Many quintessential aspects of Spanish culture have gained iconic status around the world. Flamenco, siestas, fiestas, football (“El Clásico”), sangría, paella, jamón serrano… Spain’s most famous export, however, is arguably the tapa – certainly when it comes to the country’s renowned cuisine.
Gastronomy website TasteAtlas, which helps food lovers discover local ingredients, traditional dishes and authentic restaurants around the world, has compiled a global gastronomic ranking of Spain’s most popular tapas to showcase why they enjoy such burgeoning international appeal.
These include zarangollo, which TasteAtlas describes as a common Murcian dish made with a combination of scrambled eggs and thinly sliced zucchinis and onions, with potatoes also sometimes added to the mix. Zarangollo is served warm or hot, as a side dish for a variety of fish courses, and often as a tapa in bars throughout the Murcia region, accompanied – of course – by a glass of wine.
As for Spanish tapas in general, TasteAtlas notes that they are “popularly known as Spain’s greatest food invention. These small finger foods are usually accompanied by a few drinks at lunchtime or in the early evening, led by the philosophy ‘eat when you drink, drink when you eat’.”
Urban legends vary about the tapa’s origins, but the most authoritative version is that the name derives from the Spanish verb “tapar” (meaning “to cover”), and the dish first became popular in Andalucía, with drinkers covering their glasses with slices of bread or meat to keep out dust and flies.
According to TasteAtlas, classic tapas initially tended to be shellfish – olives and mussels or anchovies served on a small plate – but now the term can refer to just about any ingredients served in small portions. And their popularity, and creative diversity, has not only extended across Spain’s regional borders but also internationally, “with virtually no rules as to what goes with what”.
The most popular tapas in southern Spain are shellfish, squid, eggs, prawns, mixed breaded seafood, and fried fish marinated in saffron. In the north, tapas bars serve béchamel-based croquettes and battered prawns, and in Madrid the locals opt for tripe, anchovies cured in vinegar and cured ham. Other less-regional favourites include olives, meatballs, stuffed mussels, green peppers, cured cheeses and thinly sliced salted cod.
Savouring the 1,010 Flavours of Murcia
Murcia is in a festive culinary mood this year, as the 2020-2021 Capital of Gastronomy in Spain, and one of the region’s key initiatives – for residents as well as international tourists dreaming of visiting again when travel restrictions are eased – is the #1001SaboresRM campaign.
The objective is to shine the spotlight on regional gastronomy in which each flavour has its own name. “At the edge of the sea, in orchards and mountains, you will find such a variety of products and cuisine that you will need a thousand and one nights to discover everything.”
These 1,101 flavours are a blend of tradition and innovation, incorporated into such popular dishes as five we highlight here, with recipes that can be prepared at home – wherever you are in the world…
Marinera – authentic Murcian version of the “Russian salad”.
Pisto Murciano – lunchtime favourite from Murcia’s “Garden of Europe”.
Rice & Vegetables – Calasparra rice with tasty and healthy garden treasures.
Calatrava Bread Pudding – classic Murcia dessert reminiscent of family dinners.
Asiático – delicious coffee concoction that transcends boundaries.