Nina Eggens

Our roving Spanish lifestyle blogger Nina Eggens is originally from the Netherlands. After a stint in Scotland, she now lives in Valencia with her family, and provides regular tips and advice for overseas buyers thinking of making the move to Spain.

Eating out all day: the five most important Spanish meals

by Nina Eggens

“Do you know how often Spanish people eat per day? No? Five times.” In addition to my work as a writer and translator, I occasionally work as a cycling tour guide in Valencia and I always ask tourists this question when I show them around. ” Five times?! “They answer standard in disbelief. Yes, and isn’t it fantastic? One of the nicest things of living in Spain is the food. Affordable, delicious and healthy. No wonder the Spanish take their mealtimes very seriously.

I admire the Spanish for the great importance they give to their meals. Have you ever been stared at in Spain while munching on a sandwich on the street? Exactly. Nobody here does that. When I used to live in Scotland, I ate countless ready-made packaged sandwiches during my lunch break. There I was again queueing at M&S to pay for my Meal Deal: a cold sandwich from the fridge, a bottled drink and a bag of crisps or chocolate bar for after. Sounds familiar? I ate it outside, or more often just behind my desk. Just like the rest of my colleagues. Plastic waste in the bin. Every single day. What a sad state of affairs!

Enjoy a beer with your almuerzo

 The Spanish do things differently. What are those five holy Spanish mealtimes? They start the day with a small desayuno, which consists of a cup of coffee and a croissant or a little toast for breakfast, usually eaten at home. Children mostly have a few ‘galletas’, thin biscuits that they dip into a glass of milk. It gets more serious at 10.30am. Almuerzo. Terraces fill up, workmen gather at the bar of a cafeteria. It’s buzzing, they are hungry! Tortilla, chorizo, ensalada rusa (a kind of potato salad), bocadillos with cheese and jamon, “tostada con tomate”, croquetas … the displays on the bar are filled with tapas mid-morning, all freshly prepared on site. And let’s just wash it away with a glass of beer or wine, shall we? Yes, you read that right.

Menu del dia, the wonderful inexpensive three-course lunch

A few hours later, somewhere between 2pm and 3pm in the afternoon, it is time for la comida. Lunch. Restaurants open, but stores close, and it’s siesta time until around 5pm for retailers, banks, and other offices. Most office workers return earlier. Yes, people do work in this country, believe it or not, many people don’t finish work until 7 or 8pm. And no, they don’t go to sleep during siesta. Maybe when you’re eighty. People go home to cook their lunch or meet colleagues outside on the terrace of a restaurant. Usually for three courses. On weekdays you can enjoy a three-course Menu del dia in many places for around 10, consisting of a starter, main course, coffee or dessert and a drink. An ideal way to eat out during daytime for very little money.

Carbs are for Comida

 After a few hours of work or school (children also get a 3-course meal during lunch!), it’s time for number four on the list of Spanish mealtimes. This small meal, or rather snack time, is also taken rather seriously and happens around 5pm when the schools are out. Merienda. “Quieres merender?” you often hear mothers ask their children when they run out of the classroom tired and hungry. No child ever refuses, because merienda includes bread, cookies, chocolate milk and fruit, the stuff children could live on. Most adults just drink a cup of coffee, with or without a snack, around this time.

Around 9 pm the last meal of the day takes place: la Cena. Supper. “Wow”, the impressed tourists usually cry out by now as I arrive at meal number five. But cena is usually a modest supper. No plates full of potatoes, rice or pasta. After all, you have already eaten that 3-course meal, right? And to start behaving like a real Spaniard, here’s a top tip: you don’t order paella in the evening but only for lunch. Didn’t know that yet? Now you do.

Spanish people either eat or they talk about eating

 As my Spanish is improving day by day, I am starting to pick up random conversations on the street. I kid you not, it’s always about food. “That’s right,” a Spanish friend recently confirmed to me with passion, while we were out for a walk. “The main purpose of going somewhere is to eat together. Whether you go for a hike, go to the beach or have something to celebrate, you must eat. Meeting up with friends? Find a good restaurant! ”I asked my slim friend why not all Spanish people are incredibly obese because of all that food.” It’s not about the quantities”, she said,” I never have huge plates full, but I love to eat. It’s about tasting different things and appreciating the flavours. And about the social aspect of course.”

I sometimes wonder what makes Spain such a pleasant and relaxed country to live in. Apart from politics and bureaucracy – you can’t really get away from it anywhere – it is quite obvious that Spanish people know how to enjoy life. The climate certainly helps. Sunshine gets everyone outside all year round and this makes it much easier to socialise. In the fresh air, getting together on the terrace for a natter and enjoying good food and drinks. Spanish mealtimes may take you a while to get used to, it is difficult to maintain your old eating schedule. But it’s wonderful, as long as you go with it. “Tranquila, no pasa nada” is a great expression and is used all the time in Spanish. “Relax, everything is OK,” don’t take life too seriously. And have a good glass of wine with it.

Nina Eggens

Our roving Spanish lifestyle blogger Nina Eggens is originally from the Netherlands. After a stint in Scotland, she now lives in Valencia with her family, and provides regular tips and advice for overseas buyers thinking of making the move to Spain.

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