The definition of ‘tapa’ according to the Spanish Royal Academy is a small
portion of food accompanying a drink.

This definition leaves out two essential elements that make up what we
understand a tapa to be in Granada today and they are 1) that it’s free, and 2) that everyone without exception is offered one.

If it’s not free, it’s a snack, or a bite to eat, a light meal, a tidbit, a
morsel of food, a mini-portion … anything, but not a tapa. Similarly, if it’s
not offered indiscriminately, it may be a treat, a favour, preferential
treatment for some unknown motive, a reward for some special service, a bribe,
a personal incentive, … but it’s not a tapa.

The verb ‘tapar’ means to cover and a ‘tapa’ is then a lid. The story goes
that the custom developed of covering the wine glass with a slice of ham or
sausage, either to prevent foreign bodies (flies, flecks of dust or dirt, etc) entering
the glass, or to prevent the aroma of the wine from escaping.

I once heard that the tradition of the free tapa, which is typical for East
Andalusia but not for the rest of the country, developed in cash-strapped
Granada in the 1930s as part of the fierce competition among bar owners vying
for custom and I’ve always believed it. The story I was told mentioned the bar
and its location, in one of the small streets close to Plaza del Carmen, but
I’ve forgotten the name and can’t trace it at the moment.

Anyway, now, a ‘tourist development agent’ by the name of Gabriel Medina has by accident
discovered the earliest documented reference to the phenomenon while
researching the gypsy zambra – a
style of Flamenco dance associated with wedding ceremonies. In his research, he
came across an advert in a newspaper for a tavern which offered macetas
(obviously not a flower-pot
but a drinking receptacle) a 10 céntimos
con tapaderas de salchichón
[drinks at 10 centimes with sausage ‘covers’].

This ad points to the date of 13 October 1909 as being the documentary birthday
of the tapa as we know it in Granada today.

This said tavern went by the name of Café Económico de Antonio el Aparcero
and in 1909 it was situated
in the calle (street) Tendillas de Santa Paula,
on the corner of calle de San Jerónimo.
Antonio el Aparcero subsequently
changed his premises a number of times before, in 1912, opening a tavern in the
central calle Sierpe Baja.

In this same year, the following announcement could be read:

El Aparcero tiene costumbre de servir con la maceta algún aperitivo, sin que
por ello empeore la buena calidad de sus géneros

[Antonio ‘the Sharecropper’ has the custom of serving some kind of appetizer
with your drink, without affecting the high quality of his beverages.]

Antonio el Aparcero was Antonio Quirosa Mendoza, born 8 October 1870, not far away
at calle Puente de la Virgen, 3. We do not know how long Antonio kept up the custom of serving a tapa with
the drink ordered by his customers, or if he was ever aware of the time-honoured
tradition that can now be dated back to that October day, shortly after his 39th

El origen de
la tapa de Granada / G. M.

M. V. Granada, 21 Marzo, 2019 – 20:23h