Every time we’ve been to Spain we had trouble with the way they scheduled their meals.
If you (like Al) want a big breakfast, fancy some lunch around 1:00 and then opt for dinner around 6:30 or so, you will run into problems in Spain.
But first I will go back to Portugal in 2001, where the meal schedule is similar to that of Spain, and where we starved big time.
Breakfast was a café con leche and a delectable (but tiny) pastry. At 12ish all that appeared to be available for lunch was a small dry bun with a thin slice of meat.
By six we were starving. By eight we were clawing at the window of the only restaurant in town that said it opened at eight.
And now to Spain.
They appeared to have a similar pitifully light breakfast of a single croissant and coffee, followed by an excessively tiny lunch of a minuscule bun filled with one thin piece of serrano ham. By five in the afternoon we were starving, again scratching pathetically at the doors of restaurants that often didn’t open until 9:00 or 10:00 at night.
Our friend Mikey, an old Spain hand, helped us figure out the meal schedule and translated the experience for us.
First off is a continental breakfast at 8:00 or 9:00, followed by second breakfast at 11:00 or 12:00. Breakfast number one is usually a single croissant with coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice.Until Mikey enlightened us we thought that these tiny 1€ bocadillos were what the Spanish ate for lunch – now we know they are part of the second ‘breakfast’ served around 11:00 or 12:00 and which comes in a choice of sweet or savoury.Orange cake and café con leche at the Parador.The REAL lunch is served between 2:00 and 4:00 when the restaurants open up and everything else closes. There is usually a ‘menú del día’. Another option is to order off the ‘carta’.
This is our lunch ‘a la carta’ of ‘Patatas Bravas’ (potatoes with attitude) and ‘Chipirones’ (deep-fried squid-like creatures) in Santiago de Compostela. As you can see, these are huge portions, and one definitely needs a few friends to share them with…
If you choose the ‘menú del día’ you really need to have somewhere nearby for a siesta afterwards. There is way too much food involved in this one meal to do it justice in this post so if you want to know more, here’s an example of a menú del día we had while travelling along the Sacred Shore and another up in the Picos de Europa.Merienda starts around 3:30 or 4:00 and seems to be mostly attended by grandparents taking the grandchildren out for a little something sweet after school. Here is a popular merienda, very thick hot chocolate drink served with flakey Spanish churros called porras.
This afternoon ‘coffee break’ slowly switches over into tapa sessions with a caña of beer (a small beer) around 5:00. If you had ‘el menú del día’ for lunch you can probably survive on nothing but tapas and cañas for the rest of the evening.
But, if you’re willing to wait, there will be another menu del dia and extravaganza of eating available at 9 or 10 in the evening!
There is no night life in Spain. They stay up late but they get up late. That is not night life. That is delaying the day.
Yummy orange cake.
I particularly like the delicate sweetness of the orange cake in Spain – not overwhelming in sugar.
Thanks for sharing such fun Tavel info – that schedule is very different indeed and glad you figured it out!
Starving on a trip sucks!
the good photos are great and love the Hemingway quote at end
Never mind that we only figured it out due to our friend mike; we were in Spain three times before that and starved every time!
Haha – well a big thanks to your friend, Mike !
Ah, yes! I remember my first visit toSpain and being dismayed at the lateness of the evening meal…..
Nine or ten in the evening seems way too late to start a massive extravaganza of eating – we never made it that late!
Very informative post! Should I visit Spain, I think I will have to survive on breakfast and lunch!😜
The tapas and pinchos really do a good job of holding one in the evening, especially if you have indulged in the menu del dia!
Nicely spelled out, @Elizabeth! You brought back happy memories. Do you remember the lunch we made for ourselves? A lovely fresh salad made from fresh veg we bought at the local fruteria? Mmm!
A Special Spanish Salad Just for Me! https://elizabatz.com/2015/09/22/special-santiago-de-compostela-salad/
Thanks for the tips. If I ever make it to Spain, I will remember them.
Coming from a city of perpetually open retail & food industry, (pre-Covid) I am always surprised when restaurants are closed during the day. Wadayamean I can’t have lunch at 2pm or dinner at 5?!
Well in Spain you can have lunch at 2 pm, you just can’t have it at 12 or 1. It takes awhile to get used to. We had the same problems in Portugal without tapas to hold us over, and spent some time starving in France as well, not getting used to the hours!