few nights ago, I met some friends for dinner at Entre Cáceres y Badajoz, a dusty old taberna in Madrid where black-hoofed hams dangle overhead and olive pits crunch underfoot. When we ordered a round of cañas (local slang for half-pints), they arrived with a surprise: a hefty scoop of steaming paella. ¡Qué aproveche! the bartender said with a wink as he plunged a handful of cocktail forks into the sunny mound. Like magic, with every ensuing drink came another mouth-watering new dish: There were potatoes dusted with smoked paprika, fried squid a la romana, mussels in vinaigrette, and weighty slabs of tuna-filled empanada. When we finally wobbled back out onto the street, we’d eaten the equivalent of a meal for the paltry price of the beers we drank. Such is the miracle of the tapeo. The origins of the tapa are murky, but legend has it that the term was coined by Alfonso XIII on a junket to Andalusia. When the king stopped in Cádiz at a bar called El Ventorrillo del Chato (still open today) for a glass of sherry, a clever waiter draped the rim with a slice of ham to keep bugs and grit out of the wine. The combination pleased the king so much that he ordered another glass “con tapa”—with a lid—and, so it goes, the tapa was born.