The Spanish tapa, the perfect culinary concept for your business
Within the catering industry, the Spanish tapa is undoubtedly one of the most popular dishes among customers visiting bars and pubs throughout Spain and abroad. The tapa is one of the main representatives of Spanish cuisine, a small mouthful that has given rise to a saying in Spain, “to go out for tapas” (salir a tapear). A whole way of life and leisure that has become the image of the Marca España (Spain Brand) on the same level as olive oil or Iberian ham, and that has been successfully exported beyond Spanish borders.
The Spanish tapa is a perfect culinary concept within the reach of almost any hospitality business, as it adapts to many types of establishments and styles of cuisine. The tapa also stands out for its versatility, good profitability and ease of consumption, as it combines speed and individual portions. The latter is a great help in adapting to the COVID-19 protocols that have been imposed in recent months on catering and restaurant businesses around the world. Another of the indisputable advantages of tapas over other options is that you can offer your customers the opportunity to try a wider variety of dishes without spending a lot of money or being overly full. In this article, we’ll cover all the key points on how to successfully incorporate tapas into your business, wherever you are in the world.
The tapa and its importance in Spanish cuisine
What is a tapa? What does it mean to go out for tapas in Spain? Let’s take it one step at a time. According to the Royal Spanish Academy, a tapa is defined as a “small portion of food served as an accompaniment to a drink”. In other words, the tapa is a small snack that we can eat at the bar while we have a drink. It seems that the origins in Spanish of the word “tapa” (which also means “lid” or “cover” in Spanish) come from the old tradition in pubs of covering glasses with a slice of bread or ham, to prevent insects or dust from entering. Whether true or not, the art of the tapa has certainly become an interesting form of miniature cuisine and an essential part of Spain’s cultural identity.
Throughout Spain there are different names for the Spanish tapa. In northern regions such as La Rioja, Navarre or the Basque Country, they are usually called “pinchos” or “pintxos”, which is another name for tapa. It’s also customary in some cities to offer what is called an appetiser on the house, to whet the appetite and accompany a drink, which may be called a “tapa de cortesía” (complimentary tapa).
In Spain, going out for tapas is a deeply-rooted tradition that consists of going out with friends and family to have these small bites accompanied by a drink, as an appetiser before lunch or dinner. It’s a tradition that can take many forms and has evolved along with Spanish society.
One of the most classic forms of tapas among Spaniards is to eat tapas standing up, tasting various specialities offered by different bars and pubs. Instead of sitting down to eat in a single establishment, Spaniards sometimes prefer to sample different specialities on their feet and go on a tour of several bars and pubs in their neighbourhood or town. However, the huge success of the tapas concept has led to a leap from the simple bar to tables in restaurants offering a wide range of tapas that can be enjoyed at the bar, at high tables, or seated at tables. We no longer speak of the tapa as a small snack before a main meal, but as part of a complete menu or meal eaten while sat at a table.
The culture of the tapa is so deeply rooted in Spain that it has gone beyond cultural and social aspects, becoming part of the tourism marketing of many of our cities and regions and is an expression of their gastronomic variety and richness. There are many tapas fairs that coincide with many of Spain’s popular festivals, where local products and creations are promoted through the concept of tapas. At tapas fairs or tapas routes, there’s usually a set itinerary, with each bar or restaurant offering a typical tapa, and there may also be a tapas competition in which visitors choose the best tapas in one or more categories. Many of these annual celebrations coincide with the arrival of good weather, such as Tuna Gastronomy Week in Barbate (Cádiz, Andalusia), the Octopus Festival in Carballiño (Orense, Galicia), the Ribeiro Wine Fair (Ribadavia, Galicia) or La Tomatina in Buñol (Valencia, Valencian Community) to name a few. There are also tapas competitions in which prizes are awarded for the best creative tapas, usually based on one or more typical ingredients from the region. They are held both nationally, such as the National “Tapas Alimentos de España” Competition”, regionally or in specific cities. This is the case with the famous National Pinchos and Tapas Competition or the World Tapas Championship, which are both held in the city of Valladolid (Castille and León). Further north and in a region with a long pinchos tradition is the La Rioja Pinchos Competition, which has been running for almost 20 years.
