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June 17, 2024

Tapas in Andalucia

By Jerry Seeger

The farther south you go in Spain, the longer siesta lasts. Ah, siesta! What a civilized custom, to break the day in two, and spend the hottest part of the day resting in the shade, cooled by the breezes sweeping in off the sea. It was after siesta when we ventured out, but Cadiz was still moving slowly; even at eight p.m. the sun was well up in the sky, and the heat of the day clung to the old stone buildings.

Cadiz is a port city, and prospered as the gateway to the new world. Columbus launched some of his expeditions from here, and the city will not let you forget that. Cadiz now sprawls, as cities do, but the center is well-defined by sea and river, and the mazes of narrow streets remain, punctuated by grand architecture funded by Montezuma's gold.

Our plan was to head to a part of the old city we had not explored yet, look around, and find a place to enjoy beer and tapas. You can have your old churches and monuments, take me to the place the locals go to spend an evening in convivial conversation.

We hadn't gone far when we passed Zapata. We craned our necks and looked into the inviting darkness, and our footsteps slowed by mutual consent. "Wanna stop in there and have a beer?" Bruce asked.

Now, those who know me might think that was a silly question, but it was not a question of whether we would be having beer, but where. We had already passed a dozen possibilities, and we had not even made it halfway to the area we meant to explore. There would be plenty of other fine choices. I looked back into the place, cool and quiet. Might be a little pricey, I thought. "Sure," I said. "Looks nice."

Tapas does not refer to any specific dish, it is a portion size. Food generally comes in rations, half-rations, and tapas. Tapas are the smallest portions; the name literally means "lids" and refers to an old practice of serving each drink with a little dish of food on top.

Tapas fit the Spanish lifestyle perfectly. Casual meals are not marked by courses, in fact there is no clear beginning or end. Food, like any other part of life, is meant to be lingered over, sampled, savored. A series of portions, spread out over hours, each a small event that adds to the pleasures of life, drink, and good company -- that is what a tapas bar provides.

Most places will have a few dishes prepared and waiting for you, which might include octopus, sardines, and snails (which you have to knock back into the bowl sometimes -- I didn't have any of those), beef, pork, and cheese. In this respect, Zapata was a bit different. Many of the items on display were raw ingredients, and the tapas were prepared to order.

Of course they had beer, but Zapata was obviously a wine bar. I surprised Bruce by ordering wine and he followed suit, and soon we were comparing two remarkably good types of Rioja, both deep red and full of character. Things were starting out well, and we looked over the tapas menu.

Another unusual feature of Zapata, they actually had what was printed on the menu. I started with a little sandwich made with the famed local ham, some cheese, some other cheese, and maybe some bacon. My arteries may never recover, but once that sucker was cooked up, it was yummy. Another glass of wine was called for. Other people were starting to show up and I was happy for where we happened to sit, at the bar near where the food was prepared. I sipped and watched other lovely little dishes pass before me and I knew I'd be staying awhile. I got no argument from Bruce.

The prices were similar to other places, and easily justified by the quality of food, drink, and atmosphere.

Where we sat we also had privileged access to the staff, and service was friendly and helpful, recommending wines, and even pausing to make limited attempts at chatting even as the place became steadily busier.

Time passed, but that is what it's supposed to do, in Spain. The passage of hours is marked by the progression of little plates, and time spent well is never time wasted.

To find Zapata, go to Cadiz, and, starting in the lower left area of the central part of the tourist map, head up-rightward until you pass a square with a statue and some kids playing soccer in the evening sun, while older folks rest on park benches. Veer a little more to the right and up a street a bit, but not too far. It's on the right; you can't miss it. Tell them Jerry sent you.

Article © Jerry Seeger. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-06-26
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