Valencian paella

Food and Eating in Spain
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Subject Index:  The Spanish way of eating
Spanish specialities
Understand the menu

Eating in Spain - a look at Spanish food, cooking and eating habits

The Spanish way of eating
    Spain is a hot country - at least in summer it is; and as in many parts of the world, it is country where climatic factors have played a big role in determining lifestyle, and - in turn - the whole organisation of daily life.
     For those whose aim in Spain is to eat in fast-food outlets or city snackeries, the daily timetable of Spanish life is irrelevant; but for others it is not. For any other purpose than  lying on a beach, being in Spain means adapting to Spanish ways when it comes to organising your day; when in Spain.....
     The Spanish day tends to start late, compared to other parts of Europe – which is normally no big problem for tourists. Hotels and cafés may not start serving breakfast - el desayuno - before 8 a.m, or even 8.30; and the process is often a leisurely one, since many people in Spain do not start work until 9 a.m. or even 10 a.m.
Chorizos and Spanish hams
Hams and chorizos in a Spanish delicatessen
     Spanish lunchtime, on the other hand, takes more getting used to. The "morning" in Spain runs on until 1.30 p.m or often 2 p.m., and it is only then that restaurants start opening up for lunch, which can generally be eaten until around 4 p.m.  After that, it is siesta time, until things start opening up for business again; depending on the place, afternoon shop-opening in Spain may start from 4.p.m onwards, but in some places shops will not open until 6 p.m - for a four-hour afternoon opening time. Consequently, it is rare in Spain to find restaurants opening up for dinner service before 8 p.m, and in many parts 8.30 or 9 p.m are the normal opening times for dinner.


     This may go soem way to explaining the Spanish habit of "tapas" - which are basically nibbles that people take either while they wait for lunch time or dinner time to begin, or else take instead of a more formal sit-down lunch or dinner.  A lot of Spanish restaurants are attached to café-bars, and tapas are served in the café - bar area, more formal meals in a room behind or upstairs or next-door.
     Tapas - or slightly larger portions of the same known as raciones -  are ordered at the bar, and usually eaten with a beer or a glass of wine or some other beverage. Usually they are displayed in serving containers on the counter or behind it, so are easy to order even if you don't know hat they are called. Popular tapas include olives, mussels, Serrano ham or even Iberico ham, chorizo (Spanish sausage), small bean-based appetizers and a range of others depending on the region and the individual café-bar.  A popular tapa from Extremadura to Aragon is Migas, which are croutons (or old bread), sometimes egged, and deep fried in olive oil with bits of chorizo.


From the Albaycin
Valencian paella as a primero plato
     As in most countries, restaurants tend to offer either a full menu or else a choice of dishes to be ordered à la carte.  The classic Spanish meal is a three course affair, firstly what is known as the Primero plato, then the main course known as the Secundo plato, and finally a dessert, called the Postre. While the choice and the extent of the choice will depend on the restaurant and the region, common primeros platos include "Sopa del dia" (soup of the day) , Sopa castillana (a substantial soup with beans and bits of ham and chorizo in it), Gazpacho (cold fresh tomato and cucumber soup), trucha (trout) or even a small serving of paella. Secundos platos are usually a meat course, with steak, chuletas (chops), chicken or even perdiz (partridge), or fish, often served with either a salad, vegetables or pototoes - but not both at the same time. Diners wanting everything together on the same plate need to seek out a restaurant offering platos combinados - which include such international dishes as a mixed grill with steak, chips and tomatoes.
    Postres, desserts, are not a great Spanish speciality: the most common ones are flan (caramel cream), rice pudding, ice-cream or fruit.
    In ordinary to reasonably good restaurants, in 2017 a "menu del dia" (set menu with some choice ) will normally cost from about 8 € in small rural restaurants, to 15 € in better city establishments. "Menus" normally include wine or water or even una caña (a glass of beer), bread, and often coffee too, and are available for lunch and in the evening. Quality varies massively from restaurant to restaurant, and for 10 € - a common price in 2017 - you may get anything from a very poor meal with little to recommend it, to a delicious mouth-watering spread. On account of Spain's current economic plight, many good restaurants have started offering cheap menus del dia, just to bring in some customers.
For more Spanish dishes, see understanding the menu in Spain

Cutting Iberico ham
Cutting jamon ibérico on a local market

A selection of Spanish specialities

  • Chorizo : Spanish sausage, eaten either hot or cold. Chorizos are usually spiced with  paprika, and can be hotor mild – but always tasty
  • Fabada : A slow cooked casserole from northern Spain, consisting of white beans with paprika, peppers, and bits of ham and pork
  • Gazpacho : a cold soup from Andalucia, made with fresh uncooked tomatoes, peppers and cucumber.
  • Jamon iberico : the world's most exquisite ham, with an almost sweet taste to it, made from free-range pigs that have been brought up on a diet of acorns.  The other main form of cured ham is jamon serrano, or mountain ham.
  • Bacalao :  cod, a national favourite, but just one among many fish on menus in restaurants all over spain
  • Paella : originally a Valencian dish, a risotto of saffroned rice with prawns, shellfish, pieces of chicken and other meat, and diced peppers - cooked in olive oil.
  • Pulpos or calamares : squid, eaten as a main course, used in tapas, or included in a paella.
  • Tortillas : omelettes. These can be served as a primero plato, or often as tapas;  a slice of warm tortilla de patatas or potato omelette is a nourishing and quite filling tapa.

Some useful sources of accommodation information:

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Drying corn

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Text and all photos on this page copyright © 2012-2017

With much of the population living near the sea, Spaniards are very partial to fresh seafood

Free range Iberian pig

Jamon ibérico, or Iberian ham, is made exclusively from free-range Iberian pigs raised in large oak plantations.

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