Nor should we forget tapas tours, so popular with tourists and designed to take you on a tour of the bars and restaurants in certain neighbourhoods or areas in cities. There, you can enjoy not only the cuisine, but also the main tourist attractions at the same time. Cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Granada or Málaga have a wide range of tapas tours, where a local guide normally plans a route that allows tourists, especially foreigners, to get to know the most typical parts of the city.
Along these lines, the 5th edition of the World Tapas Day will be held on 17 June, an initiative promoted by the Tasting Spain Association, which promotes Spanish tapas as one of the main tourist attractions in Spain. Its aim is to promote Spanish tapas both in Spain and abroad. There will be various activities throughout the day in which the tapa will be the star.
Types of tapas, options for all businesses and tastes
There are many different categories of tapas for all types of customers and their preferences. They’re not only adaptable to the customer, but also to the philosophy and style of any hospitality establishment, whatever the type of business. Let’s take a look at some of these main categories:
Depending on their style. Tapas can be found in every shape imaginable. Large and small, simple and sophisticated. From a simple plate of olives, a bit of ham or a bit of cheese with bread, to small sandwiches, known in southern Spain as montaditos. Including skewers and tapas of typical dishes from the city or region where we find ourselves, served in small terracotta dishes. To even more complex tapas with more modern presentation.
Depending on the temperature at which they’re served. We can find both hot and cold tapas. Cold tapas tend to stand out for how quickly they’re served and range from snacks that don’t require any preparation and are served directly. Some examples are pickles or cured meats like olives, Manchego cheese, Iberian ham, pickled mussels, or gilda, which is a tapa with chillies, anchovies and olives. There are also tapas that do require a small amount of preparation before serving. After preparing them, we can keep these tapas in refrigerated display cases and offer them to the customer when the kitchen isn’t open yet. Some examples are anchovies marinated in vinegar, diced vegetable salad, potatoes with different sauces and seasoning, etc.
All these advantages allow for better time management alongside hot tapas, which are served freshly cooked or heated instantly. There are countless examples of hot tapas, from classic legume stews such as fabada (bean stew) to offal stews such as tripe with chickpeas. Also fried foods such as ham croquettes, papas bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), or fish and seafood such as fried anchovies or prawns with garlic, etc. There’s also room with these types of tapas to innovate. Those that mix modernity and tradition, such as mini squid burgers with alioli or rice with a twist merging different cultures such as Manchego cheese risotto, etc.
The famous Spanish potato omelette tapa, one of Spain’s star tapas, deserves a special mention. It can be served cold, warm or even freshly made while still piping hot. In each region or city, there are different versions of the Spanish potato omelette, sometimes with or without onion, with the egg more set or almost liquid like the famous Galician Betanzos omelette. Spanish potato omelette, with or without onion? It’s one of the classic culinary questions that divides Spaniards and sparks an amusing debate. The Spanish potato omelette can also include other ingredients in its filling, such as ham, chorizo or cheese, to give just a few examples.
Depending on the style of cooking. We can offer classic tapas for more traditional establishments and customers, such as the Spanish potato omelette, fried foods such as croquettes or patatas bravas. There are also gourmet tapas, which have been a great success with the public in recent years. Gourmet tapas take ingredients and preparation methods from haute cuisine and translate them to this miniature concept. They’re the undisputed star of businesses such as gastrobars or gastropubs that attract customers who love gourmet food or those who are more eager to try something new. Nor can we forget the fusion tapas that incorporate ingredients and forms from different gastronomic cultures (Peruvian-Japanese or Mexican-Chinese fusion), which are very popular with younger hospitality customers.
Depending on the origin of the ingredients. Here we can find tapas made mainly with local produce, with organic ingredients or simply with healthy ingredients regardless of their origin. Tapas made with these types of ingredients are typical of the slow food movement that has also reached tapas establishments.
