rather to invite mixing up the variety of the meal. Plus, tapas are served in a way that evokes the old tradition of hospitality toward guests.
It was this final bit of information that tipped me to reserve last night’s meal with my friends at the Old Towne Tapas Bar. So, how did the Spanish derive a serving style of a meal in small portions that can be shared? The tradition dates to the Middle Ages in Europe, a time in which many people who spoke different languages had begun to encounter each other with greater frequency. Until the Romans conquered them, Europeans were tribal people who lived out their lives within the borders of their ancestral territories. Once Romans conquered, they stationed outposts of soldiers in the conquered land. They established Roman government, law, and they extended roads. None of this meant that the conquered people became world travelers. Mostly, they lived where they were, and according to their customs and traditions. They just didn’t have to think so much since the Romans ran the show. Over time, the Romans no longer ran the show. The Roman Empire declined and finally it failed. But, the roads that they built remained and the tribal Europeans used them.
This is how Scandinavians, Germans, French, and others might find their way into Spain. Mostly, they did not speak Spanish, nor did they understand the customs and food of Spain. What began with the hospitality of people who lived in homes alongside the old Roman roads, developed into a disorganized system of inns with stables. The home owners encountered foreigners who could only point and grunt when they were asked if they wanted food. If there was a single pot of stew cooking in the hearth, that was the only choice for a meal. There must have been some understanding passed to the Spanish hosts that not everyone can eat boiled pig meat or whatever it was in the pot. So, why not cook a variety of foods simultaneously in several smaller pots? Why not invite your guests to sit at a long table, and place all of the pots there, to be passed, sampled, and enjoyed with shared conversation, even if folks still grunted and pointed in order to be understood? This is how tapas originated.