Tapas aren't just appetizers -- they're a way of life in Spain. After work and before dinner, Spaniards hit the tapas bars to mix, mingle, drink and enjoy small plates of bite-size delicacies. Tapas can be hot or cold and simple or complicated; they run the gamut from olives and nuts to spicy baked dishes and seafood stews. The common thread? Everything is small, delicious and meant to be shared. And good conversation and bebidas are always part of the deal.
All of this makes a tapas get-together the perfect informal alternative to a dinner party. Whipping up a selection of tapas is much less stressful than preparing a large meal and can make the gathering more spontaneous and fun. And such a wide range of food possibilities suggests a similar variety of cocktails, so have several types of Spanish wines, sherry and sangria on hand.
Tapas have come to mean almost any type of appetizer or finger food, but aim for authenticity in what you serve. Try your hand at a few more elaborate dishes and then go the simple yet still satisfying route for the rest -- think sliced serrano ham, slivers of manchego cheese, bowls of manzanilla olives and loaves of crusty bread. Ready to get in la cocina? Here are five Spanish tapas recipes that will have your guests' taste buds on a trip to Barcelona.