Since I have begun this journey of opening a wine bar and decided that we would serve tapas. I am frequently asked 3 questions: What are tapas? What are pintxos and how do you say that? What are cocas, is that like cocoa? I am often too excited to share and ramble on for a bit. I suspect I have failed at actually conveying the ideas or demonstrating the differences. So, I will attempt to share what I know here for the three people that will read this. First, I am no expert but I love to eat; a lot. Second, I’m opening a bottle of Garnacha from Navarra. You should pour a glass of your favorite wine so I’m not drinking alone.
These three food categories are different but one in the same. They originate from Spain and are more of a culture, a lifestyle and a way to participate in Spanish society and traditions. "Going for tapas” is hopping from bar to bar, meeting old friends and making new ones. They have become a staple of the cuisine from Spain. These foods are often enjoyed in small portions but usually ordered a few at a time to be shared by the whole table. Sometimes tapas are served free when a drink is ordered. Some would argue that if it’s not free then it's not a tapa, however; they are often ordered from a menu at a small cost. The flavors can range from sweet to savory; from cold to hot; from traditional to experimental. The origins of these foods derive from the diverse regions in what we call Spain and a vast etymology including an ancient language.
There are several legendary tales from medieval Spain involving various royals claiming the origin of tapas. One legend involves a king that recovered from an illness by being prescribed a profuse amount of wine (medical advice I could actually follow) but, he ate small portions of food to counter the alcohol. The king contended that every house served small portions of food with wine to prevent public drunkenness. Another king was served a slice of cheese on top of a glass of wine to protect from fruit flies, mosquitos, dust and beach sand in a tavern in Cadiz. The king ate the cheese because he had been hungry from traveling and ordered another glass of wine; with a cover... a tapa.
Pronounced 'pincho' this word originates from Euskara, which is an official language in the Basque country located in northern Spain. Euskara is an isolated language with no linguistic relatives and is the oldest language that is spoken in Europe. The uniqueness in Basque not only comes from its language but also the food. Pintxos are served in small portions on a slice of bread and resembles an open faced sandwich. They are similar to and are often called tapas in some regions. What separates them is that pintxos have a toothpick or skewer driven through it like a spike... a pintxo.
Not related to cocoa, cocas are breads that can sometimes be sweet. The word gets its origin from the western part of Spain in Catalonia, from a Dutch word that means cake. Cocas can be sweet like a pastry or savory like a flatbread. This staple of Catalan cuisine is prepared typically with traditional recipes to celebrate holidays. Cocas can be prepared covered with sweet or savory filling but most are prepared opened. Rest assured the recipes that are passed on in families are the ones to be most proud of. Many recipes are named after saints (I will not be receiving that honor) but, you don't need a religious reason or festive occasion to eat cake... a coca.
So, whether you are craving only a snack or you are feeling more ravenous, do not be shy; order enough to share. Maybe it's still unclear on what exactly tapas, pintxos and cocas are since I have not described any foods in their glorious, salty, spicy, rich, delicious details. You can say, this is my invitation to go explore and hopefully discover something incredible that makes you want to share the experience. Tapas, pintxos and cocas all offer a small yet diverse taste of quality Spanish cuisine that is meant to be enjoyed with those you know, or have just met, and especially with those you love.