Tapas in the Dictionary
But although these are a premonition of the tapas of our days, the most reliable clue is not to be found in novels or in the French étape but in the dictionary, which reflects the evolution of Spanish throughout history, as a fixed photograph of the words used at every moment by speakers.
And so, there is no trace of the word tapa in the little-known Etymological Dictionary that the doctor Francisco del Rosal published in 1601. Nor in the Dictionary of authorities of the Royal Spanish Academy, published between 1726 and 1739.
Actually, we must wait until the 16th edition of the RAE dictionary of 1936 to see tapa with this definition in its eighth meaning: A slice of ham or sausage that was placed on top of the glass or carafe of wine and was accompanied or not with bread.
This late definition shows that the tapa, with the current format we know, is a not so old gastronomic invention, possibly from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
One of the earliest mentions we owe to the Asturian journalist Nicolás Rivero Muñiz, who after lunch at the Venta de Eritaña in Seville, in June 1903, wrote that, before lunch
“we had conveniently prepared our stomachs with some ‘chatos’ (small glass) with ‘tapaera’ (cover), capable of resurrecting a dead person”