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Eating Habits in Spain – What you Need to Know
It’s of general consensus that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and a Peruvian saying goes “you should eat breakfast like a King, lunch as a Prince and dinner as a pauper”. Well, generally speaking in Spain, that’s nonsense. A typical Spanish breakfast is a very quick affair, and often usually consists of just a quick drink of orange juice, chocolate milk or a cup of coffee occasionally accompanied by a pastry such as a croissant. Many people actually have this out in a café or bar, and don’t have anything in their own home at all.

As anyone who is accustomed to eating a bigger breakfast will know, this kind of Spanish start to the day won’t last you very long, so at around about 11am, there’s a “merienda” or elevenses which is almost always a “bocadillo” or sandwich made from a baguette and filled with anything from tuna fish, cured ham, cheese, or meat. This means that lunchtime is still a good couple of hours away, despite it nearing midday already.

Lunch is a big deal in Spain compared to northern European countries, and often lasts over an hour. Depending on the region of Spain and especially the time of year, this is also time for “siesta” and many shops and establishments will close for a couple of hours. Lunchtime is a great time to venture out to a restaurant, as all Spanish restaurants are required by law to provide a “menu del dia” which is a 3 course menu at a fixed price and is very economical compared to the actual menu itself and often contains seasonal ingredients. For those people not used to such a heavy meal at lunchtime this can certainly bring on the feeling of wanting a siesta, too! A “menu del dia” usually consists of two or three starters, two or three main courses to choose from and some options for dessert which may be something simple like a yoghurt or a piece of fruit, but can be a normal desert from the menu. Bread, and drinks are also included in the price and sometimes a coffee at the end as well.

Younger children then often have something when they finish school at around 5pm although most adults don’t usually eat at this time – indeed some will have had a late lunch, and may just have finished their coffee at that time!

The working day usually finishes around 8pm, but can be later. Many people go for a quick drink after work to socialise, and although I have no proof of this, I believe that this is where the Spanish tradition of “Tapas” came from – bar owners would give a free “snack” to keep people in the bar, and not return home with a rumbling stomach. In Southern Spain, Tapas is still given with the purchase of a drink whereas cities such as Barcelona and Madrid have capitalised on the niche and have Tapas restaurants in prime locations which are always full of paying customers.

An evening meal, then, can start as late as 9 or 10pm at home and certainly on a weekend if you go to a restaurant before 9pm, the only people there will be the waiting staff and the odd couple of tourists. Kitchens in restaurants usually don’t open until 8pm, and often close as late as 1am. It’s no surprise to learn that nightlife in Spain also starts a lot later than many other countries – and goes on later, too. Although that’s another article altogether!
About the Author
David Brydon has been living in Barcelona for 9 years and writes about Apartment for rent Barcelona and regularly contributes to this great Barcelona Guide.
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