Spanish Mealtimes: When do Spanish people eat?

24 Oct

As the second part in my Dining Out in Spain series I present the difficulty of the Spanish mealtimes, a challenge I was faced with when I first arrived in Spain but (luckily) have been able to adjust to in the past few years!

I love to eat, but when? and where?!

 Lunch at 3:30 and dinner at 10:00?

When I first arrived in Spain as a language assistant it was really difficult to adjust to the new eating schedule. Although I’d studied in Spain before, I just couldn’t get used to eating the Spanish way on my own.

So how do the Spaniards eat? Well, it really depends on whom you ask. But I take the following to be a general consensus. Let me know if you disagree!

Breakfast (El Desayuno): Around 7:30 am. Right before going to work a typical Spaniard might have a cup of coffee and perhaps a small piece of toast with butter and jam or a small bowl of cereal. Some don’t eat at all.

Mid-morning Snack/The “Real” Breakfast: Most companies give their employees a break around 10:00 am in which the average Spaniard will go have their “real” breakfast or at least another coffee. They usually eat a piece of toast with either butter and jam, or olive oil and tomato. Some prefer a croissant or pastry, and in Andalucía olive oil, tomato, and Serrano ham is a delicious and popular choice. The strangest tostada toppings include colored lard and strange pates. You can read more about Spanish breakfast at Hayley’s blog!

A typical Andaluz Breakfast

Lunch (La Comida): Most Spaniards still think of lunch as the main meal of the day, whether or not they have the option of going home to eat with their families. Lunch is almost always a hot meal and many bars offer a menu of the day (menú del día) that consists of an appetizer, main dish, beverage, and dessert.

Iberian Pork

Afternoon Snack (La Merienda): As I explained previously this is like Spain’s “fourth meal”. Usually people have it between 5:00 and 6:30 in the evening, although it can be eaten just about any time before dinner. Typical afternoon snacks can be on the sweet side, such as coffee and a pastry, a yogurt, or fruit, but can also be savory snacks like a small sandwich and soda, or some cheese and Serrano ham or chorizo.

Any of these will do for your merienda!

Dinner (La Cena): Depending on who you ask, dinner ranges from light fare like a yogurt and some fruit, salad, a bowl of cereal, or some cheese and crackers, to heavier meals similar to what one might eat at lunch time. In the south people love to go for a tapa or two for dinner which will definitely fill you up without being too heavy (if you stop at one or two that is!).

An amazing tapa

I personally appreciate each and every Spanish meal and what it offers.

What I would order:

Breakfast: I love a hearty breakfast of a tostada con jamón, tomate, y aceite.

The Spanish style breakfast sandwich

Lunch: An ideal menú del día would be a bowl of refreshing salmorejo followed by solomillo al whiskey or secreto ibérico (a delicious cut of Iberian pork).

Creamy Salmorejo

Merienda: A café cortado and a dulce árabe (like baklava, common in Spain due to its Moorish past).

Another merienda or breakfast option-- churros!

Dinner: Tapas for sure although exactly what depends on my mood! Croquetas are always delicious, fried eggplant with honey, baked goat cheese with jam… there are endless possibilities!

Fried Eggplant with Honey

What do you guys order when you go out? For the expats—do you cook “Spanish style” or do you make your own creations at home? Was it difficult for anyone else to adjust to the Spanish schedule?

Sometimes I just need to cook "American style"


3 Responses to “Spanish Mealtimes: When do Spanish people eat?”

  1. hayleycomments October 24, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Thanks for the link love, Lauren! In my house we keep things simple: the hub is in charge of all Spanish meals and I’m in charge of anything international, except for tortilla, which I make (on occasion) and he tends to buy pre-made.

    As far as the schedule is concerned, life just fits better eating on a Spanish schedule. We eat lunch before I head to work at 4:30 and dinner when I’m back at 10. Of course when I’m in the USA I slip seamlessly back into lunches as early as 11am and dinner with the geriatrics 🙂

  2. roamingtheworld October 25, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    I’m enjoying your series on dining out. I’m adjusting to the meal times here but surprisingly am not starving by 3pm like I normally would be in the States. At home, I’m hungry for lunch at 11am sometimes.

    I’ve tried my hand at tortilla and gazpacho but typically make my own creations. It’s too bad my house mate doesn’t like to cook, then I could learn all sorts of new Spanish foods. I’m on my own for that. Thank goodness for recipes online…

  3. Kaley [Y Mucho Más] October 25, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    Thanks for linking me! I’m going to link people to your post (i.e., relatives) when they ask me how Spaniards can eat so late. I’m gonna need to write a post in Spanish for all the Spanish people who ask me how Americans can eat so early then, too!

    That tapa looks amazing – I’m a huge fan of setas there.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: