Spanish customs at meal time

The customs of the Spaniards at lunch time are commented worldwide. Comments like:

  • It is impossible to get used to Spanish time!
  • They had breakfast too late and too little!
  • They had dinner too late and a lot!
  • They eat a lot of tapas!
  • The food is very fatty!

Most of the times, these comments are made without knowing or being in Spain. And suddenly, when they visit us, they fall in love with dinner at ten o’clock in the evening on a ‘fresh’ terrace with a plate of ham, an omelette and a jug of sangria. And they love paellas prepared with fresh vegetables and seafood. Who can resist this?

It is true that Spaniards are different from other Europeans; and in that lies their originality and makes them an attractive and peculiar country to visit and stay.

This is how they like to do it:

Breakfast: The Spaniards have breakfast at 7.00 or at 8.00 depending on age and job. Normally, they have breakfast at home. They drink a coffee with milk and eat a toast or croissant. It is also possible to have breakfast at the bar where it is typical to have a coffee with milk, a toast with tomato and an orange juice; very healthy and tasty breakfast. But it is different in each city of Spain, for example in Madrid it is typical to have chocolate with churros for breakfast in winter.

Midday: Around 11:30 the Spaniards take a break at work and eat a small snack and drink coffee at a bar. It would be lunchtime in the rest of the world but not here. It is usually a small snack, a juice or a coffee and some fruit.

Lunch: At 2 or 3 pm the Spaniards like to eat at home, with their family, although many cannot because of the distances, so they will go to the bar where they will find homemade food wherever they go. It is the most important and complete meal of the day. They usually eat a salad or soup for starter and then eat meat, fish, rice, pasta… And of course a dessert that is often a fruit and a coffee. They appreciate ‘homemade’ food and like to enjoy typical dishes such as paella, fabada, lentils… which are healthy and tasty. Sometimes there is time for a nap. They lie on the sofa for 15 or 20 minutes because of much work in the afternoon, and need a little rest to be active afterwards. And then, in the middle of the afternoon, again some snacks; especially for the kids. They have a small meal: a sandwich or some cookies, a fruit or a yogurt. And for the adults it is the moment to have a coffee or a beer with friends or coworkers before going home after work, just to disconnect.

Dinner: The Spanish have dinner at 9:00 pm in winter or at 10:00 pm in summer. They have dinner at home with the whole family. Simpler than the lunch: bread, ham, cheese, an omelet, a salad… Children have dinner before, at 8.30, with a very light meal, sometimes just milk with cookies, and then they go to bed.

But then arrive Fridays and Saturdays and everything changes. We love to dine in restaurants, with family or with friends. The dinners are long and we love to talk for a long time afterwards, while having a coffee and a drink. It is the best part of the dining. And the weekend is also a perfect time for the tapas and for the wines. Life is to enjoy!

On Sunday, before lunch time, around 1pm we like to do a “Vermouth Session” (Martini) with friends or family. Then comes the reunion with whole family; a great meal with grandpas, cousins, uncles… It is normal to eat paella or a stew, or make a barbecue. Sometimes, for special occasions, we go to a restaurant. Eat a good dessert, a cake or an ice cream, and drink some wine. And always a good coffee at the end. This meal starts at 2pm or 3pm and ends at 5pm or 6pm.
We told you about the times, but what about the customs at the table?

Take good note on this 10 tips:

1 – Bread must be always on the table: Spaniards eat bread with everything, and that is a success. They eat bread with fish, with meat, with stews, but also with sea rice, pasta, etc. And the best mix is the bread with chocolate, and it does not refer to chocolate cream. Real chocolate, with real bread. You can call it a chocolate sandwich…

2 – The Spaniards eat with a napkin. No more comments about it.

3 – They like to dip the croissant, the cookie, the biscuit, the bread, the toast, churros… in the coffee or chocolate with milk. Just try it, tastes better!

4 – Noise is the part of the meal. And if you need to shout to make yourself heard because you are talking with the person diagonally opposite you, that is all right because everybody will be doing the same. They even have an expression when the silence appears: An angel has just flown over the table!. If you don’t want to see that Angel, don’t stop talking.

5 – Keep your hands on the table. It is considered bad manners to let your hand(s) slip under the tablecloth or onto your lap when you’re not holding cutlery. Keep your hands where they can be seen at all times. Either side of your plate is a good place for your hands to rest. But please, elbows off the table!

6 – As noise is part of the meal, that means the conversation is always going on. Spaniards are very sociable and they love to talk, and mealtimes are perfect for that. Loud, lively discussions, debates and disagreements are the norm, so don’t be shy about expressing your opinion, you will all remain friends at the end.

7 – Food matters a lot in Spain, but the social aspect of it matters even more. Lunch doesn’t end when people finish eating. This moment is when Sobremesa starts, time you spend at the table after you’ve finished eating. You have to stay at the table where you ate, amid the post-lunch wreckage of crumpled napkins, stray packets of sugar and the last pieces of dessert that may or may not get eaten. Sobremesa is about prolonging the lunch because you’ve had such a good time that you don’t want it to end; if you leave the table, the spell is broken.

8 – When you are in a restaurant do not be surprised if they offer you shots at the invitation of the house when you finish eating. They call it a digestive and you have to accept it.

9 – Water instead of wine. It is true that wine is always present at lunchtime, but it is more for weekends, or daily in the rural countryside. But during the week, the most popular drink for lunch is natural water, with no additive, with no gas. They like to leave other drinks such as juices, beers or cold drinks for a snack or at leisure.

10 – And the last but not least, the popular family custom is to take a piece of bread and clean with it the dish in which they have eaten. What it is about, is dipping the bread with the remains of the sauce that has been left on the plate and then eating it. Nice! For Spaniards eating means much more than just food. They look forward for that moment because it is when they socialize and disconnect. So if you have been invited by a Spaniard for lunch or for dinner, that means a lot, you are part of their circle of trust. Don’t say no, you will miss a special moment.

Don’t miss our next entry on Typical Spanish dishes!

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