Depending on their price. There are complimentary tapas, which are included with the drink ordered. In some establishments the tapas offered are set according to the number of rounds of drinks ordered by the customer. Normally in these cases, as the rounds of drinks ordered increase, the tapa is more generous and/or more complex in terms of its preparation than the previous one. This is often the case in tapas bars in cities such as Granada and Jaén in southern Spain. However, there are also tapas establishments that have a list of complimentary appetisers and diners can choose the one they want each time they order a drink. This is true of most tapas bars in Lugo in Galicia, Salamanca, León and Ávila in the Castile and León area, Almería in Andalusia, as well as Badajoz and Cáceres in Extremadura, among others. As opposed to this type of snack included with a drink, there’s also tapas on its own, for a price that can range from €2 to €5, depending on the city, the place and the tapa itself.
How to design the perfect tapas menu
Regardless of the menu design strategies offered by menu engineering, which are general and standard for all types of hospitality services, we need to take into account some aspects when planning a good tapas offering in order to design a perfect tapas menu:
- Adapt the tapas according to your customers and the style of your business. It’s important to know your customers and why they come to your business. For example, if they come for the type of cuisine you offer, adapt your tapas to that style so as not to lose customers. With a tapas menu, you’ll offer your customers the opportunity to try a wider range of your creations on a smaller scale.
- Always put quality before quantity. This means moving away from extremely long tapas menus where the customer gets lost and your cuisine’s identity fades. It also requires us to choose our suppliers wisely.
- Combine tapas with different preparation times. We’re talking about simple tapas that come out of the kitchen quickly and that you can suggest to your customers to start with. This is the case for cold tapas or fast-cooking tapas such as fried food. All this makes it easier to cut down waiting times for customers as they arrive at your establishment and they can eat tapas while the more complex ones arrive.
- Look after your customers affected by food intolerances or allergies. Don’t forget to include gluten- and lactose-free dishes on your tapas menu. In this article on the keys to adapting your menu to allergies and intolerances, we offer you very good tips on how to make it perfect.
- Take care of the format and presentation of your tapas menu. The menu is an important communication and sales tool for your business, and the customer’s first contact with your establishment’s offering. Make it attractive with easy-to-read fonts and brief descriptions of the ingredients and how each tapa is prepared. Separate the tapas by category (cold, hot, for those with intolerances, etc.) and consider including some quality photos.
Ideas for tapas with cheese
Although it’s clear that tapaa are a very versatile culinary concept for any type of hospitality business, when combined with an ingredient such as cheese, it becomes a more than exquisite snack. Cheese adds flavour and adapts to all kinds of tapas, from hot or cold tapas to quick pinchos or more elaborate tapas, from traditional to innovative tapas.
Among the different types of cheese, we should highlight the use of cream cheese and mascarpone cheese, which allow for quick preparations due to their ease of use and portioning, and because they can be combined with other ingredients. They can be adapted to both hot and cold dishes, as well as to savoury and sweet flavours. Regarding the world of baking, we should point out that its link with the world of tapas through miniature baking or sweet tapas is an international trend that has been gaining momentum in recent years. An example of this is the famous Basque Cheesecake in the city of San Sebastián, with portions that usually end many pintxo routes through this beautiful city’s old town.
The success of cheese tapas will depend largely on the quality of the products used, which will make the difference in the quality and taste of each tapa. To help you, at Quescrem we make cream cheeses and other dairy products with the best milk from the Galicia region, designed by and for professionals, perfect for taking your cheese tapas creations to the next level. Cream cheeses and mascarpone cheeses with a creamy texture and a high level of culinary functionality, which allow us to incorporate them into sauces, mousses, creams and all kinds of creations (baking, frying, chilled, frozen, etc.). We also have a wide range of lactose-free products for food intolerances.
We offer a wide selection of cheeses with flavours that offer a whole host of possibilities in the kitchen and for preparing tapas (flavours such as goat’s cheese, kefir, yoghurt, blue cheese or olive flavour, which makes cheese one of Spanish cuisine’s star appetisers).
Some ideas for tapas with cheese prepared by our culinary team:
The famous Spanish potato omelette with a simple touch of caramelised onion and the flavour of authentic goat’s cheese. For this we’ve used Quescrem with Goat Cheese Log, a cream cheese with a strong flavour that’s very easy to work with and with zero wastage in the kitchen. This makes it easy to prepare and puts a special and different twist on a classic tapa.
