Spanish people love their food. The average Spaniard eats between 4 and 6 meals a day. However, the difference is that their meals are evenly spread out throughout the day. A typical day of Spanish meals might look unusual to people traveling to Spain for a visit, especially if it is their first time.
. Whether you are visiting Spain for three days or two weeks, you need to understand Spanish eating customs and mealtimes.
If you didn’t know this before, Spaniards have some different eating habits. The mealtimes there are not exactly in sync with the mealtimes from other countries around the world. In addition to following the mealtimes, there are also certain menu items they eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between.
For instance, if you eat paella for dinner or order sangria with your meal, it will immediately give you away as a tourist. This is because paella is a lunchtime dish in Spain and people make sangria at home or order it at a bar usually. Thus, it is fair to say that there is an overwhelming collection of dining customs and norms in Spain.
If you are planning a trip to Spain anytime soon and want to understand and learn more about Spanish mealtimes and eating customs, you’ve come to the right place. This blog prepared by renowned food blogger Irina Bukatik from Wanderlust Food will serve as a guide to dining in Spain like a local. Keep reading to learn more.
Breakfast #1: 7 to 9 A.M. (El Desayuno)
As mentioned above, Spanish mealtimes and eating customs are truly unique. In most countries, breakfast is the biggest meal of the day. On the other hand, in Spain, breakfast is the smallest meal of the day. So, don’t expect to be welcomed by a big spread at the start of the day because that’s not how things work here.
People have two meals in the morning here and the first one is very small and light. Many people might even skip the first breakfast or simply grab a cup of coffee on their way to work. For those who do eat and start the day with adequate nourishment, breakfast options are mostly limited to carbs.
Some classic Spanish breakfast options for the first breakfast of the day are:
- Croissants (buttered, plain, or filled with cream, chocolate, or jam)
- Pastries like Mallorcan ensaimadas
- Sweet baked goods like cookies
- A small bowl of cereal
This starchy goodness is usually accompanied by one of the many different coffee beverages like café con leche in Spain or a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Furthermore, most Spanish people eat their breakfast at home. However, if you are visiting Spain, you can probably stop by a pastry shop or bakery to pick up a sweet treat or grab a cup of hot brew.
Breakfast #2: 10 to 11 A.M. (Almuerzo)
The time for the second meal of the day rolls out just before noon, around mid-morning. This time, Spaniards consume a meal that is heartier and bigger. Based on where you currently are in Spain, this meal is referred to as Desayuno, similar to the first meal, or almuerzo.
For the working population, this meal is always accompanied by coffee or juice. In fact, people in Catalonia drink cava (a Spanish Champagne) for breakfast, and it’s completely normal! Furthermore, the food options for this meal are more filling, making this meal the ideal way to bridge the gap between the first meal of the day and the famous Spanish late lunch.
Some Spanish food options for the second breakfast of the day are:
- Magdalenas, which are muffins seasoned with citrus and olive oil
- Toasted bread with crushed tomato, olive oil, and cured ham (sometimes)
- A piece of tortilla de patatas, the only egg breakfast option
- Any kind of sandwiches
Moreover, most Spaniards head to a local café-bar, which is a cross between a coffee shop and a traditional Spanish bar. You find these places packed and bustling with office workers till 11 a.m.
Lunch: 2 to 3:30 P.M. (La Comida)
The third and undoubtedly the most important Spanish mealtime is lunch. It can’t be missed at any cost and is a very big deal. So much so that most places often refer to it as simple la comida, which literally translates to “the meal”. It is the only meal that is counted as food by most Spaniards and is nothing less than being in a food paradise.
Most Spanish restaurants open at around 1:30 p.m. for lunchtime and people start gathering at around 2 p.m. The tables stay full until almost past 4:30 p.m. during the weekdays as family and friends keep chatting for a long time even after their meal is over. This is a Spanish custom acknowledged as sobremesa.
Some common food options you will find during a Spanish lunchtime include:
- Hearty and filling stews, such as beef stew or bull tail stew
- Rice dishes like arroz caldoso and paella
- Chicken dishes such as pollo en pepitoria (chicken in almond sauce) and pollo al chilindrón (chicken and pepper stew)
- Any form of lentils, like a traditional lentil soup or a modern Spanish lentil salad
- Refreshing and creamy salmorejo
- Tuna pasta with tomato sauce
Moreover, you will find Spaniards heading down to a proper restaurant where they can sit comfortably and enjoy their meal. Most of them offer customers a menú del día, which means a lunch special fixed price. This special menú offers three to six options to customers for the first and second courses. Plus, a drink, bread, and dessert or coffee are also included in the meal set.
Mid-Afternoon Snack: 5 to 6:30 P.M. (La Merienda)
The fourth meal in Spain serves as a bridge between lunch and dinner. It’s a mid-afternoon snack that is also known as Merienda. The meal’s social element is as important as the food Spaniards eat. It’s the time when all the abuelas gather in the local cafes for their daily gossip sessions and friends meet up to grab a quick cup of coffee and chat away.
What’s more, this snacking time is almost sacred amongst Spanish kids because people have less and less time to merendar (to snack) every day when they grow up. That being said, this is still one of the most beloved Spanish mealtimes that Spaniards try to enjoy whenever they can.
The mid-afternoon snack options are a combination of sweet and savory that you can find at a local café, bar, or bakery. These include:
- Fruit tarts
- Spanish cheese
Aperitif: 8 to 10 P.M. (Tapas)
The real charm of eating in Spain begins after the sunsets and the pintxos and tapas bars begin to open. In several parts of Spain, people like to grab a quick bite and a drink before dinner to get ready for dinnertime. Getting your hands on Spanish dinner during this time can be difficult as this is the prime tapas time in Spain.
The size and price of tapas might vary from region to region, but in many parts of Spain, you get a free tapas with a drink. Tapas can be anything, from a small dish of potato chips and olives to cheese, canned goods, skewers, anchovies, and shrimp.
All you need to do is head out to your nearest pintxos or tapas bar to enjoy this Spanish aperitivo, whether you get one drink or go bar hopping.
Dinner: 9 to 11 P.M. (La Cena)
Although dinner in Spain is quite late, it is worth the wait, like every other Spanish meal. It is a light meal, usually consisting of a salad or piece of fruit that you eat at home. However, eating out for dinner is a whole other story. Some common dinner options in Spain include:
- Spain’s famous potato omelet
- Huevos rotos, which is fried potatoes topped with eggs
You can find these food options in any dinner restaurant in Spain if you are planning to eat out.
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If you are traveling to Spain, you need to read up on Spanish customs and traditions. I – Irina Bukatik – am a food and travel blogger. You can follow my local food blog – Wanderlust Food – to explore more about my food travel experiences around the world.