February 8, 2011

Tapas Bars

Léon before the evening rush

More thoughts about Spain: what I appreciated most about my time in Spain was seeing and taking part in the Spanish food and wine culture. In particular, the tapas bars. I didn't spend too much time in restaurants, and when I did, I tended towards the simple / traditional / inexpensive. But to get my culinary kicks and search for something besides plain table wine, I went to bars.
Tapas bars and restaurants have become very chic in the US over the last few years. From what I've experienced, these tend to follow American dinning standards with Spanish flavors and an attempt at Spanish portions. But the establishments I've been to bear little resemblance in terms of the culture of eating Spain. Specifically, "tapas bars" are really just neighborhood bars, usually known for serving a unique snack along with their drinks. Really, these places are simple hangouts, frequented more for socializing more than to seek culinary treasures.

Sherry on tap in Granada 
It used to be that almost anywhere you went in Spain, when you ordered a drink at a bar, it came with tapas, (in the Basque country bar snacks are referred to as pintxos and are not included with the drink). There are several origins stories for this tradition, but they seem to all underscore the association of food with drink. Sadly this tradition is dying out. I heard many stories of bars stopping tapas service when too many customers left their plates untouched. But in places that still have rich bar culture, like Léon, Logroño, and Andalucia, tapas thrives. In places like Nerja, you're often given a choice of which tapas you'd like with your drink, including some amazingly fresh seafood. I found it fun to try to pair my drink choices with the tapas served.
I would love to see bars in the states try this; whenever you order a beer or glass of wine, a small snack is served along side it. I'm not talking about peanuts, chips & salsa or popcorn. Something that actually paired well with the drink, and felt like you were eating food. Could a bar like this survive, doing only one thing, but doing it well, and building in to the cost of a drink? I'm not sure that people would be willing to pay for it. Here in Portland, I find the Happy Hour culture to approximate this. Its certainly encourages us to see food and drink as related, and many establishments have built their reputation on their happy hour alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment