Spanish Meals & Customs

spanish meal

Travelers to any foreign country have to deal with a variety of cultural obstacles- a new city, a new country, a new culture, a new language, etc. Who knew that something as simple as meal times could be the most frustrating of them all! Many first-time visitors to Spain find themselves hungry and ready for dinner around 6:00 in the afternoon only to end up frustrated to find that Spanish restaurants don't open up for business for at least another couple of hours! While it may seem strange, simply throw out your conceptions of proper meal times for the duration of your trip and eat when the Spaniards eat- trust us, you'll be glad you did!

El desayuno (Breakfast)

  • Before 10am.
  • Breakfast in Spain, if eaten at all, is often a lone cup of coffee. For those wanting to start off the day with a little something in their stomach, toast, croissants, or "pan tomaca"- a piece of toast with an oil and tomato spread- are typical picks.
  • On weekends or on holidays, churros- slightly crispy fried dough- dunked in a mug of thick hot chocolate or topped with sugar is a Spanish specialty. Don't know where to find them? There's sure to be a "churrería" nearby- simply head outside in the morning and follow the mouth-watering scent!
Café (Coffee)
Spain, as you'll quickly see, embraces and even celebrates its love of caffeine. Combine this with the contagiously social nature of Spaniards and you've got a country where coffee breaks are an integrated part of the workday. After a couple of hours slaving away at the workplace, it's quite common for coworkers to hit up the nearest café for a few minutes of caffeinated downtime. Don't know what to order? Here are the basics:
  • Usually taken between 10:30am and noon.
  • Café solo- A simple shot of expresso.
  • Café cortado- A shot of expresso with just a splash of milk.
  • Café con leche- A shot of expresso and an equal amount of milk.
  • Café americano- A shot of expresso and lots of water- perfect for Americans who think Spanish coffee is too strong!
La comida (Lunch)
  • Between 2:00pm and 4:00pm.
  • While dinner is the main meal in most cultures, "la comida" typically holds the title in Spain.
  • No, it's not a cultural myth- Spain's infamous siesta time does exist! While siesta doesn't necessarily mean putting on your pajamas and hopping into bed for the entire afternoon, stores and businesses do close down and many people go home to eat the mid-day meal with their families.
  • Many restaurants offer their "menús" during the comida. From a set menu, you can choose one appetizer and one main course. These menú deals, which range anywhere between €5.00 and €12.00, almost always also include bread, a drink and dessert.
La merienda (Late afternoon snack)
  • Once you've finished your lunch, your next meal could be as late as 11:00 at night- quite the time gap, no? Many people have a light snack, also known as a "tentempié," during the afternoon to hold them over until dinner.
  • Common merienda choices include a small sandwich, a piece of fruit, or even a simple hot drink.
La cena (Dinner)
  • Dinner time in Spain typically doesn't start until between 9:00 and 10:30 in the evening.
  • Dining establishments don't even think of opening their doors and firing up their ovens until at least 8:00 in the evening. -During the summer months and on weekends, dinner time is pushed even later- in fact, don't be surprised if you see people sitting down for la cena as late as midnight!
  • Dinner is traditionally quite a bit lighter than its mid-day counterpart, often consisting of something as light as a salad or sandwich.
  • The evening hours are the ideal time to barhop your way around Salamnca's tapas scene, nibbling on "jamón" (ham) and other specialties of Castilla.