You may have noticed that Spanish restaurants seem awfully quiet – when you go in.  This is probably because you haven’t worked out how to eat like a Spaniard yet.  Read on to find out how to go native and eat like a Spaniard and understand how military-precision in timing can be all-important (doesn’t sound like Spain, does it?)


Ensaimadas - Spanish cake for breakfast

First Breakfast: in Spain, most people actually have two breakfasts.  The first breakfast is to get yourself started.  Since most Spaniards start the day early, the constitution is only ready to receive something light at this stage – around 7:30.  So first breakfast usually comprises any of the following:

  • Coffee (typically a milky one for breakfast)
  • Bizcocho (a sponge cake often home made (casero) – rather like Madeira cake)
  • Pastel (a large, fresh pastry (ensaimada) or a pre-packaged, long-life cake)
  • Brandy (not necessarily a small one)


Empanadillas - savoury pastry tapas

Empanadillas – savoury pastry tapas

Second Breakfast is akin to elevenses and is usually around 10-10:30.  These are typically very social affairs and rather more substantial than the first breakfast.  If you go into a bar at this time in the morning you may find it difficult to hear yourself think.  Second breakfast will comprise any of the following:

  • Beer or red wine
  • Tapas (no holding back here, could be anything from tortilla to testicles)
  • Bocadillo
  • Orujo from the freezer to finish
  • Brandy (not necessarily a small one)
“Is it time for second breakfast yet?” Pippin – The Lord of the Rings.

The second breakfast sets you up nicely to last through to lunch as you spend the rest of the morning operating heavy machinery, driving an HGV, approving planning permissions, etc.

Lunch is eaten late.  If you turn up at a restaurant and ask to eat at 12:30 you can expect slow service and a limited menu that may comprise left-over tapas from second breakfast.  The majority of Spaniards start lunch at 2-2:30.  If you want to eat at some of the most popular restaurants you’d be advised to turn up at about 1:45 unless you have reserved a table – at 2:30 the place will be heaving.  Like second breakfast, lunch is often eaten out at a restaurant with work colleagues during the week.  At weekends, lunch is an opportunity to catch up with extended family with three generations (or more!) at the table.

Debs cooking lunch in our outdoor kitchen

Debs cooking lunch in our outdoor kitchen

Neighbour cooking whole sheep head for us to enjoy!

Neighbour cooking whole sheep head for us to enjoy!

During the week you will be able to get a menú del día – a set menu at a very reasonable price that includes drink (where “drink” could mean water, beer or house wine), salad, three courses and a coffee (which may include brandy, if that’s what you fancy).

Be aware of the word menú here – this is a “false friend” – when you ask for the “menu por favor”, expecting to get the list of things to eat, the waiter will probably say “si” and walk off, and start bringing you food that you didn’t order.  The thing is, you did just order – you ordered the fixed-price set menu (menú del día).  You wanted the carta.
Spaniards typically don’t have tapas at lunchtime.  Lunchtime is the main meal of the day, so fill up and take your time (in order to help you feel sleepy enough for a few minutes’ siesta afterwards).

A typical lunchtime meal has the following:

  • Salad (even in the depths of winter)
  • A starter that is frequently larger than the second course, may include: soup (sopa), stew (guiso), pasta or rice (arroz / paella).
  • The second course is usually something like meat / fish / eggs plus chips and a grilled pepper.
  • Dessert can include fruit or a pudding.  Puddings to look out for are casero (home made): flan (créme caramel), arroz con leche (rice pudding) and pan de calatrava (créme caramel with a thin sponge base).
  • Coffee (frequently with less milk – carajillo, bel monte or cortado are usual)
  • Orujo from the freezer to finish
  • Brandy

Supper during the week is usually eaten at home with the family, at any time between 8 and 10.  At weekends (starting Friday), suppertime is tapas time.  This evening meal is (yet another) time to socialise, chat, flirt and speak very loudly.

Tapas Bar - one of our favourites in Murcia city

Tapas Bar – one of our favourites in Murcia city

Eating tapas (they even have a verb for it – tapear) requires you to do a bar crawl.  Although lots of alcohol will be consumed over the course of the evening, it will always be accompanied with some food.  This is why it is very unusual to see Spanish people drunk – in fact appearing drunk is very ‘bad form’ in Spain.  The only exception to this rule might be at fiestas – then the booze flows freely!

Eating and Drinking – Very Important

Eating and drinking and drinking and eating – these activities are inseparable in Spain.  A bartender will be shocked if you order so much as a quinto (small bottle of beer – 25cl) without something to eat, even if something to eat is only a handful of olives.

The Spanish might not take timing seriously for anything else, but for food and drink, timing is important.  If you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, get there at the right time and eat and drink the right things.  Soon enough you’ll know all the waiters and bar staff by their first names and they’ll have ‘your usual’ ready before you even get to the bar.  Te aproveche!


front-cover-outlineIf you love Spanish cooking then get yourself a copy of our Spanish Cooking Uncovered: Farmhouse Favourites cookery book.


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