Okay, so how to eat in Spain sounds relatively straight forward, but actually… if you want to fit in… it’s worth learning a few basics. Hopefully the following tips will help you while you are eating out in Spain.
Needless to say, there are exceptions to every rule… but if you fancy some observations of my own from living in Spain, then read on. You might wish to put the kettle on and grab yourself a couple of biccies first and pop your “don’t take life so seriously” hat on.
The first thing you must always do when eating out in Spain is wear a Sombrero. Okay, so Mexico is just a little more than 9,000 kilometres from Spain but they speak the same lingo right? So… obviously other things are the same too. Like putting chocolate in the savoury dishes (yeah we laughed too) and all of them wearing sombreros and shaking their maracas. So… make like a local and get the biggest brim you can. If you can grow a big bushy black moustache, then you’re really rockin’ it!
Secondly – don’t be afraid to ask for HP sauce: It’s your dinner.. you’ve paid for it… and what better way to enhance the flavour of that chorizo and chickpea stew than to add a fat dollop of HP sauce to the top of it. If the restaurant you are in doesn’t have it, then you are obviously eating in the wrong places and should relocate immediately to “Fred’s Caff” next door. At least they bother to speak English in there.
That brings us onto my final tip – the language. Order everything in English – always. These people should appreciate that tourism is the main moneymaker in Spain and that English speaking tourists provide most of it. If it weren’t for you they would still be sewing fishing nets and working in the fields.
Okay… enough silliness now. Just in case some of you didn’t realise – the above is a joke. I would be horrified to think that people behaved that way… although I have witnessed number three many many times. You would think that this shouldn’t need to be pointed out, but some people lack a sense of humour or they have the brain capacity of a mealworm.
Let’s take things a little more seriously now… a little…
Food is, well, much more than just food!
Spanish eating customs are quite different from the Brits. Of course we Brits love to eat but the Spanish just seem to make more of a social occasion of the whole thing. It’s a time when families and friends come together. No “grabbing a quick bite”, this is a time to kick back, relax, and share good company and conversation as well as good hearty food. I love that eating in Spain is much more of an event. Back in Blighty I would grab a quick snack at my desk at lunchtime, wolf down dinner, and concentrate on other things like partying or catching up with the latest drama on ITV. these days I am much more relaxed about dining. I take time to appreciate flavour, enjoy chitchat across a table, and generally make the most of everything that Spanish cuisine has to offer.
I love that I always know what is in the food that I am eating and although I taught myself to cook after we moved here, I love to do it. No longer do we stress about salt intake, fat levels and sugar input… because now we have a lot more control of our diet. None of that “ready meal” nonsense anymore. I must just add that I don’t speak for Alan – he’ll still sneak off to McDonald’s given half a chance… but the nearest is an hour’s drive, so he needs to be pretty desperate. He is not a fan of Spanish food except for the fish and seafood as some of you may remember from this article.
Don’t reach for a beer
The Spanish generally have just two drinks on their table – water and wine. You won’t often find beer, fizzy drinks or fruit juice and very very rarely would you find spirits. They’re right! How can fizzy nonsense aid digestion? At best it masks the flavours of what you are eating (unless you’re tucking into a vindaloo of course – in which case a bottle of Cobra is mandatory). Special events, fiestas, and simply as a way to shut the kids up mean this rule can be flexible though.
Apparently the flow of wine is supposed to cease once you have finished dining, and it is nice to finish with a coffee… but I never have been one for tradition.
When you watch Masterchef… do you see Gregg Wallace and John Torode grabbing a swig of beer to wash down the phoenix breast on a bed of rainbows served with a sidehelping of fairy glitter? No… of course not.
Obviously you can do as you please… but don’t complain if you end up with indigestion and a belly the size of a small hippo.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner
How does that old English saying go? “Breakfast like a King, lunch like a lord and dine like a pauper”? Well it’s something like that anyway. It basically tells us Brits to have a big ole brekkie, a decent lunch and a miniscule dinner. Well, the only similarity there with the Spanish is dinner. Breakfast is almost non-existent. Perhaps a slice of pan con tomate is appropriate or some churros dipped in chocolate but that’s about it. The exception to this is when dining in a hotel in which case you can expect to be elbowed from all directions as people clamour to fill up their breakfast plates with cheese, ham and bread. Lunch is the big meal event of the day and generally taken between 2pm and 4pm – so if you are invited for lunch… expect to be gone for quite a while. A lunch can go on for a couple of hours – I like that! And yes, you can go have a snooze afterwards if you like, although you may want to check with your boss first if you are supposed to be going back to the office. Dinner, normally the main meal in Britain, is an understated affair in Spain… and generally not approached until late evening. it will usually be a light snack… and often takes the form of tapas on a jaunt around the bars… which brings us on to… … …
Don’t go on a pub crawl, go on a tapas tour
A Saturday night in the UK often encompasses a crawl around a number of pubs, with drink being the focus. Wine, beer, spirits and shots – the city centre scene is all about getting hammered as quickly as possible. Of course it’s not all like that… but it’s very common. The Spanish, however, do it very differently. A tour of the bars is usually included, but instead of a shot in each bar… it would be a tapa. A taster plate of food that may or may not be included in the price of a glass of wine or a beer. A night of different tastes, great conversation and the removal of any introductions to the big white telephone at the end of the night. Much more dignified. That’s not to say that the Spanish don’t like to party… they are just less “binge drinky” about it than we lunatic Brits can be.
