Eight hundred years of Moorish rule in Andalucia left a culinary legacy of refined, oriental flavors: an opulent use of spices and herbs; oranges and other fruit in savory dishes; and almonds and cinnamon with meat. Between the 8th and the 15th century when the Moors ruled Al-Andaluz, its cuisine was the most lavish in Europe, liberally using the expensive spices, herbs, almonds, rose water, orange blossoms and other exotic flavors. Today, the Andalucian cuisine is one of the main reasons to visit Southern Spain.
Tapas have become synonymous with Spain and Andalucia in particular. The original tapas were the slices of bread that sherry drinkers in Andalucian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. Soon, bartenders were putting small snacks on the bread, and the lowly tapa (tapar meaning "to cover") became as important as the sherry. Legend has it that tapas were born as a result of an illness suffered by Alfonso XX, king of Spain. His physicians recommended that he take small bites of food and some wine in between meals. Having recovered from the illness the wise king decreed that wine was not to be served in the inns of the land of Castille without being accompanied by something to eat.
The Moorish legacy is especially noticeable in desserts and pastries. Flavored with aniseed, cinnamon, sesame, ground almonds and often bathed in honey, these delicacies are straight out of Arabian Nights. In wine-making regions such as Jerez and Montilla, where egg whites were used to clarify new wines, the remaining yolks were donated to convents, where nuns devised ways of turning them into pastries, using recipes kept secret for centuries.