The independent news organization of Duke University

Tapas anxiety

Unpopular opinion: I hate tapas.

Not the food itself, I love Spanish food. It’s the concept that I hate. It’s stressful, it’s mayhem, and it’s anarchy.

Tapas, for those of you who don’t know, are a series of small dishes that are meant to be shared in place of a larger entrée. “Tapa” in Spanish means cover or coaster. The story goes that in Castile, Spain in the thirteenth century, people developed the habit of putting coasters on top of their wine glasses to keep away flies. During the rule King Alfonso X el Sabio a government mandate made serving wine without food illegal, so bar keepers in Castile began to put small appetizers on top of the “tapas” and a new way of serving a meal was born.

So why do I hate tapas? Let me explain.

On paper they’re a great idea: everyone gets to try a little bit of everything, you get to talk about what you’ve just had with the other people at the table who’ve just tried the same thing and you can eat until you’re full without worrying about being wasteful. Sadly, this is never how things play out in reality.

A tapas dinner table is a warzone, a warzone where the bold triumph and the kind souls, like myself, are trampled upon. The first battle begins with ordering and there are three possible scenarios that can happen, each equally destructive.

The first is that in which a group has one or two dominant members dictating a majority of the orders while the others sit back saying they don’t care what they get when in reality that spicy octopus they’ve been eyeing the whole time is about to go unordered.

The second is when all the members of the group have strong opinions on what the selection should be, which leads to rising tensions and inevitable disappointment when a compromise has to be reached.

The third is when all members of the group say they don’t care, but in reality they all actually do care and end up just getting stuff that none of them are happy with in an attempt to not offend the others.

The fact of the matter with ordering tapas is that nobody leaves being 100 percent happy. But ordering is just the beginning of the problems.

Once the tapas have arrived at the table, anyone with any semblance of a moral conscious is faced with this age-old predicament: do I take the amount that I actually want and come off as a d*** to everyone else or do take less and leave hungry?

My personality type almost always lends itself to me choosing the latter. I’ve never been at a tapas dinner table where I’m not extremely self-conscious about how much I’m taking. Now, this is one thing if everyone at the table is also considerate and they take turns taking more of one thing and less of another, but this is never the case for two reasons.

The first of these is the inequality of tapas. Inevitably some tapas will be better than others, usually there being one or two standout tapas, and subsequently getting to have more of the better tapas is a greater privilege than having more of the average tapas. I almost always find myself at a tapas table with more brussel sprouts than anyone would ever need but only a bite or two of the filet mignon.

The second issue arises when you have what I like to call a tapas bully at the table. My younger brother Finn, for example, is a grade A tapas bully.

Finn believes that each person is allowed their own personal share of the tapas, but any left-over past that point is every man for himself. For instance, if a dish arrives with five pieces but there are only four people at the table, Finn will go in for his first and then once he’s done with that take the one left-over piece without consulting the table beforehand. Our family trip to Barcelona this summer ended in a heated argument over this very issue. I called Finn a greedy bastard. He called me a passive b****.

And all this is only having to do with tapas with a relatively small group. Large group tapas ordering is an entirely different beast. The temptation with large groups of like eight or more is to order a number of different dishes to get a taste of everything. This is extremely flawed logic. Chances are you’ll find yourself at one end of the table with the thing you wanted at the other end of the table only for it to be completely decimated by the time it gets to you. The only way to do large group tapas is to get multiples of every dish, but my suggestion is to stay away from large tapas groups altogether.

At the end of the day, the reason I hate tapas is because the meal becomes less about me enjoying food with friends and family and more about me stressing over the complicated dynamics of ordering and fending for myself when the food comes. For those of you who are thinking, “this sound like a you problem,” you’re right, it is. If you like tapas, go for it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Me? I’d much rather enjoy a peaceful, relaxing personal entrée. Maybe an appetizer or two to share, but no stress if Finn eats most of them because at least I know that my entrée is coming and will have me covered. 

Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.

Sami Kirkpatrick | worms in space

Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "worms in space," runs on alternate Wednesdays.


Share and discuss “Tapas anxiety” on social media.