The word tapa is derived from the Spanish verb tapar “to cover”, and was originally a small portion of free food, served with any drink ordered. Today it’s a popular way of eating all over the world. However, there are probably as many tales about the origin of the dish as there are different kinds of tapas on a Spanish menu.
One popular story claims that 16th-century tavern owners from Castile-La Mancha found that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of bad wine, thus starting to offer free cheese when serving cheap wine.
But most stories have a lid aspect – the literal meaning of the word. One of them states that people who had nowhere to put their plate when standing in a bar put them on top of their glasses. Others believe that bread would be placed on top of a drink to protect it from fruit flies, and at one point it became a habit to top this edible lid with a snack.
Another popular explanation is that King Alfonso XIII once ordered wine in a popular tavern in Cadiz. Since Cadiz is windy, the bartender covered the glass with a slice of ham, to keep the sand out, before offering it to the king. The king enjoyed it so much that he ordered another glass of wine “with cover”.