Eating is not a side activity for the Spaniards, but an essential, the main activity. Everything else is planned around it.
Food deserves attention. And if you don’t give it the proper attention, you can be punished for it. I happened to me when I was eating a Vegetal Atún sandwich in my car during my second week in Barcelona. I stood at the traffic light and a police officer knocked on my window. He asked me to open the window and explain to him what I was doing. Eating, even drinking water, is prohibited in the car and will result in a fine of 200 euros! It can also cost points from your driver’s license. I nodded kindly, luckily came off unscathed and quickly crumbled away my sandwich.
On the way to the office I thought about this. Couldn’t I just have eaten that sandwich at home, at the office or somewhere on the side of the road? Why am I struggling with a cup of tea that overflows with every bump? I decided to just take my time the next time.
Authentic food spots
A number of times I have experienced that a person did not want to pay for their food, or at least they wanted to pay less. For that reason, bad and dirty restaurants simply don’t make it. You can’t fool around with beautiful plates which taste like sh*t. Spanish food is simple, but good. And so the ugliest, non-hipster (a.k.a. no cactus, chalkboard and filament lamps) restaurants can do very well. We know how to recognize the best authentic restaurants. Do you see a restaurant with horrible lighting, multiple TV’s and a group of men at the bar? I’m sure the food here is top notch!
The moment of the day
A three course warm and big lunch. It’s the most beautiful moment of the day. The Spaniards are dining for hours. There is a lot of fresh and warm food. This makes dinner less important. A sandwich, crepe or a couple of tapas is sufficient. It feels much healthier to go to bed with some space left over in your stomach. Food also feels less forced. For us, it looks like the Spaniards have less structures and just eat what they crave. Dining with a chocolate crepe? Why not?! We love it.
Menu del dia
Price and quality must be right. You won’t get away with a cup of mint tea for € 3,50 like in Amsterdam. Tea remains hot water and coffee a necessity. For that reason you will get a cup of coffee or a typical cortage on average for €1,10. Accessible for everyone.
Also the “Menu del dia” costs between 9 and 15 euros. Traditionally, the menu of the day was intended for employees who couldn’t make it home for lunch in time. Oddly enough, Franco is thanked for this creation. He had designed a fixed price tourist menu in 1964 and replaced it with the “menu of the day” in 1970 to showcase Spanish regional cuisine. Today it still fits the original goal – a nourishing and complete three-course meal with good value for money. Even if you don’t see the fixed price menu board outside a restaurant, it’s always worth asking the staff if they offer a ‘menu del dia’.
Eating slow (so not in the car), being critical about food and making it important (even during work), having a big and hot lunch, being able to eat out cheaply and being less attached to eating patterns maybe also creates a feeling of happiness.