May 2nd, 2012
Those taking a holiday in Spain can be a little bewildered when it comes to eating out in the country. What should they have for breakfast? When is lunch served? And why, oh why, do they have to wait so late to eat dinner. Or, for some, supper!
The whole what to and when to aspect to life in Spain. It takes some getting used to. Especially if you are in the country for only a short time.
So let us begin the day in Spain. But where? And what shall we have for breakfast?
Well, in winter for sure, it has to be Churros con Chocolate. Are they good for you? No, don’t be silly. Of course they are not. But, what the hell. You are on holiday.
You haven’t lived until you have dipped some sugary churros into some hot, calorific chocolate. This filling food warms the parts of the body that other food cannot reach. It is a Spanish speciality which you are unlikely to want in the height of summer. But, in winter, it is a joy. Sit in the winter sunshine in the morning and share some churros con chocolate.
So where? Take your pick. But, in my opinion, they always taste better in places where it is that bit cooler in winter. You feel the benefit more if the air is crisp. On days when you can see your own breath. So how about eating churros con chocolate in somewhere like Murcia. What a magnificent city centre and what an array of choice you have when it comes to sitting out and enjoying a warming breakfast.
Or in the great city of Granada. Sit outside a cafe and be warm inside and out while admiring the glorious vies of the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains. In Granada you will see the ladies wrapped up in their fur coats while dipping their churros into thick chocolate. It makes for an incongruous site.
Spain is obsessed with coffee. And breakfast will often consist of that and a tostada. A slice of baquette bread, toasted and served with a variety of toppings. Just olive oil. Or with some salt liberally spread on top. Or some tomato spread perhaps. Some people love the crunch of a nice tostada with their breakfast coffee.
How long does it take to drink one cup of coffee in Spain? As long as you like is the answer. You will not be rushed away from your seat at any Spanish cafe that I know. Indeed i have a Spanish friend who takes all morning over one cup of coffee and reads all the six free Spanish newspapers on offer. The cafe owner welcomes him daily and he does not mind that my friend, Luis, takes so long over a single cup of coffee costing just over one Euro.
Somehow drinking coffee is looked upon completely differently in Spain from how it is viewed in America or the United Kingdom.
Coffee is not just a morning thing in Spain. Coffee time can be, frankly, any time of the day. You may be surprised to find city centre cafes packed between 10.30 and 11am. This is the first break of the day for office workers. A tradition that shows no sign of abating. They have been at work since 8 or 8.30 am. This will not be the first coffee of the day. But it will be the last one before lunchtime.
There’s nothing better than eating lunch with a view of the beach. A traditional set lunch perhaps. A menú del dia that will include between two and four courses for a set price that can vary from as little as 8 euros up to 25 euros at the more plush venues. Though not as cheap as I remember it being when first living in Spain, there is no doubt that a Spanish set meal lunch is still one of the best bargains on offer in the country.
Lunch is traditionally served from 2.30pm and goes on for two hours or more. In the areas that are most popular with tourists, you may be able to eat after one or one thirty.
But if, after a few days of your holiday, you have decided that you are ready for some international cuisine, some locations are home to restaurants serving food from outside of Spain. The Iguana restaurant on the seafront at Playa Pozuelo near Almuñécar on the Costa Tropical benefits from the varied background of the owners.
The family run restaurant is owned by a Frenchman, Nicolas, and his grown up children who were brought up in France, Greece and Spain. Talented chef Dimitri turns his hand to Thai food, French cooking, dips into Greek meals and can cook a classic Spanish dish with aplomb.
He tells me: “In this recession more and more Spanish people are coming to the beach with their own pre-prepared food. They bring the dining table, the chairs, the knives and forks. Everything including the food. More and more any chef has to think beyond Spanish cooking.
“To serve the clients from all over the world who want to taste the kind of cooking they are used to when they travel elsewhere. The French cooking that you will taste in northern Spain, the Thai food i learned all about when in Thailand and the Greek food i grew up with. Lovely fresh salads coupled with some Greek dips and a serving of nice Pitta bread.
“The Spanish from southern Spain do not experiment with food but the Spanish holidaying along the Costa Tropical from their homes in Madrid, Barcelona or further north in the country do like to taste more international food. And, of course, the holidaymakers from northern Europe do appreciate more international food. I enjoy cooking Spanish food but I believe in variety and combining the best ingredients of the world to produce food people will savour.”
Kevin Richardson now runs The Avalon at Nerja after a successful time working in the delightful neighbouring town of La Herradura. Nerja is an ever popular international holiday destination that will see you spoiled for choice when it comes to where to eat and what to eat. The town has to cater for all tastes from all over the world.
There are many lovely holiday homes to rent in Nerja. You can find restaurants serving culinary delights from almost every continent. Nerja is international, but in a very nice way.
Kevin told me: “Being in Nerja I effectively have to cook for two different sets of customers. The tourists or residents from northern Europe, whose taste buds often want more spice, and the middle aged or elderly locals who want good but plain food. And they like it more if it contains more salt than is in the Mediterranean!”
I have always been amazed at how the Spanish love their Chinese food. From city to city i saw Chinese restaurants full to bursting at lunchtimes. So i went in. The food was bland to my tastes. Not nearly as tasty as you may expect when on holiday.
You can go to “all you can eat” type eateries in Spain if you wish. But there is no need to. If you choose well, you will not leave many Spanish restaurants still hungry. I once went to the popular El Tintero restaurant on the seafront at El Palo just outside the magnificent city of Malaga and made the mistake of ordering almost every freshly cooked fish presented in front of me.
The food was plentiful. The cost was cheap. At least to my pocket if not to my waistline.
Dinner is served late. If you go to a restaurant in most city centres in Spain as early as 9pm you will either find the establishment closed, or you will be eating alone. In Granada, for example, no locals would dream of going out for a formal dinner before 10pm.
But, whatever the time of day, you can eat simply and well in Spain. They don’t do sauces well in the south of the country, but fish cooked simply – sometimes in front of you on the beach – is a joy to experience. If you want fancier cooking, with nice sauces, go to the north of Spain.
I always urge people visiting Spain to try the food available in the country. Be daring. Try new tastes.
Eat Spain and savour every last morsel.