One of the cultural differences I have found most interesting in Spain involves eating and drinking. Here are some steps you can take to eat your way through Spain like a true Spaniard:
Usually consumed from around 7am to 9pm, breakfast consists of a shot of espresso and some kind of pastry. A croissant is a very viable option, and you can find regular, chocolate filled or cream filled ones almost anywhere. Before coming here I wrongly assumed croissants were more of an Italian thing, but I have had my fair share of them for breakfast here. Another popular option is “chocolate con churros”, which are deep fried churros that come with thick rich chocolate to dip in. Yes, for breakfast! This will be your smallest meal of the day.
Brunch… kind of. (almuerzo)
A few hours after your itsy bitsy breakfast comes snack time (around 10:30am to 11:30am). You may choose to have another pastry or small sandwich along with another coffee. This is also a time when many Spaniards take a smoke break.
Occurring from 1:30 to 2:30, this should be your heaviest meal of the day, because you’re going to have to wait a while before your next one. So yes, eat all the courses served to you (at many places you get a first plate, second plate and sometimes even dessert). I suggest trying paella, an extremely well known and popular dish in Spain. You can choose to have paella with rabbit, chicken, sausage or seafood. Its served in a huge dish for everyone to share.
Another snack time (merienda)
Around 5pm you get to have a well deserved snack as you’ve been so strong in holding out for dinner. Be proud and enjoy some bread, a pastry or a cookie.
Finally time for dinner… at 9pm at the earliest, although it is more common to eat closer to 10pm. La cena is usually a light meal, unlike heavy American dinners. Dishes with seafood or eggs are very common for dinner. Because dinner here is so light, “tapas”, which are small plates of appetizers often shared by the entire table, are extremely popular. As my friends and I found out the hard way after trying to find tapas at 8pm, the restaurants won’t even open until 9pm or 10pm at the earliest. The tapas bars are worth waiting for though, many have outdoor patios, and you can sit outside and enjoy food with your friends.
So far I have adjusted to the widely available fresh seafood very well, but I am still trying to get used to eating dinner so late. And although I love espresso and croissants, I’m really missing big American breakfasts! However, if you decide to go to Spain, now you will be prepared for the very different (and late!) eating habits here.