Food Rules You Need To Know Before Visiting Spain

Getting Spanish mealtimes wrong means ending up in tourist-trap restaurants, or with reheated bar food. Getting them right means stepping into a world of tongue-curling ecstasy...

Food Rules You Need To Know Before Visiting Spain

When you go on holiday to Spain you could be forgiven for focussing on enjoying your food rather than obsessing over how to eat it. However, to get the true Spanish experience, one must embrace the entire culinary spectrum — peculiarities, timetable and all.

But, unless you have Spanish friends or relatives, where do you start? After all: you can’t just sit down at the bar on the corner and hope for the best—especially if you arrive at the wrong time (rock up for lunch at 1pm and you’ll get some weird looks).

Order the wrong drink with the wrong dish, for example, and not only will you mark yourself as a guiri (tourist), but the meal probably won’t taste as good. There is a reason, after all, that these eating rules (norms) came to exist.

Not to mention, knowing these local customs is a great way to bond with locals (or impress your date), creating a connexion and sense of appreciation that you would never have otherwise achieved with your bumbling “one skinny cap por favor” order.

With all that said, here are 10 important eating rules that will help you avoid embarrassment in Spain.

Don’t Arrive Too Early For Lunch (Or Dinner)


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It’s not for nothing Spain is known as a country of late risers. And although big cities like Madrid and Barcelona will have fast food joints and tourist-trap restaurants ready to cater to your every need 24/7, if you are after an authentic experience it’s best to keep in sync with the local habits. This means: breakfast between 7 and 10am, lunch between 2 and 4pm and dinner between 9 and 11pm. And beware the ‘dead zone’ of 11-2pm, where you will be too late for breakfast, but too early for lunch (you should have no problem ordering a sneaky aperitivo though).

Don’t Ask For Butter With Your Bread


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Spain being a land of cheap, plentiful and tasty olive oil, you’d be a fool to request butter. And even if you do, there’s a strong chance the closest thing they’ll have is margarine.

Don’t Expect Anything Other Than Carbs At Breakfast


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Spaniards are almost as suspicious of people who eat eggs for breakfast as they are of Crossfit. Suffice to say the whole Bondi WholeFoods movement is yet to catch on, and breakfast is more liable to be skipped than made into the most important meal of the day. If you want to order it like a local though, go for olive oil, salt and tumaca (tomato pulp) on toast, Serrano ham and olive oil on toast, a croissant, magdalinas (a type of Spanish cupcake), muffins, biscuits or churros, to be washed down with a cafe con leche or a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Expect To Eat A Lot Of Hot Chips, Capsicum, Meat & Fish


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One of the reasons dieting is generally met with confusion (if not condescension) in Spain is because, breakfast aside, the Mediterranean diet is one of the most naturally healthy diets in the world. Why expend effort thinking about being healthy when you can just enjoy a beer with lunch and saturated fat with your dinner, and still top the Bloomberg 2019 rankings as the healthiest country in the world?

Don’t Ask For Takeaway


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Apart from a takeaway pizza to go with a night time La Liga match, asking for takeaway food or drink in Spain is a surefire way to mark yourself as a philistine. Spaniards love their food, and when you order it to go you simply don’t get the same social, or sensory experience.

Embrace The Less Commonly Eaten Parts Of Animals


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If your meal prep routine consists of cooking four trimmed chicken breasts and mixing them with ice-burg lettuce, Spain’s array of juicy cuisine may be a shock to the system. From Cola de Toro (stewed bull’s tail) to Carillada (pork cheek), these dishes may have a little more visceral fat than you’re used to, but are far tastier than your dry roasted chicken breast.

Familiarise Yourself With The Spanish Drinking Schedule


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8am: cafe con leche (flat white). 12:30pm: Vermouth. 2pm: Amontillado or Oloroso aperitif wine. 3pm: a small, ice cold glass of beer—or if you’re feeling fruity, a tinto de verano (sweet summer wine) with lunch. 5:30pm: un cortado (an espresso with a tiny dash of milk) with afternoon tea. 11:30pm: a gin and tonic or similar post dinner digestif.

Don’t Expect To Get Water For Free


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Although you have already committed a cardinal sin by ordering water instead of something alcoholic, don’t expect Spanish cafes and bars to provide you with tap water for free (as you might be used to in Australia or America). Instead you will have to pay for bottled spring or mineral water.

Check Your Grammar Before Ordering Something With Google Translate


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Like French and Italian (among others) Spanish has a delightful grammatical system of making inanimate objects masculine or feminine. Which means that an innocently misplaced letter can change the entire meaning of a word. And as many a red faced tourist has discovered, chicken (pollo) is unfortunately close to one of the many Spanish word’s for penis, polla. So either remember that sentence perfectly or prepare yourself for some good natured ribbing…

As for some must try meals? If you get the chance, have a crack at these.

  • Carrillada – braised beef or pork cheek that falls apart at the softest touch, served in a rich gravy with crunchy hot chips, slow-cooked-soft carrot and onion.
  • Cola de Toro – stewed bull’s tail, served with hot chips.
  • Tortilla de Patatas – spanish omelette.
  • Tortilla de Camarones – crispy, deep fried shrimp omelette.
  • Pulpo a la Gallega – Galician style octopus with Paprika.
  • Garbanzoles con espinacas – chickpeas with spinach.
  • Salmorejo – sumptuous, thick, cold tomato soup.
  • Solomillo al Pedro Jimenez – pork fillet cooked two ways with raisins and a reduced sweet wine sauce.
  • Jamon Iberico – the best ham in the world (Jamon Serrano is more affordable, but not quite as good).
  • Croquetas – a deep friend bechamel sauce with either ham, mushroom or puchero in the centre.
  • Revuelto – Spain’s answer to scrambled eggs.
  • Salmonetes – the best fried fish you’ll ever taste.
  • Marmitako – basque tuna stew.

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