I’ve been to Spain before, as a tourist. Once during a business conference where the organizers tried to accommodate a normal eating and drinking routine. One that is conducive to getting work done, but enjoying the local customs as well. At least that is what I thought at the time. After all, dinners were set at 8pm, which is kind of late by North American standards.
Now that I am living in Barcelona and trying to fit in like a local, the times of the day for eating are proving challenging. If we try to live in a vacuum, here in the apartment, we can do whatever we want, but we want to fit in. Eating at the appropriate hour of the day is as important as adjusting to local time after a long haul flight. It is what people do. Otherwise, we will not find what we expect at the time we are looking for it!
For example, we went out last night, a total of 3 times in order to take in the start of the La Mercè 2017 festival, near where we are living at Port Vell. First time was at 6pm and we could see the stage was set up, with food trucks parked, but shut up tight. Next time was 8pm, at dusk. The food trucks were starting to cook, there was a lot of sound checking going on, but nobody was there yet. Finally at 10pm, we heard the start of the band, so we headed out once more. This time there were people watching the band, but not as many as I thought. The food trucks were serving, along with the beer kiosk, but nothing was very busy. I wondered, as we left, if this was just the first band, of many for the evening? As we tried to get ready for bed around midnight, we heard the next band starting up.
All that makes way more sense when you think of what is culturally appropriate here in Spain. Sleeping, eating and working times are far different from what I am used to in Canada. Let’s start with an overview of eating:
- Desayuno, (breakfast) from 7am to 9am
- Almuerzo, (mid-morning snack) from 10:30am to 11am
- La Comida, (lunch) from 2pm to 3:30pm
- Merienda, (mid-afternoon snack) from 5:30pm to 7:30pm
- La Hora Del Aperitivo, (tapas hour) from 8:30pm to 10pm
- La Cena, (dinner) from 9pm to 11pm
One cannot really make a conversion from English to Spanish here. For what is eaten at these different times of day dictates the opening of restaurants and what they will have on offer. For example, if you are hungry for a big dinner at 9pm, you will get a tapas menu and be shocked at the portion sizes. You might leave the table hungry in that case. If you are expecting a big meal at 8am with eggs, bacon, and hash browns, it might only be found at a hotel, catering to tourists. That is not what the locals eat at that hour. Coffee with cream, a sweet pastry with chocolate or dipped in chocolate and even cava is not unheard of in the breakfast time slot, here in Barcelona. How cool is that?
So how do the Spaniards stay so slim and eat 6 meals a day? To start, they don’t eat as much at any one sitting as I am used to. They also do not necessarily eat at every one of these 6 intervals. Desayuno at 9am, La Comida at 2pm and La Cena at 9pm, with some snacks slipped in at tapas hour, might be a typical working day. But each family will build a routine which works for them. We can tell, based on what we smell cooking in our apartment block at various times of the day. It was quite a shock to smell fish cooking at breakfast time. And it is very hard to sleep with roasting meat smells at 11pm.
What is very interesting for us, is to understand that the main meal is taken here between 2pm and 4pm. I tried that on my family today with Spanish rice, garlic shrimps, tomato bread, salad, and a spinach omelette. It was viewed with a great deal of suspicion to be eating so much at 1:30pm in the afternoon. I warned that all I would be serving later were tapas. Then a light sandwich around the time of the festival fireworks at 10pm. They all looked at me like I was a little crazy and was trying to force something strange on to them. Maybe I am.
When in Spain, live like a Spaniard. At least that is how the saying goes. But, why not? It is not like we are going home anytime soon. Next stop is Bangkok, where our internal time clocks are going to get messed up once again. Once we get sorted around there, the food culture will be really different, again. Even more so. We will deal with that one when the time comes.
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