Spain dining guide – Spanish meal times and traditions
What time do Spaniards eat?
Spain dining guide – Spanish meal times and traditions is the complete guide to what to eat and when. Spend any time in Spain; the first thing you’ll likely discover is the sometimes bizarre hours (compared to many countries) that local bars, restaurants, and eateries keep.
Most cafes or restaurants will open early, right at the crack of dawn, and offer early birds their first meal. From there, things get a little unexpected for the likes of most folk not from Spain.
In this article, we’ll spill the beans on typical Spanish mealtimes, plus shed some light on some of the traditional customs that go along with a Spanish meal. Undo your belt buckle, it’s time to eat!
Spanish meal times
Typically, most Spaniards will eat 4-5 times per day. The main meal of the day will usually be lunch, with a lighter dinner typically served.
Here are a few of the typical meal times in Spain:
- Breakfast number 1 (around 7 am)
- Breakfast number 2/Early lunch aka almuerzo/esmorzar (around 10-11 am)
- Lunch (comida, but also sometimes called almuerzo depending on the region is usually served between 12 noon and 3 pm)
- Sobramesa (Spanish tradition of relaxing after a large meal)
- Merienda (afternoon snack)
- Tapas (any time of the day)
- Dinner (between 9 -11 pm)
Breakfast | Desayuno
Breakfast (Desayuno in Spanish) is often a relatively simple affair consisting of a small pastry or bread dish washed down with strong coffee. A popular breakfast item you’ll see all over Spain is pan con tomate – toasted bread that’s covered with freshly grated tomato, a hint of garlic, and plenty of olive oil and salt.
Along the main touristic towns and villages that dot the Mediterranean Sea, it is common to see early morning breakfasts served with a small beer (caña) or even a glass of table wine.
Breakfast Number 2 or Early Lunch | Almuerzo
In the Catalonia region, breakfast is called ‘esmorzar’ and is considered similar to an English ‘morning tea’ although it is commonly served with a light alcoholic beverage such as table wine or beer.
In the Valencia region, an early Almuerzo is served between 10 and noon, and is typically a light meal such as cocas (a type of individual Spanish pizza of sorts) with toppings (try these pumpkin and onion cocas at home), and accompanied by appetizers such as nuts, olives, sausages, serrano ham, or chorizo and cheese, and a small alcoholic beverage such as beer or table wine.
Almuerzo/Comida – The main meal of the day
In Spain, lunch is usually considered the main meal of the day, and the time lunch is typically served depends on the region. It can also be called almuerzo or comida but we’ve found this varies even within families sometimes! Depending on the region, lunch is served between 12 noon and 3 pm, although the most common time is 2 pm. Lunch nearly always consists of 2-3 courses with the first course being a light starter or tapas, followed by a more hearty second course, and finally a dessert course.
Menu del dia
Visitors to Spain should look out for restaurants or cafes advertising a ‘Menu del dia’ where diners can enjoy a hearty 3-course meal for a budget price. Menu del Dia can be found as cheap as €5.00 in the southern region of Andalusia. Expect to pay around €10-15 in larger cities of Spain, such as Madrid or Barcelona.
The 1st and 2nd course of lunch varies from region to region in Spain but will typically consist of a soup or salad, stew, a rice dish (such as paella in the Valencia region), or specialty meat dishes or fish dishes.
Popular Spanish lunch meals include:
- Paella Valenciana
- Seafood paella
- Oven-baked codfish (bacalao)
- Arroz al horno
- Spanish Chicken and rice (arroz con pollo)
- Fabada Asturiana (Spanish bean stew)
After the two main course dishes, fruit or a dessert are served along with a strong black coffee or aperitif.
The further south you travel in Spain, the longer the lunches can become, with a summertime meal in the south of Spain extending almost into dinner time. It is a Spanish tradition to relax after a heavy meal, and this tradition is called sobramesa.
This tradition is so popular that a mere whisper of ‘Sobramesa’ (literally translates to “upon the table”) and any remaining plates and dishes from lunch will be whisked away and small plates (tapas-sized dishes or smaller nibbles) will be served along with an aperitif or even a cocktail or two. Did someone say gin and tonic?!
Merienda is considered the fourth Spanish mealtime and can be thought of as the English equivalent of a mid-afternoon snack. Merienda is a traditional Spanish pastime and is a light snack or sweet treat that is ordered around 6-8 pm.
When visiting Spain, you’ll see cafes and bars swell with customers, often ordering sweet cakes such as Bizcocho or Churros. Savory treats such as Spanish cheese or ham (serrano, jamón ibérico) are also popular fare for a merienda.
Popular dishes served as a merienda:
- Churros with rich hot chocolate for dipping
- Sponge-style cakes known as ‘bizcocho’ in Spanish
- A slice of cheesecake, flan, or tart (e.g. walnut, orange, and caramel tart)
- Donuts dusted with sugar
- A small sandwich (called a bocadillo or bocata)
- A plate of Spanish cheese
Once the sun begins to dip behind the horizon, eating out in Spain really begins to be exciting. For this is tapas time!
A tapa is a small morsel of food that is served alongside an alcoholic beverage, such as a beer or wine, and for most Spaniards, tapas is a great opportunity to socialize and whet their appetite for an evening meal.
Many establishments in the south of Spain (and in the capital Madrid) offer tapas free of charge with any drink ordered as a way to entice a customer to stay a little longer.
In the north of Spain, tapas are slightly different and they have delicious pintxos (individual portions of yumminess) that are found adorning a bar or restaurant countertop with lots of delicious varieties available for a Euro or more depending on your choice of plate.
Popular Spanish tapas include:
- Sizzling Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al ajillo)
- Patatas Bravas
- Tortilla Española
- Albondigas (Spanish-Style meatballs)
- Padron Peppers (Pimientos de Padrón)
- Spanish soft ham (Lacón a la Gallega)
- Marinated olives
- Boquerones (marinated sardines)
Looking to venture out and enjoy some tapas? Check out our FREE tapas walking guides for Madrid and Valencia.
Tapas Valencia Walking Tour (Self-Guided, Free Map)
Aug 1st, 2022 - The Spanish Radish Blog
Explore the riches of Valencian tapas like a local with our free tapas Valencia walking tour, complete with all the info you need to show you the very best tapas dishes, where to find them, and what not to miss!
We’ve done the hard yards and sampled our way through Valencia one mouthful at a time to bring you this comprehensive tapas guide...
Dinner / Cena
For many visitors to Spain, dinner times can be very confusing and hard to gauge. Many restaurants will not be open at 6 pm, which is a common dinner time for those from America, Australia, and the UK. Instead, most restaurants and bars will serve tapas until later in the evening when the dinner service begins.
First-time visitors to Spain may also notice some items are rarely served at dinnertime. Heavy rice dishes, pasta, or lentils will be hard to find on any authentic Spanish dinner menu. This is simply because dinner is considered a light meal in Spain, and often consists of cold cuts, cheese, salads, or soups.
Of course, in popular tourist destinations such as the capital Madrid, Valencia, Granada, Barcelona, or other large city centers, you’ll find plenty of restaurants open to cater to the tourist palette for dinner.
Popular Spanish dinner meals include:
- Huevos estrellados / huevos rotos
- Empanadas (e.g. fish and romesco sauce empanadas)
- Spanish Cheese
- Spanish ham
- Soups such as traditional Gazpacho
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