Food is loved and held in high esteem in Spain, and Spanish people take the time to enjoy their meals, spread them out over the day, and fit whatever else they have to do between these mealtimes.  If you are going to Spain, this article will help you know what to expect.  Remember, Spanish mealtimes can be pretty flexible so don’t feel like you have to stick to a regimented schedule!

Desayuno (Breakfast)

This is the meal which kick starts your day in Spain.  It can be as light or heavy as you wish, with bread playing a major role.  You might enjoy some Cafe con leche, for instance, some sweet bread with jam, or Maria crackers dipped in milk.  Magdalenas from the nearby bake shop may also be part of your meal.  For many Spanish people, desayuno can simply consist of an espresso, perhaps served with a piece of toasted bread with a tomato spread.

Tapas (Small Meals)

These are little finger foods that you eat before your lunch in the afternoon and also in the evening. Tapas (or pintxos as they are known in Northern Spain) are as much a part of Spanish culture as the famous summer lottery.  They vary according to the region of Spain as well as the season.  Tapas time is sometimes marked by going to a bar for some wine or beer and catching up with friends and neighbours.

There are too many different types of tapas to list them all here, and they change depending on which town or region you visit, but typical examples include tortilla Espanola, (potato omelette), patatas bravas (potato wedges with spicy sauce) and gambas al ajillo (prawns with garlic sauce).

Almuerzo (Lunch)

Lunch in Spain is more than brown bags or sandwiches, as especially in the south of the country it is a huge deal.  Courses are served one at a time, and you must pace yourself.  It is the Spanish culture to go slowly and enjoy yourself so lunch may easily last over an hour!

The Spanish take a siesta, so don’t try to do any business between 1:30 to 4:30 outside of the larger towns and cities.  You will have the option to enjoy up to five courses when you take lunch in Spain:

  • A veggie, seafood or bean soup
  • Some fresh seafood, chicken or lamb; perhaps even rabbit stew
  • Green salad
  • A light dessert like flan
  • Coffee, or brandy

Bread is always on the table available to use as a means of soaking up any excess sauce.  Many desserts in Spain are made from fresh cream or eggs, and you will also be able to enjoy fresh fruit as part of your dessert in most areas.

Merienda (Snack)

Do not fear losing your appetite with this snack!  It’s delicious.  You can expect this around 4-5 PM.  It mostly a piece of bread with some chocolate on top or even with sausage, ham or salami.  It is important to help you get that final push before you can eat dinner, which will be served from 8 PM at the earliest in most establishments.

Cena (Dinner)

This is a light meal that you eat from around 8 to midnight.  These are small plates that are light in nature, but you can have as many of them as you wish.  You might get a small portion of meat, along with a carb like rice or potatoes.  White rice with tomato sauce and an egg, called arroz cubano, is a popular meal.

You might also go to a tapas bar instead before heading out with friends to the movies as a replacement for dinner.

Dessert

Given that the typical Spaniard does not go to bed until about midnight, it is not uncommon to see late-night socialising taking place in pubs and cafes.

You may also find it fun to stop at a Churreria, where you can find a famous Spanish churro.  These are fried dough which are commonly eaten at breakfast time in Spain, often with warm chocolate, but which will make a tasty snack at any time of day.  This hot chocolate is a sweet and thick concoction which is used as a dip for your churros.

In Closing

Enjoying Spanish food the way it was meant to be is a treat.  Enjoy your time in Spain, go slowly, and savour every bite.  You will be glad you did!