If you would like to do a tapas tour while in Spain have a look at the following list of companies who can help.
- Tapas in Malaga
- Toma Tours – Malaga
- We love Malaga
- Madrid food tour
- Barcelona food tour
- Tapas tours of Vejer, Cadiz, Jerez and Seville
- Sevilla Tapas Tours
Proud of the cuisine
The Spanish are very proud of their cuisine and will argue until dawn with anyone who dares to disagree. To be fair, the Mediterranean diet has something right. Look at the life expectancy of the Spanish, despite the smoking. They’re definitely onto something anyway – all that fresh veg, beans and pulses, coupled with fresh fish and olive oil? It can’t be bad. Speaking from personal experience, my health and weight control has improved no end since we moved here and started eating more fresh produce and cooking 99 per cent of our meals from scratch. Clear skin, shiny hair and a general improvement in digestion and well-being.
Of course it is not only the dietary aspect of Spanish food that should be respected. Spain has produced some amazing chefs and is rapìdly becoming respected as one of the world’s culinary leaders. Ferran Adrià, José Andrés and Carme Ruscalleda happily fly the flag for Spanish food and are recognised globally.
Bread – get used to it
Unless we’re in a restaurant, or perhaps have whipped up some garlic bread… we Brits don’t often have bread on the table. However, in Spain it is very different. there is simply always bread around… whether it is freshly sliced baguette or some of those mini bread stick things that I don’t recall the name of. You know the ones, they’re often handed out as tapas and can easily break a tooth because they’re rock hard.
The only downside to this for me, is that if the bread is there I will eat it… and so if there’s a delay between the bread arriving and the main meal being presented… I can easily wade through plenty, leaving me too full to eat the proper meal. I must stop doing that!
While we are speaking of bread… … … one thing I still can’t help myself with is asking for butter with my bread. We are “supposed” to be having olive oil here in Spain. But I like what I like. One of my favourites though… is to drizzle a bit of olive oil over the bread and then sprinkle on some coarse sea salt. It has just a salty enough flavour burst that it stops me wading through it at the rate of knots, which means I can still enjoy eating my meal.
Hands ON the table
Whereas we were taught as youngsters to keep our hands neatly folded in our laps when not using them to eat… since publishing this article I have received a number of messages mentioning the Spanish way. Apparently your hands should be in full view of your fellow diners at all times. Reasons vary from your hidden hands may be up to no good, to they may be holding a gun underneath. Eek! But that’s good for all you people who can’t leave their phones alone for two minutes and are busy Instagramming the food or checking in on Facebook. At least you won’t be hiding anything under that tablecloth.
In Britain we generally only see napkins in restaurants… rarely are they used at home unless they’re covered in snowflakes and wheeled out for Crimbo. The Spanish, however, tend to be cleaner at the dinner table than we are. Napkins are like an extra piece of cutlery here. Mind you – you too will appreciate it when you’ve been shelling prawns or wading through a tasty dish with your fingers. Also – take a look at the rim on a Brit’s drinking glass at dinner… and then compare a Spaniard’s. The latter tends to be very clean, due to all the mouth-wiping going on, whereas ours smear very quickly. I’m not saying we’re a dirty race but…
No you may NOT leave the table!!
One of the things that is very un-Spanish is leaving the table as soon as the meal is ended. Do what the Spanish do and enjoy “sobremesa,” that period of time after a meal when everyone just sits and chats. It is one of my favourite things to do in Spain, and something we adopted very quickly here. If course if you would rather be glared at as if you had garotted a puppy, then feel free to leave the table before you’ve swallowed that final morsel.
This of course is better for the digestion. it gives you time to enjoy your food, get the most from the time with your loved ones, and generally chill the hell out. We could learn a lot from this custom. If nothing else it is a time to get to know your friends a little better, to catch up with the day’s events, or simply to relax before your evening dinner… which to be fair may be straight after your lunchtime sobremesa.
Easy Spanish recipes
Here at Spain Buddy we love our food! I love to cook and try new flavour combinations. Of course I will usually find the easy way to do anything – time is precious after all and I’m no Heston Blumenthal… so all the Spanish recipes on this site are easy to do and you should be able to get the ingredients from anywhere in the world. If there is anything you can’t source… drop me a line and I can suggest an alternative.
If you would like to have a go then enjoy some easy Spanish recipes in the FOOD AND DRINK IN SPAIN section of this website
And on that note… I think it’s time to go and prepare some lunch.