Spanish eating customs

Spanish people adore their food and you often hear them discussing recipes, ingredients and meals they have recently eaten or prepared. For Spanish people, eating is a social occasion, not just to conquer hunger. Their mealtimes differ to ours, largely due to the climate and their working hours. Here is a description of the various meals that exist in a typical day for a Spaniard:

El desayuno (Breakfast)

This is a small meal sometimes only consisting of café con leche (coffee with milk) and biscuits, a piece of toast or a cake.

Tapas (Bar snacks)

Tapas are normally eaten just before a main meal when Spanish people meet up in bars or cafes before going home to eat a main meal. It is so popular in Spain it has its very own expression; “ir de tapas” means “to go for tapas”. A group of friends will order several items and then they share them all. Typical tapas dishes include “tortilla española” (potato omelette), “patatas bravas” (potato wedges with a spicy sauce), “albóndigas” (meatballs) and “pimientos rellenos” (stuffed peppers).

La comida (Lunch)

This is the main meal of the day eaten between 2 and 4 p.m. when Spanish people take a break from work. The long break is a centuries-old tradition dating back to when more people worked in agriculture and without air-conditioning it was just too hot to work during the midday heat. The siesta, the nap taken after the meal is dying out as times change. As many people commute to work, they cannot go home to eat. Many businesses in Madrid now work an 8-hour day with just one hour for lunch. Large supermarkets and retailers no longer close at all for lunch. However, in rural areas most people do still stop for the traditional long lunch break.

Plenty of fresh bread always accompanies the meal. Courses are eaten separately with the meat or fish dish eaten apart from the vegetables or salad. Desserts often use eggs or dairy as Spanish people love these. Coffee is always taken to finish off the big lunch. A typical sample meal is the following:

Soup, consomé or gazpacho
Fish, seafood or meat dish
Potato dish or tortilla
Vegetables or salad
Dessert – flan (crème caramel), fruit, a pastry or ice-cream

La merienda (Tea-time snack)

Merienda is a small snack to tide you over until the late dinner. It is mainly given to children when they come out of school around 4.30 to give them energy as this is the time they play and do sports. It normally consists of a sandwich, biscuits, yoghurt and fruit.

La cena (Dinner)

Spaniards are very nocturnal and don’t eat their last meal of the day until after 9 p.m. or often as late as 11 p.m. Most restaurants don’t even open until 9 p.m. Their nightlife starts much later than ours and the bars and clubs don’t start livening up until well after midnight. This evening meal isn’t as large as the main “comida” lunch at 2 p.m. Afterwards, they often eat “churros”; freshly made doughnut fritter sticks sprinkled in sugar and dipped in thick hot chocolate. ¡Que rico! (How delicious!)

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