A tapas crawl in Logroño, Rioja

I have always had a soft spot for Logroño. Most of it isn’t pretty, but it seems to have everything I require from a Spanish city – wide streets lined with cafés and shops, fountains and comfortable hotels, while at its centre is the wonderful old town or Casco Viejo. This delightful pedestrianised zone is a higgledy-piggledy area of narrow alleys lined with bars and over the last 20 years or so it has become a mecca for tapas lovers. In many ways, as the landscape is so unforgiving and the pueblos – wine towns – small and quiet this is the heart of Rioja.

Funny stuff tapas. It is one of Spains great gifts to the world and as much a cultural icon of the country as Paella, bull-fighting and Miró, but in truth I think the story of tapas is more like that of Pizza in Italy. Yes, Pizza is Italian, but it was popularised and made special elsewhere and then returned triumphant to the land if its birth. I remember 1960s Spain. There was precious little tapas then, unless you went to the really big cities or Andalucia. That is where tapas is supposed to have originated as a cover or lid (tapa) to keep flies out of your sherry glass. Originally it was simply a piece of jamón, chorizo or bread, but as the competition hotted up they became more complex and interesting – although I for one always find jamón interesting. Tapas existed in the cities and Andalucia and possibly the Basque country, but in the past it was a simple nibble with a drink. It took the tourist boom to make it famous and to turn it into something creative and gastronomic with groups of people sharing lots of little dishes instead of dinner.

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