Traditional Food and Drink in Spain

Written by: Dave Owen

 

You’ll be quite familiar with certain aspects of food and drink in Spain before you ever set foot in the country. Tapas, paella, and cava have become popular all over the world – but it all tastes so much better in its home country.

Dining in Spain, you can expect fresh meat and fish, plenty of vegetables, and high quality ingredients across the board.

Traditional Food in Spain

Breakfast

Most Spaniards will opt for something fairly light in the morning, such as a galleta (similar to a cracker) or magdelena (a sweet bread), accompanied by coffee or fresh fruit juice. If you want something a bit more filling, pastries are usually available.

You might even find churros and dipping chocolate available for breakfast. Remember: holiday calories don’t count!

El aperitivo

Lunch in Spain is eaten a bit later than elsewhere in Europe, meaning a light snack at midday is taken quite seriously. It can even be as substantial as a filled baguette washed down with a glass of beer or two.

Lunch

Lunch usually won’t be served until at least 1.30pm, and is treated by many as the main meal of the day, so it often consists of two courses.

Pretty much anything is fair game for lunch, from hot sandwiches to full size pizzas, fish, and meat. Basically, whatever you might eat for dinner is okay for lunch, and we’re going to cover the main options in more detail in just a minute.

Traditionally, lunch in Spain was followed by a siesta, allowing people to rest through the hottest part of the day, but the pace of modern life means this is now much less common.

Spain coffee shop

Dinner in Spain

We’re giving dinner a whole section to itself so that we can look in a little more detail at the HUGE range of dishes restaurants in Spain have to offer.

Dinner in Spain starts much later than you might be used to, kicking off around 8.30-9pm, with many not sitting down to eat until 11pm.

The options below are usually available at both lunch and dinner, with the latter often being the lighter meal.

Seafood

Spain has a lot of coastline, so fresh seafood is both plentiful and affordable.

You can try cuttlefish, the world-famous calamari, or if you’re feeling adventurous you might sample pulpo a la gallega: boiled octopus served with paprika, olive oil, and rock salt. Delicious.

Seafood will also feature as part of more familiar dishes, such as prawns in paella, so don’t worry if boiled octopus doesn’t get your mouth watering.

Meat

Spain’s farming is quite dedicated to free range livestock, so you can expect to find good quality meat at reasonable prices. Order a steak and it might just be the best you’ve ever had.

Pork is also a great choice, in particular cuts like presa iberica or secreto iberico.

Again, meat will often feature in other dishes, such as chicken or chorizo in stir fries and paella, giving you plenty of options when perusing a menu.

Fast food

Fast food isn’t quite so prominent in Spain as elsewhere in Europe – the likes of McDonalds and KFC are present, but not on every street corner, and they generally cost a little more.

Fast food in Spain oftens means going to an independent pizzeria, pasta restaurant, or Chinese restaurant, where food is quick but not served in a greasy cardboard box.

Vegetarian food in Spain

Eating veggie in Spain is usually easy and delicious. There are plenty of tapas dishes (more on this in a minute) that are vegetarian, made up of cheese, breads, potatoes, etc. You could also order tortilla espanola, an omelette made of eggs and potato, sometimes served in a baguette.

Although paella is often made with meat, it’s fairly easy to find it with fish, or just vegetables if you prefer. Pasta and pizza restaurants will usually have vegetarian options.

Tapas

We’ve given tapas its own section because, although we might think of it as a meal by itself, in Spain tapas is really more of a bar snack.

Many will order a drink and one small dish, before moving on to another bar and doing the same. This is a good way to experience proper Spanish tapas, as different bars will offer different dishes, and may specialise in one type.

Drinks in Spain

You’ll probably be familiar with the various alcoholic drinks in Spain, but you’ll find less of a drinking culture – drinking in the streets often isn’t allowed except for in certain nightlife areas. The legal drinking age in Spain is 18.

If you don’t drink alcohol, Spain is very passionate about its coffee culture.

Alcohol

Beer is popular in Spain, with many brands available overseas, such as San Miguel, Ambar, Moritz, Cruzcampo, and Estrella de Galicia. Most cities will also have locally brewed beers, and while these might cost a little more, they’re often the most delicious.

In non-tourist areas, servings of beer are often smaller, to fit into the idea of having a beer and a tapas dish before moving on.

Another popular Spanish drink is cava, a sparkling wine that has all the taste and sophistication of champagne without the price tag.

Tea and Coffee

Tea is available widely, but in Spain coffee is the real passion. The Spanish really care about quality, so almost anywhere you go you’re likely to find a great cup.

Here’s a tip: asking for caffee latte will probably mean you get less milk than you’re accustomed to. You can ask for it manchado to get the extra milk.

Soft drinks

If you’re after a real local specialty, seek out horchata, a non-alcoholic drink made from tigernuts and sugar. The best drop is found in Alboraia, a small town near Valencia, though the drink is available throughout Spain.

You’ll also find plenty of cafes in Spain serving fresh fruit juices and smoothies, as well as stalls and street vendors offering cold refreshment if the weather gets too hot.

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