THE MYTH OF TAPAS
There are many myths and histories in regards to the origin of tapas. The best account is in Mark & Peter Besas’ essential “Hidden Madrid.”
Mark & Peter Besas
As for the term tapa, it apparently dates back to a trip taken by King Alfonso XIII in the early 20th century. The king was travelling to Cadiz with his entourage and stopped to rest and have a drink at a beach tavern called El Ventorrillo del Chato (which still exists today). Alfonzo ordered a glass of sherry, but just as he was about to take a sip, a strong gust of wind swept in a cloud of sand from the beach. The waiter, quick to react, placed a slice of cured ham over the king’s glass. Alfonso, not understanding, asked the waiter what he was doing. The waiter explained that the ham was a “tapa”, which literally means “cover”, so that the wine would not be affected by the sand. The king was amused by the idea, ate the ham and finished off the wine, soon ordering another sherry and asking that he again wanted it with a tapa, just like the first. Soon the king’s entourage also ordered glasses of wine accompanied by those curious “tapas.” and so the term was coined.
Mark & Peter Besas. Hidden Madrid: A Walking Guide.Madrid. Ediciones La Libreria. 2007.