Spanish Mealtimes and Specialities

Understand how the Spanish cuisine fits in to the rhythms of the day, and find out about the most famous dishes of the country...

Spanish Mealtimes

Breakfast: A cup of strong black coffee and something sweet like a cookie or ensaimada, a yeasted sweet bread from Majorca, is the norm. A magdalena, a type of cupcake, has dunkability, while croissants have also found their way to the breakfast table.

Lunch: La comida remains the main meal of the Spanish day and rarely takes place before 14:00, or even later at weekends. Plan to be in it for the long haul with multiple courses: a typical lunch menu involves soup (vegetable or seafood), a fish or meat course, salad and dessert (pastry or fresh fruit), followed by coffee and perhaps even a brandy.

Evening meal: La cena is usually a lighter affair – think soup or tapas – and normally starts around 21:00, often stretching through until midnight.

Tapas Favourites

  • Boquerones fritos: Fried anchovies; the tiny ones are eaten whole
  • Escalivada: Marinated vegetable mix featuring aubergine and red pepper
  • Gambas: Prawns sautéed in the likes of garlic, peppercorn or chilli sauce
  • Champiñones al ajillo: Mushrooms fried in olive oil with garlic and parsley
  • Chorizo: The famous sausage served unadulterated in chunks or cooked slowly in wine (al vino)
  • Albóndigas con salsa de tomate: Meatballs in tomato sauce: a classic

Five Famous Spanish Cheeses

  • Cabrales: A blue veined stinker matured for up to half a year in the caves of the Picos de Europa. Careful, it's powerful. Has its own DO.
  • Mahón: Named after its hometown on Minorca, Mahón is a hard, salty cow's milk cheese that develops an orange rind after being rubbed with paprika.
  • Idiazábal: A smoky character from the Basque Country made, like most Spanish cheese, from sheep's milk.
  • Manchego: The "big cheese" of Spanish cheese, with its suggestion of salty piquancy, has a deserved DO. Often served marinated in olive oil as a tapas dish.
  • Afuega'l pitu: An Asturian DO cheese, fed with a little salt before being matured on wooden planks. The name derives from a tendency to glue itself to the roof of the mouth.

Feast Food

Christmas: The main meal is served for supper on Nochebuena, December 24th. Traditionalists dine on roast capon or turkey, stuffed with chestnuts in Galicia, apples in Asturias and a mixture of plums, raisins and pine nuts in Catalonia. Artichokes are served with a béchamel or almond sauce. Suckling pig is growing in popularity as an alternative. Turrón, the Andalusian nougat, is a Christmas favourite.

Epiphany: Children tuck into tortell de reis, the cake of kings. The ring-shaped cake contains a coin or a bean and the one who finds the prize gets to wears a crown for the day. In Valencia, children leave a tray with turrón, sugared almonds and sweet sherry to fortify the three Magi on their return journey to the East.

Easter: Roast suckling pig, kid and lamb are traditional. Catalonians tuck into doughnuts on Good Friday, followed by mona de Pasqua, a yeasted cake, on Easter Monday.

Food Festivals

  • La Festa do Chourizo de Vila de Cruces: Celebrating the humble chorizo sausage in Vila de Cruces, Galicia: February
  • Fiesta del Bollo: In honour of pastry, Avilés, Asturias: Easter Sunday and Monday
  • Feria de Tabaco y el Pimiento: It's all about tobacco and paprika in Jaraíz de La Vera, Extremadura: August
  • Fiesta del Pulpo: Eight legs are better than two at the octopus festival in Carballiño, Galicia: August
  • Las Jornadas del Olivar y Aceite: Olive and olive oil festival in Baena, Andalusia: November
  • Fiesta de la Castaña Pujerra: Andalusia says hoorah for the chestnut: November
Extract from Speak the Culture Spain, a Thorogood publication Speak the Culture series website / Buy online [si]Copyright © 2009 Thorogood Publishing[/si]