Wed 31 January 2024
Spain News | Spanish meal times explained.
When in Spain... mealtimes with the locals.
Most of us, lucky enough to have relocated and settled in Spain, came with a desire to learn about and love the Spanish way of life. Most of us actively seek to embrace the lifestyle. However, while we might enjoy Spanish cuisine and social habits, meal times in Spain are unique and some find it difficult to adapt, much as they try. In the UK, there are three main meals, in Spain, there are five! It is important to at least understand the daily routines and habits, even if you don´t adopt them.
1) Desayuno (Breakfast): 7-8am
Unlike other countries, which class this as the most important, this meal is the least important meal of the day in Spain and is sometimes eaten on the way out of the door. It usually consists of a drink and a small piece of toast, a pastry or a magdalena (small sweet cake). Children sometimes eat cereal with milk before they go to school but, more often, it is a glass of milk and something to dunk in it.
2) Almuerzo (later breakfast or brunch, although it does NOT replace lunch!): 10-11.30am
This meal is much more important in Spain. Workers break for almuerzo at 10am. Almuerzo, pronounced al-moo-er-tho, is an important daily, social ritual.This is always a savoury dish and, almost always, includes bread.
Traditionally tostada (toasted bread) or a bocadillo (sandwich made with baguette) topped or filled. Most cafés or bars have a board or menu with available choices of the day for the almuerzo deal. This would include eg; jamon serrano (cured ham), calamari a la plancha (griddled or fried squid), pechuga de pollo (chicken breast), lomo (pork loin), atun (tuna), tortilla de patatas o tortilla francesa (omelette, spanish style or french). All of the choices are accompanied by peanuts, olives, pickled vegetables and salad. Drinks include water, orange juice or beer! Coffee comes when everything else is finished and often accompanied by a brandy. Anyone living in Spain will have experienced, on entering a cafe or bar at 9.45, a full house of reserved tables, witheld for almuerzo customers.
3) Comida (Lunch): 2-4pm
The most important meal of the day in Spain. Comida comes from the verb Comer- To Eat. So, the translation of ¿has comido? could be -have you eaten? or have you had lunch?
Normally this is a three course meal and, in restaurants and bars, there will be a "menu del día" deal. The entrada (starter) typically will be a choice of salad or gazpacho (a chilled tomato based soup with vegetables and croutons to add). Primero plato (main course) stews, rice dishes like paella or grilled meat/fish.
Dessert is typically light, so fresh fruit or flan (this is like creme brulee)
4) Merienda (a tea time snack): 5-7pm
This meal is normally a drink and a sweet snack eg churros con chocolate or horchata con fartons. Horchata is made with soaked, ground and sweetened tiger nuts and this is chilled and fartons are long, iced pastries made to dunk in the horchata.
More recently, merienda has been given a healthy update, especially for children, and it is often fresh fruit and yoghurt.
5) Cena (dinner): 9-11pm
This meal is also very important, but more so, as a social gathering. At weekends especially, people often go out to eat or gather with friends and family. For half of the year at least this is a noisy, al fresco meal, in the plazas and streets. Of course you can choose a "menu del noche" but a lot of Spanish locals choose a lighter option- Tapas! In some Spanish cities, they still serve, in bars and cafés, a complimentary tapa with a drink.
This will be a small plate with the dish of the day. It could be a small serving of stew with a piece of bread or possibly a pintxo/montadito (a slice of bread topped with tortilla or meat or fish).
To us extranjeros (foreigners), the daily food routines of the locals are daunting, if not impossible! However, although mealtimes are strictly followed, they are adapted to suit your lifestyle. Most young people, or people working a more European, 9-5 job, do not drink beer and coffee with brandy at almuerzo. At least not on week days. At weekends they happily revert back to the traditions that they grew up with. Sunday Almuerzo time, you will be hard pushed to get a seat in any bar in a town centre without booking first.
Here at Jacaranda Spain, one of our favourite, weekend, things to do, is to join the locals in the central plaza for almuerzo. If you want to experience it, tell the waitress you want to have almuerzo- "vamos a almorzar". She will set your table and bring you encurtidos y cacahuetes (olives, pickles and peanuts in their shells), sometimes a small tomato salad and your choice of bocadillo or tostada, a glass of wine or a small beer and, to finish with, a coffee and brandy. You may need to take the rest of the morning off! Enjoy!