Spanish Dining Guide: How to Eat and What to Eat in Spain

By Alice Ross | EUROPE

Dec 30

The beautiful scenery of Spain is diverse due to the different climates which portray the regions, and this is also reflected in the diversity of food in the country. Even though the wide diversity of delicious meals can be made easily, they are something you will always be craving for.

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Dinner in Spanish is comida de la cena, lunch in Spanish is comida de almuerza, and drink in Spanish is bebida.

To give you a better understanding of what Spanish food is about and perhaps give you an idea what to eat in Spain on your visit, read this brief guide. This article goes through the fascinating informational facts in regards to good food in Spanish culture and its delicacies. You are about to learn why Spanish cuisine and foods are very popular all over the world.

Breakfast in Spanish Culture

A Spanish breakfast or el desayuno is generally smallest meal of the day. But what to eat in Spain for breakfast? It usually consists of café con leche, a big cup with a small amount of very strong espresso coffee with a significant amount of very hot, frothy milk accompanied by magdalenas or a sweet roll, cupcakes, or sweet churros.

Children might drink in Spanish a cup of creamy cold or hot chocolate with a sweet roll, although eating cereals have become more and more popular in the last decades.

A simple roll flavored with jam is commonly served together with café con leche. However, it’s not rare to see toast together with butter, cheese, or ham. I like food in Spanish restaurants, but eating them at a Spanish home is a different experience! At home, a lot of families enjoy eating magdalenas. These are a sweet round-shaped cracker that looks like a Ritz cracker. Another traditional food served for breakfast is churros. These are lightly fried long dough scattered with honey or sugar. Another common food for breakfast is known as torrijas, which are Spanish Bread Pudding covered with cinnamon and sugar or honey.

No matter what you eat for breakfast, it should keep you filled until noon when you will most likely be ended up to a local bar for a couple of glasses of wine and some tapas devouring your lunch in Spanish trip!

If you like the idea of having café con leche like a local, brew strong coffee and make sure to heat the milk before combining them.

Lunch in Spanish Culture

Expect to eat lunch in Spanish culture lunch between 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM. Serves as the main meal of the day, lunch or la comida is traditionally pretty bigger compared to dinner meal or cena. Usually, lunch foods in Spanish culture come with different courses. The lighter part of the meal is the first meal, which normally consists of a bowl of soup or salad, while the second course is usually meat or fish dish. The last course is the dessert which can be a simple piece of fruit or sweet pastry.

Lunch is usually accompanied by wine. For a three course meal, you may expect to pay between €20 and €50 depending on where in the country you are. In the oldest restaurant in Madrid, which is Sobrino de Botín, the average 3-course meal is €40.

La comida, the large midday meal in Spain has several courses. Menus are organized according to these courses and usually include 5 or 6 choices in each course. At home, traditionally Spaniards would not eat “fancy” dishes on a daily basis, but would still enjoy a soup or pasta dish, salad, a meat and/or a fish dish and a dessert, such as fruit and/or cheese. It is very common to eat a simple green salad with the meat or fish courses.

You’re still probably wondering what’s for lunch in Spanish culture, to give you a better overview of the courses you’d enjoy during la comida, here are some typical cuisine for every course:

Appetizers / Entrantes

Appetizers or entrantes may be a plate of cheese, cooked ham, or another of the smoked meats and cheeses that are commonly served in the country. However, even though we think of tapas as appetizers, they wouldn’t be considered as entrants.

Main Course / Plato Principal

Fish: For the main course, it is very common to have fish or shellfish like shrimp or clams accompanied by rice or sauce. The fish may come as baked or grilled. The spanish love their seafood and most Spanish restaurants always serve them fresh, regardless of how far away their place from the coast is.

Meat: Another star of the main course is meat. In this course, any of the types of meats can be eaten, like beef fillets, steak, pork loin, or roast lamb. When you are going to eat in Spanish restaurants that are a little fancier, it’s not surprising to see birds like quail on the menu.

Dessert / Postre

There’s always room for dessert, especially if it’s Spanish dessert! And the good thing is that you don't have to think hard what to eat in Spain for dessert; normally, you’ll be offered with fresh seasonal fruit, flan, ice cream cakes, or any sweet pastries. It is also common to be offered with espresso coffee.

