I remember the first time my family visited me in Spain. Before the trip my mom and I were talking on the phone and she said she was so excited to try the best tacos of her life. I explained to my mom that Spain doesn't have tacos nor burritos, and was actually a completely different cuisine. She was shocked. This is a very typical response from people when I tell them about Spanish cuisine.
The best way to describe Spanish food is a typical Mediterranean diet. Huge salads, fish, fresh fruit, bread, olive oil, lentils and simple meats and vegetables. It seems simple and it is. But somehow the Spanish have turned simplicity into some of the most delicious food in the world.
The simplicity starts with breakfast. A typical Spanish breakfast is very small- usually a toast and coffee. No eggs, no oatmeal, nothing heavy. The Spanish aren’t known to be morning people, so with a quick coffee and toast they’re out the door. This is normally followed by a “second breakfast” or small snack before lunch. Around 10:30 you’ll see people stopping at cafes and bars and having another coffee and perhaps a croissant or small pastry. The coffee is never taken to go but enjoyed leisurely and with company.
Lunch comes next and this is the main meal of the day. Normally eaten between 1-3, the Spanish lunch is a 3-course meal. First, you’ll have a large salad, dressed in only olive oil or vinegar, or a small plate of tapas or soup. Next will be the main course. This can consist of a thin steak and fries, swordfish and potatoes, garlic chicken with vegetable or a rice dish such as paella. This is served with the typical baguette of bread, which is a surprisingly light yet a delightful accompaniment. Dessert is fruit, yogurt or flan. Plus coffee is always served.
Since lunch is so late in the day, dinner isn’t until 8:30-10pm at night. Before dinner, Spaniards have invented their own meal, which they call merienda. Oh merienda! This is one of my favorite things about Spain! Around 5pm people get hungry, but they’re not ready for a full dinner, so it’s merienda time. This evening snack can consist of a beer and a tapa, a small sandwich (bocadillo), lunch meats and bread (jamon con pan de leche) or anything little, but delicious. I fondly remember walking my young children home from school around 5pm (yes, school lasts until 5 in Spain!) and us stopping at a pastry shop and buying chocolate croissants or freshly baked pastries for a quick snack.
When dinner finally comes around, it’s a light fare. Normally it’s a sandwich, a Spanish omelet (tortilla), some cheese and bread, some tapas etc. If you’re wanting to go out to dinner, restaurants do not open until at least 8:30 or 9pm, so be prepared.
The food in Spain is quite simply fantastic. Always fresh, eaten slowly and truly enjoyed, one of the highlights of visiting Spain is the food.