A History Of Tapas

When I hear the word tapas I envision a diversity of tiny morsels of food that are enjoyed over several courses, leaving you emotionally and physically satisfied. As a lover of all things food, I find it difficult to go to a restaurant and try just one thing on the menu. I’m that person who orders rounds of appetizers like a university freshman ordering vodka bombs, then forcibly makes everyone share their main courses with me. I think the experience that comes with sharing food is magical. And so, eating tapas style allows for pallet expansion and growth by experimentation.

The primary meaning of the word tapa is cover or a lid, and this concept dates all the way back to 10th century Spain, where bartenders and innkeepers would use a small piece of bread or ham to keep flies and dust out of patrons drinks. But the idea of tapas and small share plates has been adopted into different cultures around the world. There are many legends surrounding the birth of tapas, the most popular being the story of King Alfonso of Spain. Legend has it that the King had an illness that forced him to only eat small portions of food and wine in one sitting. That sounds to me like more of a blessing than a curse and my #2019goals, but let’s move on. Because of his sickness, he issued a decree that no wine would be served without the accompaniment of food. And so, allegedly, tapas was born.

The Spanish are known around the world for their fashion, wine, men (I had to), and most importantly, their cuisine. Spanish tapas is very rarely served without some form of alcohol, so there are no tapas restaurants in Spain, only tapas bars. The most common tapas foods are cured meats, olives, cheese, patatas bravas (fried potatoes), tortilla de patatas, and any other easily prepared dishes. There are tapas bars that serve simple bite sized snacks while others provide five-star Michelin dining, proving that tapas can be enjoyed in any style, preference or price point.

Though Spanish tapas has taken the world by storm, Madrina, a new tapas bar in the Distillery, sets the benchmark for high quality, authentic food. Dining at Madrina is like transcending to a tapas bar in Spain; one where time doesn’t exist. I easily lost myself over four hours of mesmerizing cocktails, multiple courses of beautifully plated and delicious food, and stunning Spanish architecture. I’ve gushed in excess about the culinary artistry of molecular gastronomy, and Madrina merges this new age style with ancient Spanish traditions to bring guests a completely unique tapas experience.

Chef Ramon Simarro, Madrina’s culinary leader, is a Michelin star and Catalonia born chef who recently brought his talent and tapas to Toronto last year. He infuses his culture and passion for Spanish cuisine into his food, and it’s nothing less than spectacular. Upon arrival we were offered glasses of cava that perfectly paired with our traditional first course of meats, cheeses, olives, and pa amb tomaquet (an authentic Catalonian crispy bread with tomato and extra virgin olive oil). To say we indulged would be an understatement. From grilled octopus and curry scented chickpea hummus with an unveiling of smoke tableside, to spherified green olives that literally explode with flavour, every part of the experience was done with grace and finesse.

Tapas can be recreated for different cultures, tastes and styles, but no matter where you’re dining, it has the unique ability to incorporate togetherness, experimentation and culinary adventure. If the idea of tapas has peaked your interest then I highly recommend going on a tapas food journey this fall. Your tastebuds will thank you.

Words by Jessica Dennis

Photography by Steven Lee

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