Spanish cuisine, manners, dining, restaurants
|A pricey menu in the
Plaza Mayor, featuring squid, anchovies, octopus, seafood
cocktail, sausages and croquettes.
Breakfast (desayuno) and
If you are living with a family in Spain, the dining customs
will depend on the family's habits, but pancakes with syrup
for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch,
frequent snacks and a steak and baked potato supper are things
you should not expect! Foods and mealtimes are different from
those in the United States, not only in Spain, but in many other
countries you may plan to visit. In Spain, breakfast (desayuno)
is a small meal: bread and marmalade, coffee, some cereal or
yogurt. If a big breakfast is your style, you can get eggs,
bacon and toast, for example, in many cafes and restaurants,
but you ought not expect your host family to provide it. Spanish
coffee is much stronger than American coffee and as with other
beverages in restaurants or cafes, there are no free refills.
If you are drinking your coffee in a cafe or restaurant, keep
in mind that prices are lowest at the bar, slightly higher if
you sit at a table and higher still if you sit at an outdoor
table. No wonder that you see the Spanish crowded around the
bars in the cafes!
display shows the menú del día or daily specials:
the first course (primer plato) is a choice of paella
valenciana (rice with seafood and perhaps sausage or
rabbit), gazpacho andaluz (chilled soup with a base
of almonds or tomatoes), tripe with garbanzo beans, mixed
salad or asparagus with mayonnaise.
course (segundo plato) is a choice of pork chop,
veal cutlet, grilled squid or eggs and sausage. Notice that
the price is higher if you eat on the terrace than in the
The midday meal (almuerzo)
The midday meal is usually taken in mid-afternoon, some time
between 2 and 4 o'clock. It is called almuerzo and is
a substantial meal that can include anything from a salad of
lettuce, legumes, pasta and seafood to soup, stew, fish or spaghetti.
Bottled salad dressings such as ranch or blue cheese are rare
in Spain; not only your host family but also restaurants will
probably offer you olive oil and vinegar to dress your own salad
to taste. You can purchase bottled American-style dressing in
the grocery store if you dislike olive oil and vinegar, but
it's a good idea to try to adapt to the local customs. Spanish
cuisine is closer to Italian than to Latin American cuisine.
Chili peppers and cornmeal tortillas are Latin American, not
Spanish, ingredients. A tortilla in Spain is a kind of omelet:
cooked potatoes are combined in a skillet with enough eggs to
hold them together to form a round cake. Legumes such as chickpeas
or white beans ("judías") are included frequently in
soups, casseroles and salads. It's uncommon to be served a roast
or steak, although of course you can find these American favorites
in restaurants, especially those that cater to tourists. Seafood
of all kinds is a favorite, often served in "whole" form: whole
cooked shrimp (including heads), octopus (including suckers),
squid served in a sauce made of its own ink, trout cooked and
served whole (including heads) are delicious if unusual for
American diners. You can often see whole hams hanging in restaurants
or bars, suspended by the trotters. The appearance of the food
is not as "sanitized" as it is in the US; you know you are eating
an animal. It is not unusual to eat rabbit or organ meats such
as liver or tripe. Don't be put out; try something new! You'll
probably like it and even if you don't, it won't kill you and
it's part of the experience.
Justine Zeiders, UNCG '09, samples some tasty octopus tentacles,
The daily special, the menú
If you are eating out, rather than with a host family, it's
a good idea to check out the "menú." This does not mean
"menu" in English: that word in Spanish is "carta." Rather,
the menú is a special combination of dishes offered that
day, usually including a choice of first course, a choice of
second course, a choice of beverage and a choice of dessert,
all for a set price. It's usually your best deal. The menú
is not offered in the evening, but only in the afternoon, because
that's usually the main meal of the day in Spain.
menú offers gazpacho andaluz, tomato with anchovies
or asparagus with mayonnaise as a choice of first course.
|For the second course
choose tail of the bull (think oxtail stew), homemade meatballs
or croquettes and includes a beverage, bread and either
dessert or coffee.