There are a lot of reasons why Spanish cuisine is very popular all over the world. One of which is because it is extremely versatile. Spanish food comes in many flavors. For all food lovers out there, you will definitely enjoy any Spanish food there is. The ingredients of Spanish menus are truly difficult to resist. Olive oil is probably the most common ingredient of Spanish cuisine. It’s for the reason that majority of world’s total olive production comes from Spain. Tomato is another ingredient that seen in almost all Spanish dish menus. Just like the two ingredients mentioned earlier, garlic can’t also be missing in the menu.

Tapas for Snack

Tapas are popular snacks enjoyed in the evenings and during the weekends; it is a popular dish to nibble at while drinking, you can find it everywhere espescially in Barcelona. The menu may vary, but my personal favorite food in Spanish culture includes cuts of juicy Serrano ham, slices of cold tortilla, and meat fritters. Tapas commonly enjoyed with a glass of sangria, a bottled of San Miguel beer, or a cold Amontillado sherry.

Basically, tapas are a traditional Spanish snack or finger food, which is pretty common cuisine when you visit in Spain. From a little plate of green olives to a larger bowl of fried sardines, you will probably find tapas anywhere you look at while you are in Spain. When you find yourself in the northern part of Spain, you’ll notice that the most popular option is the pintxo or pincho. Normally, bigger than a tapa and served on a little piece of baguette, pincho, which means "spike" in Spanish, is a bite-size slice of heaven on a toothpick.

Dinner in Spanish Culture

While there are a lot of people who enjoy 3-course meals, the Spanish dinner or cena is usually a lot smaller compared to the noontime comida. Dinner foods in Spanish culture usually consist of something lighter such as salad, sandwich, or a variety of tapas. In Spain, they eat dinner quite later compared to the rest of the world. They usually enjoy their dinner between 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM.

If eaten at home, it is common for a Spanish dinner to consist of a salad, sausages, cheese, cured ham, or even slices of fruits and yogurt.

It is different for restaurants and bars, though. While there are some foods that you’ll almost never see on dinner menus like rice, pasta, rice, lamb, or lentils, Spanish restaurants offer a great range of dinner options. For example, eggs are a popular dinner food in the country. Maybe the kind of Spanish dinner table is the Spanish version of omelet or tortilla de patata, which is made from egg, onion, and potato. Other popular Spanish dishes you will find during dinnertime include cured meats such as cured sausage or Iberian ham, and croquetas.

Traditional Spanish dinners are normally a shared meal. If you are having a dinner in Spanish with a group of locals, expect for them to order a range of raciónes, or big plates that the group could share together. The rule of thumb is to order a ración per person. The waiter is going to set up it in the middle of the table and each person will dish a couple of spoonful or forkfuls onto their plate. This is a great way of eating, especially if you are terrible at deciding what to eat in Spain, more so for food you are not familiar with.

Drinks in Spanish Culture

Alcohols

You have to know that Spanish drinks aren’t as varied as the food counterpart. However, there are some mainly pleasant specialties. Like many countries in Europe, Spain likes drinking wine and the country is well-known for its different types of Sangria, which a sweet red wine that’s combined with different liquors, wines, and fresh fruits. Sangria recipes vary depending on who’s mixing it. If you are a wine-lover, you will be happy to book your flight to Spain. Furthermore, the prices of wine are considerably cheaper here compared to other countries in Europe.

But before you enjoy your drink, make sure that you are old enough to drink! But then again, this should not be a problem because the drinking age in Spain is quite younger compared to what it is in the rest of the world. Unlike in the US where the drinking age is 21, you can have an alcoholic drink in Spanish homes and restaurants by the age of 18. Although you can taste alcoholic drinks like wine at the age of 16 years old as long as you are guided by an adult. When buying an alcohol, on the other hand, you will only be allowed to buy them when you are 18 or above.

Always make a toast!

Each country has its own version of toasts, some of which are important before you are even allowed to enjoy your drink! Salud, which literally translated to ‘health’ in English, is a common toast. However, there might be a time or two where you need to participate in a longer toast. Pa arriba pa abajo pa centro pa dentro, is a common toast in Spain!

Non-Alcoholic Drinks

Spanish wines vary from region to region, but most of them share two similar traits: they’re delicious and affordable. When visiting and drinking in Spain, you have to keep in mind that Spanish drinks are normally a lot stronger compared to other countries’. Actually, a Spanish drink might about three times stronger when compared to a similar drink made in America.

