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Tapas are a type of cuisine generally thought to have originated in Spain several hundreds of years ago. Often called little bites or small plates, they are typically small, appetizer-like portions of food. They are popular not only in Spain where they originated, but also in other parts of the world. Dishes served as tapas often range from simple one to two ingredient dishes to more complex, multi-layered items.
Many food historians report that tapas originated in taverns as a way to keep insects and dirt out of alcoholic beverages. The story often goes that the person serving the drinks would place a piece of bread, often topped with meat or cheese, over the glass of wine or other beverage. In addition to helping keep insects or dirt from getting into the glass, it was also reported that this little bite of food helped offset some of the effects of alcohol, allowing a person to drink more. Thus, the story goes, it became popular with barkeeps and patrons alike.
Still today, the typical tapas dish is small enough to be eaten in just a few bites. Due to this, it is common to order several tapas at a time. How a person orders may vary from location to location. In some cases, they may be served buffet-style, allowing a person to pick and choose a variety of items from whatever happens to be available. Other times, they are ordered individually off of a menu, just like a typical sit-down restaurant dining experience.
Depending on the area, tapas may be served at different times of the day and in different locations. In Spain, for example, they are often served throughout the day as snacks to tide people over between meals or stops at bars. They are generally available at most bars and local restaurants. In the U.S., tapas are more commonly served in the evenings, either as appetizers or in place of full-size entrees at dinner. They are generally limited to restaurants specializing in Mediterranean or Spanish cuisine.
A variety of different foods and dishes can be served as tapas. Classic tapas ingredients typically include cheese, ham, olives, potatoes and seafood. Some of the simplest types include just a couple of ingredients, such as cheese and crackers or grilled meat on a skewer. There are also more involved versions, such as croquettes and miniature potato, egg and cheese quiches. As tapas are becoming popular all over the world, many other types of foods are being adapted to the style, including classic American dishes such as fried chicken wings and macaroni and cheese.