The choice of beverages is usually water (served bottled),
a soft drink, wine or beer. If you are used to drinking diet
soft drinks, you may have some difficulty in finding them in
Spain. Don't even try to find iced tea. Wine is either vino
blanco (white wine) or (red) vino tinto. It's important
to drink a lot of water, because Spain is much more arid than
Greensboro and it's quite easy to become dehydrated. You must
make an effort to drink water frequently with your meals and
Sandwiches or bocadillos
Sandwiches in Spain are also different than those to which
you may be accustomed: a sandwich in Spain is referred to as
a "bocadillo" or "mouthful," and usually not served as
a meal. If you are on the road, your host family may prepare
you a bocadillo if you will miss a meal at home, or you
may be able to buy one at a roadside cafe. A bocadillo
usually consists of a roll filled with ham or a potato-and-egg
tortilla or omelet, or it may feature some kind of fish, such
as smoked salmon.
The evening meal, the cena
The evening meal is called cena and is consumed much
later than the typical American supper. You ought not to expect
to eat supper (cenar) until 8:00 at the earliest, and
it's not unusual to eat at 9 or 10. This meal is similar to
almuerzo in the kinds of dishes you can expect.
You not only want to be safe in Spain, no doubt you also wish
to be courteous, so it's good to mind your manners. Table manners
are somewhat different in Spain. These are not hard and fast
rules, but it's good to be mindful of them.
- If you are eating with your host family, it's helpful to
observe their behavior.
- It's unacceptable to yawn or stretch in public, but especially
at the table.
- Spaniards find the American custom of sitting on your feet
or legs (with one leg bent under you on the chair) peculiar
and somewhat offensive; sit with your feet on the floor.
- It's courteous to respect your companions at table by keeping
your chair close to the table and your elbows close to your
sides. Spanish children practice their table manners by holding
books close to their sides while eating! If the books fall,
they're sticking their elbows out too far.
- Your two hands should be visible at all times and elbows
do not belong on the table. Most Spaniards eat with the knife
in the right hand and the fork in the left.
- If you have a cloth napkin, put it in your lap, but a paper
napkin can stay on the table.
- Use your napkin before drinking from your glass, so that
you don't leave food debris on the rim, and fold your napkin
discreetly so that the dirt is out of sight.
- Bread is usually placed on the table rather than a plate,
and is used as a kind of utensil to push food onto the fork,
although you would not do this in a fancy restaurant.
- If you're not finished eating but set down your fork and
knife, put them on the plate at an angle to each other (like
hands on a clock showing twenty past eight), but if you are
finished, put them on the plate parallel to each other and
the server will know it's time to remove it.
If it is your custom to say grace, pause and do so silently,
without making a big display of it or insisting that everyone
at the table join in. On the other hand, if it's the host family's
custom to give thanks, respect the ritual by sitting quietly
until it is over. It is not necessary to bless yourself (make
the sign of the cross) if you are not Catholic.
You have probably heard the term "tapas" and may associate
it with hors d'oeuvres or cocktail treats. The word actually
means "tops" or "covers" and was originally used for slices
of bread placed atop glasses of wine or beer (copa) to keep
out breeze-borne debris or flying insects. Eventually tapas
became more elaborate with the addition of a bit of fish, a
slice of ham or cheese, a few olives. If you go out to a bar
or cafe at midday or in the evening, you will probably be served
some simple tapas with your beverage. You can also order tapas
of various kinds. Be sure to check prices before accepting or
ordering tapas! Especially if you are speaking English and it
is obvious that you are an inexperienced tourist, an unscrupulous
establishment may take advantage of you and serve you something
outrageously expensive. This is something that can even happen
to native Spaniards, so it's important to be very clear about
what's "included" with your drink and what you'll have to pay
for, as well as how much it costs.
Tapas: el profesor Lagos disfruta de la compañia
de su sobrina y unos estudiantes.
Comen tortilla, aceitunas, pan y embutido.
