Tapas Culture

by La Sevillana /
La Sevillana's picture
Apr 02, 2009 / 2 comments

As I noted in last month's posting: It’s not just through what Andalusians eat that we can come to understand a bit about them, it’s also how they eat what they eat that's important. And I'm referring specifically to eating tapas.

A tapa is a very small plate of food. So, for example, a tapa of champinoñes will have about 4-5 mushrooms. Enough for 2-3 people to share...and sharing is the key element. Andalusians like to share food, and to sit with an Andalusian and eat is to feel that you are not only partaking of a meal, but sharing something intimate. In homes, food is taken from a common plate, with or without the use of utensils. If you are a close friend or member of the family, you may not even have your own plate – the protocol is to just dig into the serving platter at will. This practice isn’t the result of atrocious table manners, but is a yet another historical residual.

MenuNeat fact: Andalusians have a specific verb for eating tapas, tapear, which means “to eat tapas.”

At the time that European concepts of table manners and etiquette were developing to the north, the Iberian Peninsula was still under Moorish control. The Moors preferred to eat off a common plate and ate food with their right hands – a practice that can still be observed in many parts of the Arab world. So, if you're the squeamish, cootie-obsessed type that's forever concerned about things like double-dipping, who is scared of life and living in general, tapeando probably isn’t for you.

Another way in which wider cultural patterns reveal themselves in the tapa microculture is in its particularly social character. Tapas bars are crowded -- the more so, the better. They are noisy. And, yes, everyone brings the kids along, who run and play and add to the general chaos. Eating tapas is a social event and typically involves going from bar to bar and sampling a few tapas from each well into the night - even during the week. A friend once joked that "keeping fit" to Sevillanos means the exercise you get walking from tapas bar to tapas bar.

They often say that a photo can speak a thousand words. I've included a few photos taken from the same tapas bar on a Friday afternoon between lunch and dinner (from 3PM to 8PM), the “slow time." Imagine that you're an anthropologist: What do these photos tell you about things like the value Andalusians place on family, gender roles, community, and concepts of time?  

Ladies lunching 

Ladies who lunch, Andalusian style.

Dad and kids

Everyone at once

And hours later...look who's still here.

Stopping by Just passing through.

Me in the field

The anthropologist is the one on the right. This represents the participant observation part of my fieldwork.


La Sevillana is the Anthropology Editor, Andalusia, for Wandering Educators.


Comments (2)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    15 years 1 month ago

    fascinating article - it sure makes me want head to spain and participate! i love that the tapas culture is so communal & open.


    Jessie Voigts, PhD

    Publisher, wanderingeducators.com

  • Dr. Debra Payne

    15 years 1 month ago

    It makes me feel a little embarrassed for wanting my own chipirones, but hey! :) Let's go get tapas again. It is the best food in the world!

    Debra Payne Chaparro, PhD

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