What Do You Think Of Small Plates?
The small plate trend, which started in the U.S. in the early 2000s, is continuing to grow and doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. What used to be served exclusively in tapas bars is entering the mainstream, sometimes unbeknownst to the people entering the restaurant until they sit down and get their menus. Any culinary academy graduate can appreciate the impact small plates have had on Western dining culture, but where did they come from?
History of small plates
Many cultures have their own versions of small plate, whether it’s the antipasti dish served in Italy before dinner or izakaya dishes meant to be shared in Japan. The small plates we know in America are inspired by the tapas of Spain. This concept began in the 19th century, when patrons of bars in Andalusia would cover their glasses of sherry with bread or cured meat in between sips to keep fruit flies out. Bar owners began to expand their options of items that drinkers could snack on while covering their glasses, and the idea of tapas – which translates to “to cover” in Spanish – was born.
Typically, dinner is served much later in Spain than it is in the U.S. Many people don’t eat dinner until 9:00 pm, leaving plenty of time between lunch and dinner to get hungry. Tapas bars allow patrons to order snacks for the table to share, along with drinks, to tide people over until dinner at home.
The bad aspects of tapas in America
As a whole, the United States is pretty set on a breakfast, lunch and dinner regimen, with dinner being the biggest meal of the day. It’s understandable that diners may be upset if they order a small plate at a restaurant for dinner without knowing that it’s tiny and meant to be shared. According to Washington Post columnist Neil Irwin, the social expectation to share dishes can become awkward if you’re at a tapas restaurant with a business associate or a first date. Many people also have issues with the fact that in most tapas restaurants, the dishes are brought out to the tables as they’re ready, instead of all at once, potentially leaving someone at the table without food – if everyone isn’t sharing – while the people they’re with finish their meals.
The good aspects of tapas in America
The Spanish concept of tapas is that they’re dishes to snack on and socialize over. They were never meant to be a replacement for dinner, but simply as a reason to spend time with friends until your last meal of the day. Small plates are extremely versatile and innovative as well. If there are four people at the table, you have the option to taste at least four different dishes. This allows plenty of room to experiment. If someone is intrigued by a tapas dish, like blood sausage or red wine chorizo, they have the option to order it and try it without committing to a full entree. Tapas make it possible to try new things and play it safe as well.