In Spanish culture, food is a big deal! Going out to dinner and ordering food in Spain is a cultural thing that Spaniards nurture with a lot of pride. They bond over food and can talk about it for hours!
You will often see them at concerts buying some patatas bravas with salsa brava or meeting for dinner before the movies.
When you travel, how much importance do you give to food on a scale of 1 to 10? Do you know what Spanish food to order and when?
Although it’s not a science, this complete guide on the Spanish food culture might actually help you when going to any Spanish restaurant. We didn’t just explain what and where to order but we’ve also mentioned some tips that can come in handy.
Dive in and learn how to order like a local!
Places to Order Food in Spain?
In Spain, there are a lot of places where you can enjoy food.
Sure, you can cook Spanish food at home or gather with friends at someone’s place. Home-made food is called la comida casera and all you need are freshly bought ingredients. The supermarkets in Spain are well-equipped with food. But stores owned by Pakistanis also sell fresh fruits and veggies for a much more affordable price.
However, if you’re not in the mood to cook, you can go out and find all sorts of establishments where they serve homemade-like food.
The most typical places where you can eat Spanish food are restaurants, bars, churrerías, coffee shops, and cafeterías panaderías (literal translation: coffee shop bakeries).
It is very common to eat traditional Spanish food or to have a snack at these places. In case you’re wondering how these places look, check out our last post about how to order a coffee in Spain, as we described them all.
What Food in Spain to Order and When?
When it comes to eating, we all know that Spaniards have a different schedule than other countries. Some would say it’s a bit weird but when you order food in Spain, you should take these mealtimes into account to avoid closed doors in front of your face.
We’re about to explain to you all the mealtimes there are, so you know when to order Spanish food if you eat out.
Like in most cultures, el desayuno (breakfast) is the first meal in the Spain food culture too, which most people have around 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Spaniards usually have a light breakfast at home but even if that wasn’t the case, they eat some pastas (pastries), such as croissants or cookies, or toast with butter and/or jam. A cup of coffee or a glass of juice normally accompanies Spanish breakfast.
Others choose a healthier breakfast and have their coffee with toast and olive oil, and sometimes a delicious tomato spread (pà amb tomaquet). Some people eat cereals with milk and some fruit.
There is one more combination, our favorite! The churros con chocolate (or coffee) is traditional Spanish food served for breakfast. This is what people eat on the weekends or holidays (it is very greasy food, that’s why they don’t eat it often!).
Then there’s el almuerzo, a mid-morning light lunch or, shall we say, a brunch. It is served between 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
El almuerzo is not a big meal and it is more of a snack food in Spain. People usually eat la bocata (sandwich) or some pastries and/or fruit. For brunch, it’s almost a custom to go to eat tapas at a bar and it is the typical time for a coffee break.
Things to Know About el Almuerzo
Normally, Spaniards are at work during this meal and they tend to skip it. And usually, it’s purpose is to keep you full until lunch.
La comida (lunch) is the third and the most important meal of the day for Spaniards. In Spain food culture, people have lunch around 2 p.m., but it can go on until around 4 p.m. During weekdays, the common Spanish food consists of a homemade main course and sometimes includes a dessert and coffee. However, during the weekends and holidays la comida is a more elaborated meal.
If they go out to eat, Spaniards typically order el menú del día (literal translation: menu of the day). El menú del día consists of a first and second plate, a dessert and/or a cup of coffee. The first plate is usually a salad, vegetables, pasta or soup.
The second plate is typically meat or fish but it can also be traditional Spanish food like paella. All menus come with bread and water or wine, however, you have to choose between a dessert or a cup of coffee, as your last plate. The dessert is normally fruit or something sweet.
Things to Know About la Comida
During weekdays, people go home for lunch. Traditionally, they have a two to three-hour lunch break from work and then they take la siesta (a noon nap).
However, in big cities like Barcelona and Madrid people spend a lot of time commuting, so they can’t go home for lunch. This is why they usually go to eat in bars or restaurants.
On the weekends, this meal can go all the way to the next meal (la merienda) if la sobremesa is followed to the letter.
It is very common for families in Spain to get together on the weekends for lunch. Spending time with parents and eating Spanish traditional food is very typical for Spaniards.
One of the best things about Spain food culture is that there are a lot of places where you can enjoy it. And since Spaniards like to snack, they also have la merienda.
La merienda usually consists of la bocata, pastries, cookies, fruit, or yogurt. This is also a good time to meet with friends and eat some churros con chocolate or some tapas.
This evening snack is the fourth meal and people have it between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. The kids usually have merienda but no one stops you from having one too!
And finally, la cena (dinner)! It starts approximately at 9 p.m. or even later! It is a meal that Spaniards generally eat at home on weekdays. It usually consists of one main dish, such as a salad or soup, and a dessert, like fruit or yogurt.
