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An Expat’s Guide for Dining Out in Spain

18 Oct

Your Guide for Dining Out in Spain

Dining out in Spain can be confusing for visitors and expatriates alike. The crazy mealtimes, lack of menu translations, and the extensive variety of pork products we never even knew existed can make any seasoned gourmand a bit frustrated. Here I present the first of various articles of a comprehensive guide on dining out in Spain– what you need to know to make the most of your culinary experience. I’ll be presenting the series in different parts over the next few weeks. If you have an idea for a future topic please leave it in the comments. And since the majority of my experiences hail from Andalucía, please speak up if your region does things differently!

 Spanish Food and Drink Establishments: Where do Spanish people eat and drink? 

Bars, restaurants, cafés, pubs, and discos.

Bars: Walk through any Spanish town and you may begin to think that the people are a bunch of borrachos (drunks). With creative names like Miguel’s Bar, Madrid Bar, and Delicious Bar (sarcasm) these small establishments are usually full of patrons for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But bars here are not quite like what we would think of in English. They are simply less formal restaurants where you can usually have breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee and a snack, and dinner. Many bars serve tapas (small plates) and others have a fixed price menu at lunchtime. Sometimes a waiter will take your order and other times it’s self-service. Most do, however, serve alcohol at all times of day (therefore kind of living up to their name) and it’s not at all strange to see people taking a shot of liquor with their coffee in the morning, or enjoying a beer before noon!

The Typical Spanish Bar

The Creatively Named "Gomez Brothers Bar"

Restaurants: Spanish restaurants range from being a bit more formal than bars to very formal. Depending on the restaurant you may have to make a reservation in advance. Restaurants don’t usually serve tapas in the dining room, although some do in the bar. Spanish people like to take their time when they go to a restaurant and it’s not unusual to enjoy a two or three hour meal.

Spanish restaurants are a bit more formal than bars

Cafeterías: The Spanish cafetería (what I would call a café) is kind of like a mix between the bar and a bakery (pastelería). The place usually serves a variety of coffee and tea as well as various pastries and small sandwiches or even tapas. Alcohol is also available in most of them. People usually go in the afternoon for their “merienda” around 5:00-6:30 pm.

Montaditos (Mini Sandwiches) are a Perfect Afternoon Snack

Pubs: A pub is basically what we would call a bar. They’re usually open in the afternoon and at night for beer and mixed drinks and some even offer live music or open mic nights. Most don’t serve much food but it might be possible to get some appetizers or bar nuts. They normally close around 2:00-3:00 am when people head off to the discos.

Pub Life

Discotecas: Finally, there are discotecas (clubs in American English). They usually open around 12:00-1:00 am but people don’t usually enter until 3:00 am or later! They are open until at least 6:00 am, and I think that the majority stay open even later. Sometimes they may charge a cover to get in, especially for guys, and it usually includes a drink. You should dress nicely to go to a disco, as most require dress clothes and shoes.

Disco Nights

What is your favorite Spanish establishment? (Mine is by far the neighborhood bar!) What time do you guys go to the disco?

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A Weekend in Extremadura: Mountains & Morcilla

11 Oct

La Garganta de Alardos

Our first weekend away from Madrid happened unintentionally. I mean, we’ve only lived there for little over a week and the last thing I wanted was to leave my new apartment, potential job leads, and possible new friends so quickly… but after my NIE drama I knew that my only hope was to try to sort everything out in Cadiz. We were planning to take the bus down on Sunday morning, which would have left us almost the whole week (Wednesday is a holiday) to sort things out.

Instead, we spent our Sunday in Extremadura, nestled in the Gredos Mountains, among beautiful mountain creeks called La Garganta de Alardos in the small town of Madrigal de la Vera. We enjoyed a light hike along the river and wished we had worn our swimsuits to be able to take a dip in the crystal clear water. It may be October but there were still plenty of people enjoying the natural pools, and at 80 degrees it felt like summer to me!

Natural Swimming Holes

Why were we in the middle of the mountains in a town of 1,800 people? Well, it was all part of a plan to not have to take the bus to El Puerto. Ale’s brother had been in Madrid for a conference and took us back to his house in Navalmoral de la Mata on Friday night. Ale’s parents were already there since they’d been spending the week with their grandkids. We would spend the weekend together and then go back to El Puerto with Ale’s parents on Monday.

It was a lovely weekend (still really hot Agua de Sandia weather) but really beautiful. Honestly, we probably would never have gone to Navalmoral (population 17,000) if it hadn’t had been for the family connection. But the town isn’t that bad!  We enjoyed the basics– taking a walk with the family, stopping for ice cream, and had a delicious meal at a Portuguese restaurant, Casa do Bacalhau.

The Center of Navalmoral de la Mata

A Portuguese Paella

The best thing about Navalmoral is that it is strategically located between many tourist attractions. Close by is Monfrague National Park, Cáceres, Mérida, Trujillo, the Gredos Mountains, and many small villages with great local restaurants and pork products (oh, Spain!). We didn’t have time to do much sightseeing, but if we ever go back for a visit we’ll be sure to see much more.

Un Plato Extremeño-- Iberian Pork, Marinated Peppers, and Homemade Fries

What we did see was gorgeous. Located about 45 minutes from Navalmoral de la Mata, Madrigal de la Vera is a small town with natural springs where people can cool off and relax. The springs are known as La Garganta de Alardos and the water is so fresh that you can supposedly drink it. The town is also known for its historic bridge, El Puente Romano. Located a little over two hours from Madrid, I’d definitely recommend a weekend road trip to the area.

The Roman Bridge

Another great thing about Extremadura was the food. I discovered a new obsession, Morcilla de Patata. It is not at all like the Morcilla I’m familiar with from the south, which we would call blood sausage in English. Instead, it is like a creamy mix of mashed potato and chorizo with a lot of spicy paprika (also one of the most famous products from the region). I made sure to pick up a few links before heading back to El Puerto, definitely embarrassing myself a bit in front of Ale’s family, who now think of me as the charcuterie obsessed weird American. Oh well, there are worse things to be known for…

Another Typical Plate-- Iberian Ham and Fried Eggs

Update: In addition to taking home some Morcilla de Patata, we also opted for the other local specialty Morcilla de Calabaza. It is life changing. Try it if you have a chance!

What have been some strange Spanish foods that have blown you away? Has anyone else ever tried Morcilla de Patata or de Calabaza?

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