A light pincho, ideal for lovers of healthy cuisine. Its originality lies in the use of the first Kefir spread on the market. This cheese has a creamy texture that makes it very easy to spread and a delicious taste that will delight customers who love fermented foods.
A slightly more elaborate cold tapa than the previous ones with an exquisite filling served with a yoghurt and lime sauce. Thanks to Quescrem Culinary Yoghurt, we achieve a rich and tasty sauce that doesn’t curdle even with the addition of citric acid from the lime. A whole range of limitless flavours.
- Warm or hot tapas cooked au gratin, with sauces or fried fillings:
A classic of Spanish cuisine with an Asian twist. A cheese filling that withstands frying and won’t fall apart thanks to Quescrem Plus, a fantastic cream cheese designed to be used as a filling in both freezable and deep-fried or baked creations. This allows us to prepare this recipe in advance and freeze it, and from there go directly to frying without defrosting. Efficiency and time saving that have a positive impact on your business costs.
Another classic tapa of Spanish cuisine, the gluten-free croquette with a cheese and chicken filling. Once again, Quescrem Plus demonstrates its versatility by being used as a substitute for béchamel sauce in the filling for a gluten-free tapa.
A second version of cheese and onion stuffed croquettes with a simple recipe that is lactose-free. Our Lactose-Free Cream Cheese can be used in the same way and is as versatile as any of our cheeses. It’s designed for the preparation of tapas with a lactose-free label.
Delicious mini sandwiches in which the sauce is the main ingredient and that has the powerful flavour of goat’s cheese as its base. Thanks to Quescrem with Goat Cheese Log, in a few seconds, we have a delicious sauce ready to accompany the shredded chicken and the vegetables that form part of this small snack, without any waste.
A reinvented classic of Spanish cuisine, meatballs. On this occasion we’ve made hake meatballs, a white fish with a neutral flavour that will benefit from the use of herbs and spices such as chives, chopped mint, garlic and mustard. The meatballs are accompanied by a hot yoghurt sauce made with Quescrem Culinary Yoghurt, which gives us the functionality of being able to work with hot foods, as it resists heating without losing its organoleptic properties or its intense yoghurt flavour.
Virtually all gastronomic cultures incorporate rice in some of their dishes, and Spanish culture is no exception. Here we combine an Italian rice dish such as risotto with a spice that’s widely used in Spain, saffron. The special thing about this recipe is that we add creaminess with Quescrem Mascarpone, which is also available lactose-free, proving that it’s a perfect substitute for butter or cream in both sweet and savoury creations.
Sweet tapas or miniature baking:
An original and different cold cheesecake presented on a base of Pedro Ximenez jelly, cherries and nuts, three alternating layers of caramelised brick pastry with two layers of rice pudding. It’s one of Spanish cuisine’s most typical desserts, which on this occasion has been prepared with white chocolate and Quescrem Cream Cheese Original Recipe. This cream cheese from our range for professionals brings consistency to any creation and allows cold desserts to be produced with ease.
Coulants, also known as chocolate fondants or lava cakes, attract attention and are a hit on almost every menu, which is why we offer a delicious cheesecake coulant, the queen of today’s desserts. Combining these two successful concepts, we make a cheesecake coulant with our Quescrem Regular Cream Cheese, which gives it the delicious lactic and fresh flavour that is so typical of cheesecakes. To serve, our version of the coulant is accompanied by an almond crumble and a berries and Quescrem Mascarpone sauce.
We can innovate through miniature baking by using classic recipes, and we can take advantage of the mini format to offer a new look for this type of dessert on our menu. This cheese brûlée will delight lovers of classic desserts and innovative desserts alike, as it’s both of these things. By adding our Quescrem Regular Cream Cheese to a crème brûlée recipe, we give it a unique touch of fresh and lactic flavour, as well as rich creaminess.
Throughout this article we’ve seen how the Spanish tapa is a star culinary concept, very interesting and adaptable to many types of catering businesses in any corner of the world. Like sushi, pizza or hamburgers, the tapa has crossed borders and has become universal.
We hope that this review of the different types of tapas and the best ideas for designing the perfect tapas menu will help you to incorporate this ideal culinary concept into your business, if you wish to do so.