Ordeal by Tapas

I have a confession to make.

I can’t stand tapas. Those little dishes of food placed in the centre of a table for a party to share. I really can’t see the point.

Yes, I hear you. I don’t know what I’m missing. Actually I do. Allow me to explain.

I should start by confessing that I am a foodie fusspot. The list of things I don’t like would stretch to the ends of the earth, and it seems to me that many of them turn up regularly in tapas dishes. Goats cheese, Feta (surely the correct spelling is foetid?), olives, seafood – I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture. And fussiness is fine. It suits me – I’m used to it. I can scan a menu in thirty seconds and hone in on the food I enjoy.

The problem comes when I share a tapas meal with my less fussy (ie normal) friends. 

“We suggest three or four dishes each,” says our waiter.  I immediately make my selection from the dishes I like. The rest of the party then proceed to choose things they enjoy, oohing and aahing over the menu. 

I know what’s coming next.  It’s like when I’m having a normal meal and I order a side of fries. “Oh yes,” someone will say. “Fries for the table.” As I don’t wish to be impolite, I smile sweetly, knowing that ninety percent of my fries will disappear over my friends’ necks. And so it is with tapas. Because, I like everything I have ordered, and almost nothing they have ordered.

“Ooh can I have some of your patatas bravas?” they say, reaching for the dish. “Do help yourself to our prawns. They are to die for! Oh, wait – you don’t like them …”

And then there’s the table itself.  I’m far from being a neat freak but normal restaurant tables are not meant for twenty little dishes. They’re designed to accommodate four to six dinner plates, cutlery at the side, space for a wine glass and condiments in the centre. With tapas, we have all of the above, plus those twenty little dishes. 

I will concede that it does make for more sociable mealtimes, as the food is shared around. But it still feels like eating half a dozen starters instead of a main course.

The odd thing is, I’m often full at the end of a tapas evening (probably filled up on bread) but still feel I’ve not had a proper meal. A bit like when you graze on crisps and have no room for dinner. I feel cheated. And I know I’m not alone in this. Our local fine-dining restaurant opened a few years ago on a tapas basis. The food was exquisite and even I usually managed to find enough dishes to please me. But it didn’t last. “It wasn’t popular,” they said and I had to agree. 

So, for as long as the tapas fad lasts, I may adopt Victoria Coren-Mitchell’s approach. A self-confessed, picky eater, she claims to take sandwiches to dinner parties. She conceals them in her handbag and escapes to the loo for a quick snack. Now there’s an idea …

6 thoughts on “Ordeal by Tapas”

  • What a hoot! Shona and I were just talking about this at the weekend! I love it if sharing with people who have similar taste in food but…..

  • I’m reading some 1930s classic Spanish travel writing in preparation for a future blog post (shameless cue) and in those days, tapas were still pieces of bread that covered your drink and kept the flies off it. Meals would be served in one huge dish, which everyone sat around the table and shared. Whoever was serving would divide the meal roughly into segments, and everyone would dig in – often with fingers – taking care not to broach any boundary with the next person’s segment. A bit like we do in our house with Chinese takeaways.

    • How interesting! I had no idea that was the origin of the word/concept. There is a wonderful episode of a popular UK sitcom Gavin & Stacey where, at a get-together, they are ordering a curry takeaway. The character Smithy (played and co-written by the excellent James Corden) makes his choice and ends up threatening to eat it in the car because he doesn’t want to share it. I look forward to reading your blog post. 🙂

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