"This is the dream of all the world. The dream is to live in Granada. You know, work in the morning, have a one-hour nap in the afternoon, and at night go out and have that life. Go out and see your friends and eat tapas and drink red wine and be in a beautiful place."
-- from Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (Spain
The word "tapas" is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, "to cover", a cognate of the English top.
In pre-19th-century Spain tapas were served by posadas, albergues or bodegas, offering meals and rooms for travellers. Since few innkeepers could write and few travellers read, inns offered their guests a sample of the dishes available, on a "tapa" (the word for pot cover in Spanish).
According to The Joy of Cooking, the original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners created a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.
The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry!!
For further theories (although I like this one the best) and to read more about the history and origins of tapas check out this page on Wikipedia