Tapa (also referred to in some Philippine provinces as pindang) is one of those classic Filipino breakfast meats enjoyed by just about everyone save for those poor unfortunate souls who have gone vegetarian in the name of vanity.
The name has nothing to do with tapas, those savory Spanish bites served with one’s alcohol of choice during the course of a bar crawl, though these strips of smoke-cure beef sirloin may be served as an accompaniment to drinks. As a verb, however, tapa is sometimes conjugated as tinapa - and the method is pretty much used to preserve everything from beef to venison (the famed tapang usa) to wild boar (tapang baboy-ramo) and even small mackerel (galunggong) and milkfish (the famous tinapang bangus). As part of tapsilog - literally: tapa, sinangag (garlic rice) at itlog (a fried egg) – with a light drizzle of spiced vinegar, beef tapa becomes one of the best ways with which to fortify one’s self for a hectic day.
Normally, tapa is prepared by being pounded with either a wooden or stainless-steel meat mallet to tenderize it prior to shallow-frying. The resulting meat dish is, thus, a dry one barely moistened by the oil used to fry it. However, not all tapa-lovers like their beef dry-fried. In some homes and restaurants - The Tea Republic is one of them – prefer to braise the smoked meat in a mixture of soy sauce and minced garlic. In cooking tapa in this manner, the end result is a batch of tender beef strips that have soaked up the savory marinade which, by the end of the process, has reduced into a rich, syrupy sauce.
Beef – the uncured sort – prepared in this manner is referred to as salpicado or salpicao. Prepared in this manner, the resulting dish is braised in a soy-based sauce and sprinkled generously with toasted garlic before serving. With that in mind, it makes some diners scratch their heads as they look at their plates: did I order tapa or did I order the salpicao? Nevertheless, they end up enjoying the meal, anyway. For one thing, the toasted garlic sets off the smoky-salty taste of the beef and keeps the soy reduction from becoming too heavy on the palate. For another, the beef becomes softer, more toothsome than it would usually be if simply pan-fried.
Just a tip, though: skip the garlic rice if you’re having tapa cooked in the salpicado manner. Stick to plain rice and your breath won’t be so bad at the end of the meal. ;)