Eating in a restaurant in Spain is similar to eating out at
home, but there are a few important differences. You are probably
accustomed to getting water and bread and butter for free, or
to having a salad included with your meal, but you should not
expect that in Spain. Some restaurants may provide these things
but usually there is a charge; always check with your server
to be sure. There are no free refills on beverages. Often there
is a price difference depending on whether you order your food
at the bar, at an indoor table or at a sidewalk table. The bar
is the least expensive and the sidewalk table the most expensive.
Sitting at a sidewalk table is often a good idea if you are
bothered by smoke because no-smoking zones in restaurants are
unavailable or useless; they're right next to the smoking zone
with no barrier between them! It can be quite relaxing to sit
at a table in a sidewalk café and sip your drink as you watch
the world pass by or chat with your friends. The server will
not hover over you and try to get you to move on. On the other
hand, if you want attention, you'll have to ask for it by waving
at the server or calling him or her over.
Tipping is not necessary in a café or bar and usually not even
in a restaurant when ordering the menú. Tipping under these
circumstances shows you are a tourist and reveals your ignorance
of local customs. If you are eating an expensive meal in a fancy
restaurant, it's normal to round up your bill to the next euro
or so or leave the change from your bills on the table, but
here too, it's not necessary to tip as you would in an American
Beware of thieves
Keep track of your purse and belongings in restaurants, cafes
and discos. It's not a bad idea to keep one of the straps around
your ankle when setting your purse down between your feet, especially
in a sidewalk cafe. Never drape your purse-strap over the back
of your chair; that's an invitation to thieves. Be careful of
people bumping or stumbling into you or your chair "by accident."
Don't leave your things unattended when you go to the washroom
or onto the dance-floor. Ask a friend (that is, someone you
knew before you got to the disco) to take charge of your things
or keep them with you. This advice is not meant to alarm you;
these are common-sense measures that you ought to keep in mind
wherever you travel, not just in Spain but anywhere else as
Advice from UNCG students in the
Summer in Spain 2007 program
Students in the 2007 program offered the following advice
on eating at home, eating out and Spanish food in general.
The number in parentheses indicates how many students offered
that piece of advice.
- You may not like the food, so you may want to bring some
from home (comfort food, a brand of granola bars or energy
bars you really like, for example). (3)
- At least try the food regardless of how it looks -- you
only live once! (2)
- Just try new things. (2)
- Even though your meals at the señora's are paid for, you
should go to the restaurant once in a while for a change of
pace and for the experience. (2)
- The food your señora gives you is an important part of
getting to know the culture and she's trying to please you,
so be sure to at least try it, even if it looks unfamiliar.
- The eating schedule is very different: meals are much later
and the main meal is around 3 or 4 o'clock.
- Eat at home and buy fruit for snacks between meals.
- Hope you like ham, kiddos . . .
- Plan to spend some money on food, especially McDonald's,
because the señora's cooking gets old, and the eating schedule
is so different: sometimes you won't eat lunch until almost
- You might not like the bag lunch you get for excursions,
so take the opportunity to eat out. Be prepared with some
- The food is very different and you may love the change or
have a hard time with it.
- Food is heavier and higher in fat; portions are smaller
than American food.
- If you use artificial sweetener, you can buy saccharin tablets
in Spain, but if you prefer Equal or Splenda, bring it with
- Be sure to sample some Spanish restaurants and if you've
got a craving, go to an American restaurant--it'll still be
a different experience than in the States.
- Going out to eat is good because you have the experience
of ordering in Spanish and that's very helpful.
- Turkish restaurants like Döner Kebap are cheap.
- The Museo de Jamón (Ham Museum) near the Plaza Mayor
was great! You must try the ham, cheese and bread tapas!
- Remember the menú is the meal of the day and the
carta is the menu.
- It's not necessary to tip in a bar or café or when ordering
a small meal, for example, the menú del día. When eating
in a fancy restaurant, leave the change from your bills but
it's not necessary to tip as in the US. Only tourists tip,
especially the Americans, but they do it because they don't
know any better.