When it comes to mealtime, the Spanish really know what they’re doing. Meals are lengthy, consisting of multiple courses, or a selection of tapas if you prefer, each dish meant to be lingered over and savored. Afterwards, the sobremesa is observed – a period of time following the meal reserved for conversation over the table. (Back home we’d call this letting our stomachs settle.) Mealtime is a social occasion – dining out with friends and family, even during the week, is a very popular custom which explains why you’ll often find, even on a Tuesday night away from the touristy areas, restaurants are still bursting with lively patrons late into the evening.
Which brings me to my next point – meals in Spain, both lunch and dinner, are commonly eaten much later than what we’re used to in America and the UK. Lunchtime is typically served between 2pm and 4pm, which coincides with the famous Spanish siesta, the time during the late afternoon when businesses and shops close for 2-3 hours for an extended break. (FYI: Restaurants take their siesta in between lunchtime and dinnertime, so you might have a bit of trouble finding a kitchen that’s open between 5pm and 8pm. Many bars stay open offering drinks and tapas, though, so you won’t have to starve if you can’t eat at a customary time!) As far as dinnertime, the Spanish don’t sit down for their evening meal until 9pm at the earliest, but sometimes even as late as 11pm. It’s very common for these evening meals to stretch on for hours, too, particularly when in the company of good friends.
So what does one eat at these mealtimes? That, I’m sure, varies from region to region, but here are 4 foods to try in Andalusia that’ll give you a delicious taste of Spanish culture!
Churros, the Spanish breakfast of champions (and canines!), are strips of dough, fried up and served with your choice of what to dip them in. We had these on three different occasions and each time they were a little different. We tried churros sprinkled in sugar only, churros with a thick chocolate dipping sauce, and churros with a thinner, hot cocoa consistency dipping sauce that we could drink the leftovers of when we were done. All were good, but the clear winner for us was the thick chocolate sauce – it made for such a decadent breakfast that we made it to the 2pm lunchtime hour with no trouble at all. Two other common options for dipping churros are café con leche (coffee with milk) and Nutella. My favorite part – they aren’t stingy with the chocolate! We had more than enough to cover our churros with!
Before you order your churros, check the price. If the price isn’t listed on the menu (that’s not uncommon), just ask, ¿Cuánto cuesta? or ¿Cuánto es? if your server doesn’t speak English. We made the mistake of not asking once and paid €5 for four tiny little churros with no sauce. In general, for a good-sized serving of churros con chocolate in Andalusia you can expect to pay around €4 per order.
In Spain, lunchtime is typically the biggest meal of the day consisting of a soup or salad starter, the main course, and then a small dessert afterwards. A lighter meal, or tapas (small dishes), are usually on the order for dinner. But for us, since we love to try so many different things, we chose tapas for both meals. They’re the perfect choice for indecisive people – instead of only one dish, I got to choose 2-3 every time!
Even though it’s customary in Spain to have a bigger meal at lunchtime, we can’t shed our American customs quite so easily. We would always choose the lighter, cheaper options for this meal – usually montaditos (small sandwiches), a slice of tortilla (Spanish omelette), papas fritas (fries/chips) with Aoli sauce, or other tiny portions of regular meals, like the tuna and peppers dish above. These type of tapas typically cost around €1-3 per portion. For lunch, two small tapas each were plenty to fill us up.
I don’t know if you’ve recognized it yet, but eating in Spain is cheap. Or at least it can be if you stay away from the more expensive bars and restaurants. We ate our breakfasts and lunches at outdoor cafes and never spent more than €15 total for either. It was dinnertime when we splurged a little more for the “fancier” tapas.
“Fancy” because we were still only hitting up the middle of the road restaurants where tapas range from €5-6 per portion. (We’re frugal travelers, what can I say?) This is when we’d order the more filling tapas – things like patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), brochetas de pollo (chicken kabobs), full-sized tortillas, and albóndigas (meatballs). I don’t even really like meatballs – I just ordered them so I could say albóndigas at least once in Spain. (It’s fun to say – seriously, try it!)
Nearly every time we ate lunch or dinner in Spain, pan and aceitunas (bread and olives) were provided free of charge with our meal. Having become accustomed to the UK’s lack of free bread with meals, the first time this happened in Spain, I tried to tell our server that it wasn’t part of our order and was then told it comes gratis in Spain. I love countries that value bread as much as I do!
At dinner, we’d each choose 2-3 small tapas for our meal, or one large and one small. Sharing is encouraged, of course. Speaking of sharing – the following Spanish meal is one that you’ll commonly see shared between multiple people…
Paella is one of my favorite foods. Not just favorite Spanish foods, but favorite foods out of all the foods. You can order this up in Spain as a single serving or as a huge dish in the center of the table to be shared. Either way – it’s a whole lot of food and very filling. We ordered ours with a side of croquettes and none of us could entirely finish off our food. There are a few different types of paella – typically meat (chicken and rabbit), seafood, or a mixture of the two. Sometimes a restaurant will simply call it paella and unless you know how to ask, you won’t know what kind you’re getting, but unless you’re vegetarian or have allergies, it won’t matter because they’re all good! Expect to pay around €5-6 for a single serving or €22-25 for a huge dish to share. (For the record, if it were my choice, I’d go for the seafood paella every time!)
It’s the middle of August in Spain. You’ve finished your evening meal and you’re not quite ready to return back to the hotel room, but what else is there to do if you’re not into the bar/club scene? One word – helado. Chain and independent ice cream/frozen yogurt shops are all over the place and just like everything else, they stay open pretty late. I never eat ice cream at home, but for some reason in Spain, it just seemed like the right thing to do. Since our meals were normally hot and our drinks served at room temperature, it was hard to cool down. Ice cream seemed the only logical choice in such a situation. There were plenty of new, unfamiliar flavors to chose from in every shop and once again, we didn’t pay a lot for it either. That’s how you end a day of eating in Spain!
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