However, they also go out for dinner. Don’t be surprised if you see restaurants crowded with people eating Spanish food late at night! This especially happens during summer when the terraces are open. As we told you at the beginning of this article, Spaniards love to eat and this is something innate in the Spain food culture.
Did you also know that Spaniards are among the Europeans who eat dinner the latest? That’s right! BBC explores this concept and gives a few reasons explaining this phenomenon in one of its articles.
General Tips for Ordering Food in Spain
There are a few tips we thought might come in handy when ordering food in Spain. Keep them in mind and save yourself the trouble and some money!
- When you eat at a restaurant, water is not free! They don’t usually serve tap water, but bottled water instead.
- Compared to American meal portions, the portions in Spain are smaller. If you are a food lover, you should know this one!
- In some parts of Spain, when you order a drink, they give you traditional Spanish food like pincho or tapa for free!
- When you pay the check, they don’t take your card away from the table to swipe it, they bring the card reader to your table.
- You have to ask the waiter/waitress to bring you the check. To get the waiter’s/waitress’ attention, you need to wave at them!
- Spaniards enjoy their meals calmly, without rushing. Thus, it is very common to have la sobremesa. La sobremesa is the time you spend at the table after finishing eating. This is the time to have a good chat, drink coffee, or some shots of alcohol. You can read the BBC article that talks about this unique Spanish custom.
- In Spain food culture tipping is optional and not very common.
- Normally, you don’t need to wait to be seated in a restaurant. You can enter the restaurant and choose the table you want to sit down at.
- Waiters and waitresses don’t come to check on you often. They let you enjoy your meals without many interruptions. And we thank them for that!
- The social aspect of eating is very important to Spaniards. They don’t just eat, they also socialize around food.
How to Order Food in Spain Like a Local
|El almuerzo||Mid-morning light lunch|
|El chiringuito||Beach bar|
|El lector de tarjetas||Card reader|
|La media ración||A portion of food (smaller than a "ración" but bigger than a "tapa")|
|El menú del día||Menu of the day|
|La merienda||Mid afternoon snack|
|El pincho||A bite of food on a stick|
|El plato||Plate |
|El primer plato|
|La ración||Big portion of food (bigger than "media ración")|
|El segundo plato||Main course|
|La tapa||Small portion of food|
|El tapeo||Eating tapas|
El bocata (colloquial)
|El embutido||Cured meat|
|El jamón||Cured ham|
|La tortilla de patatas||Potato omelet|
|El calimocho||Red wine and coca-cola|
|La gaseosa||Carbonated water|
|El vino blanco||White wine|
|El vino tinto||Red wine|
|Almorzar||To have a mid-morning light lunch|
|Cenar||To have dinner|
To get paid
|Comer||To have a full lunch|
|Desayunar||To have breakfast|
|Merendar||To have an evening snack|
|Tapear||To eat tapas|
|¿Me cobra/cobras, por favor?||Could you bring me the check/bill, please?|
|¿Me podría/podrías traer la cuenta, por favor?||Could you bring me the check/bill, please?|
|¿Me pone/pones una cerveza, por favor?||Could I have a beer, please?|
"Could you give me a beer, please?"
|¿Me puede/puedes traer la cuenta, por favor?||Can you bring me the check/bill, please?|
|¿Me trae/traes la cuenta, por favor?||Could I have the check/bill, please?|
|¿Me trae/traes un bocata de jamón, por favor?||Could I have a cured ham sandwich, please?|
"Will you bring me cured ham sandwich, please?"
|¿Qué desea/deseas comer/tomar/pedir?||¿What would you like to eat/order?|
|¿Qué le/te pongo?||What can I get you?|
|¿Qué le/te traigo?||What can I bring you?|
|¿Qué va/vas a comer/tomar/pedir?||¿What are you going to eat/drink/order?|
|¿Qué va/vas a beber/tomar?||¿What are you going to drink/eat?|
|Me gustaría una ensalada, por favor||I would like a salad, please|
|Quiero/quisiera la sopa de verduras, por favor||I want a vegetable soup, please|
Do you want to keep learning more vocabulary? Our Spanish food vocabulary will help you learn the colloquial expressions Spaniards use to talk about food.
The food culture is important in Spain. People go out to eat to meet with their friends and family to catch up and socialize over food. It’s not about eating out, because everybody can eat at home. Spaniards are all about bonding and we aren’t wrong if we say that food connects them.
We hope we managed to clarify some of the most important parts of the Spain food culture. Although not everything is as strict as it seems, when it comes to ordering food in Spain most people do follow these “unwritten rules”.
If you are planning a trip, these little tips can help you get around easily. But if you’ve already experienced the exquisite traditional Spanish food culture, we can’t wait to hear all about it in the comments section below!
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