What are Tapas?

That depends on who you ask.  Tapas vary across Spain, region to region and town to town.  The general definition is that tapas are snacks, appetizers, canapés – samples of food on small plates. They can be cold – olives, cheese, onions – or hot – squid, vegetables, fish, spicy chorizo sausage, slow-cooked beef cheek, sweet potato puree and everything in between.

There are some wonderful stories about where tapas came from, which of course are firmly set in folklore.

One story claims that King Alfonso X, El Sabio or “The Wise One” gave birth to tapas. While on a long journey across Spain, he stopped to rest in Ventorillo del Chato, a town in the southern province of Cádiz. He ordered a sherry, and as Cádiz is known for being very windy, the inn keeper covered the sherry with a piece of ham to prevent dust blowing into the glass.  The king really liked it and when he ordered another sherry, he requested it come with a tapa, or a cover. King Alfonso is said to have then passed a law in the province of Castile that all drinks had to be served with a small portion of food to slow down the effects of alcohol and thus reduce rowdiness, boisterous behaviour and arguments.

16661D4C1CAnother story tells how tapas became popular in inns which had sprung up along the major routes across Spain.  Most of the travellers and inn keepers could not read, so when exhausted travellers stopped for refreshments, instead of a menu, they were offered samples of the dishes on offer before they placed their order. These were served on the covers of the pots, or tapas.

Many early food establishments only offered standing room, and so, due to lack of space, people placed their small portions of food on top of their drinks. This became known as tapas.

Some say that sherry and wine were used to ‘cover up’ the taste of very strong smelly cheese, hence tapas.

Whatever the etymology of tapas, it is a very social way to eat. The sharing of small dishes of food seem to encourage conversation and create a relaxed environment and a social atmosphere.

Join your friends at a local Spanish restaurant and do as the Spanish do.



Olympic Basketball – Remarkable!

Le Bron James and Kobe Bryant earned between US$52 and US$53 million each in 2011. Basketball really is a remarkable sport!  It was only in 1989 that the Olympic movement decided to allow these highly paid professional basketball players to represent their countries at the Games and since then the tournament has become more exciting than ever.

I had only ever seen a live basketball game once in New York, which was incredible (being at Madison Square Garden ‘n all), but I had not seen it played at the level one would see at the Olympics.  I may never see it again.

So, one ticket was on offer in the Team SA office, and as I had missed so much of the Games being in the Olympic Village, I jumped at the ticket, almost as high as those guys do defending their posts 😉

During the early stages of the Olympics the basketball was help in the Handball (Basketball)  Arena in the Olympic Park, which was one of the largest temporary structures to be built for an Olympic Games.  Most of which will be recycled after the Games with elements and equipment being shipped to other parts of the UK.

But, the Basketball moved to the to the O2 Arena, which was rebranded as the North Greenwich Arena during the Games, to make way for the Handball events to take place in the Olympic Park.

I made my way to the arena after my shift in the Olympic Village to see the Men’s Semi Final – Russia vs Spain. For a game invented in 1891, it really has a modern feel – the fashion, the music, the crowds, the entertainment, and the general vibe was incredibly hip and happening (such a granny phrase that!). The game made its debut in the 1936 Summer Games although it had been a demonstration sport in 1904, and that year it was played on the outdoor tennis courts.  What made 1936 so special though was that the man who actually invented the game, Dr Naismith, presented the victory medals. That would’ve been a true honour!

Today I was in a very modern venue, with press, cameras, flags and energy!

The game has been dominated by the USA for decades (well, since its invention in the US), and it was great to see two of the top teams in the world compete for a place in the finals – to play against the winners of the USA vs Argentina game later that evening.

The Spaniards won an incredible game, with the final score at 67 – 59, and I am sure that this had to do with the fact that they have more players on their team playing in north America than the Russians.  The Spanish players play for the LA Lakers, the Denver Nuggets, the Toronto Raptons, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and in their own Spanish league.  The Russian are mostly based in the Russia.

And how tall are these men? To see so many extremely tall people in one place is almost comical – the ref looked like a child! Yes, height does play a role in this game, but the skills needed to play the ball like an extension of their arms, and the fitness these man and women have really makes the game awe inspiring, and especially when watched at the top levels. There was actually a motion filed in 1936 to ban basketball athletes over 1.90m or 6ft 2.75 inches tall, but thankfully this was withdrawn.

The London 2012 Basketball tournament ran smoothly and nothing like the 1972 finals which was the most controversial event in Olympic Basketball history. With one second to go, the USA were in the lead 50-49. The Russian inbounds pass was deflected and everyone thought the game was over, but they were given another shot, and did not score. The authorities decided that the to allow another shot with only one second to go, was not according to the rules and the game was restarted with 3 seconds to go.  The Soviets scored and won the gold. Team USA lodged a complaint, but was eventually awarded and refused to accept their silver medals. To this day the medals are kept at the IOC headquarters in Switzerland.

The Games Makers making it happen

I sat and soaked it all in, every ounce of the energy, the atmosphere and reality of being at an Olympic basketball semi-final. There really is nothing like being totally present to absorb everything about the Olympic spirit – alive in the players and enhanced by the crowd!

Dawn Denton ©