What to eat in Spain is not the only think you must think about, as the drink selection in the country is equally massive. When it comes to non-alcoholic drinks, coffee and hot chocolate make up for the staple of drinks in Spain. These are relished every day by most Spaniards, including kids who usually drinking chilled coffee complemented by cream or ice cream. Hot chocolate and coffee are usually drunk for lunch and breakfast and are enjoyed together with churros, a pastry that’s similar to a fritter.

Spanish Dining Etiquette

Food and drink play a big part in every culture anywhere in the world and Spain is not an exception. So, when visiting Spain, it is very important to be familiar with dining etiquettes in order to avoid insulting another culture and being in an awkward situation.

Table Manners

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    Don’t start eating until the host says, “que aproveche!” or "buen provecho!"
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    Knives and forks are never switched in Spain. The knife is always in the right hand, while the fork is held the left. After eating the meal, the utensils are laid corresponding to each other throughout the right part of the plate. By putting both utensils down on the plate, you are giving the waiter a sign that you’re done and they can remove the plate from the table. By laying your silverware down on either side, you’re saying that you’re not done yet.
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    Bread is normally served without butter, so you won’t need a knife to enjoy your bread. There are generally going to be no bread dish. Bread is usually put on the edge of the table, next to your plate. Also, don’t dip your bread in the soup! While this might be a great way to enjoy both dishes, doing this is considered extremely rude and this is uncommon in the country.
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    When you are not holding any utensils, make sure that your hands are visible.
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    When passing food, make sure to pass the dishes to the left.
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    When eating salad, don’t cut the lettuce. You may want to fold it using your knife and fork into a small bundle which you can pick up using your fork.
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    When discussing business, depending on how strong your relationship is with your Spanish associates, meals are normally not the best time to make decisions related to business.
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    Like in many countries, the one who invites is the one to pay the bill. Although this is subjected to prior agreement – splitting the bill is quite common as well.
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    Tipping in Spain is a common practice. While leaving tip is not as big deal as it is in America, it’s still very polite and a great gesture to leave a tip to the waiter. Waiters in Spain are normally paid low salaries, so your gratuity will surely be appreciated. Most of the time, you can just round up the bill to the nearest euro. For instance, if the bill you are paying is €17.20, you can just leave €18. If you are planning to eat at the fancier place, then maybe leaving 10% tip would be more suitable.
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    When calling a waiter, you have to know that Spanish restaurants and bars usually have very few waiters. This means a single person may attend to over 10 tables at the same time. Waiters are going to remove your plates when you’re done, but will never give you your check unless you ask. Giving an unsolicited bill to the table is considered to be very rude in Spain. In their culture, a good waiter will not bother you until you call him to serve you. However, getting their attention can be a little bit tricky. If you would like to get the bill, you can catch their sight and call them over. Or if you’re like me, I go to them.

Useful Dining Phrases in Spanish

In order to immerse yourself fully with the country’s dining experience, why not learn some of the common dining phrase to make it more authentic? Here are useful phrases you can use when traveling to Spain.

English

Spanish

Lunch foods ​

​Comidas para el almuerzo

​I like food ​

​Me gusta la comida

​What’s for lunch? ​

​¿Qué hay de comer?

​What is your favorite food? ​

​¿Cuál es tu comida favorita?

​The food ​

​La comida

To eat lunch ​

​Comer el almuerzo

​Dinner foods ​

​Comida para la cena

If you’ve mastered all of these simple rules when you eat in Spanish homes or restaurants, then all you have to worry now is what to have for your next meal. The best method to learn is to observe and imitate how locals do it and don't be afraid to try things they do. Furthermore, even though not following these rules might lead to some cringe-worthy moments while you are having your favorite food in Spanish restaurants, they would understand that you are not yet familiar with how dining in Spain is done!

Hopefully, this article gives you a further idea what to eat in Spain and how you can enjoy the food in Spanish culture. Whether you are going to eat in Spanish homes or restaurants, make sure to follow the tips mentioned here. If there’s anything you want to add, may it be about how to eat lunch in Spanish, dinner in Spanish, drink in Spanish, how to eat in Spanish culture, or maybe tell us what is your favorite food in Spanish! Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below!

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Alice Ross, a long-term traveler who left the corporate world to travel the world. I chose to live life on my own phase and live day by day while immersing myself in new experiences, new knowledge, and new people in a different walk of life I met along the way.

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