Full meals are incredibly important, for health and for cultivating the total traveling experience! Here are some guidelines for what you might come across while eating in Spain!
At a real Spanish house, breakfast would be a sit down meal full of breads, meats, and cheese. There’s often some flavor of homemade jam or whole fruit. The meal is washed down by café au lêche and orange juice. Realistically though, travelers rarely have time for a sit down breakfast. If you’re staying somewhere for multiple days that has a fridge, I often opt for a simple bowl of cereal purchased from a supermarket. If not, or if you just want something to satisfy a sweet tooth, I found that the 1-2 euro chocolate filled pastry or croissant purchased from a local café would satisfy the need for breakfast. Churros (doughnut- like bread sticks) dipped into café or the liquid chocolate they consider hot cocoa also serve as a great way to start a day.
Spaniards eat around 2pm, and many restaurants will be closed around the traditional noon American lunch time. However, if you’re not looking for a sit down meal, many pastry shops will be open to serve you a variety of filled pastries called empanadas. They can be filled with anything from ground meats and beans to simple cheeses. Madrid’s stores also offer the famous “bocadillos,” or sandwiches made on a long crunchy bun of Italian bread. Many of these are simply filled with cheese and a meat, but If you do choose to wait until after the noon siesta, most dinner dishes are offered as lunch as well. While each region of Spain will have specialty dishes, most will also have similar dishes to American meals – pasta dishes, soups, and meat dishes. While the picky eater in the family won’t find a hamburger every night, they won’t starve.
European dinners tend to be much later in the evening than American dinners. While the exact time differs by country, I found Spain’s restaurants and tapas bars to be running by about 9pm. Tapas bars serve drinks, but every drink purchase is accompanied by a small appetizer. These range from olives to croquettes (a fried potato mixture), and depending on how long you stay at the bar or how many drinks you order, one can create a meal out of tapas. Alternatively, many tapas bars also serve these tapas without drinks for a separate fee. This way, a family could feasibly find dinner at a tapas bar. Restaurants also exist, and many guide books outline their favorites. While most are not overwhelming, they will probably be more expensive and upscale than a tapas bar.