A Different Schedule
It just occurred to me that not everyone knows about the Spanish eating schedule, which I find completely wonderful in every way. So I will share.
Spaniards eat a light breakfast–and this is discounting adjustments made because of work or school schedules–around 10:30 or 11:00. This usually consists of coffee with toast, cereal, or a small pastry.
Then lunch, which in Spain is referred to as la comida, “the meal,” takes place around 2:30 or 3:00. If you ever eat lunch with an old-fashioned señora, you will understand why it’s called “the meal.” Lunch traditionally consists of two courses: first, a legume or vegetable, which is often flavored with a small amount of meat. If a vegetable is served as a first course, it will almost certainly be served as a puree. Spaniards love their purees, which I think comes from a mixture of convenience (if you puree your vegetables, you can toss in whatever you have lying around) and their tendency to use bread to wipe food from their plate. (You can’t swipe broccoli florets, but you can definitely swipe puree. I’ve done it, it’s delicious.) After intaking an impressive amount of puree, you will be served the second course: meat, fish, chicken, or eggs in one of their various possible forms. Salad–plain lettuce or tomato with olive oil and vinegar–is sometimes served on the side, as well. And finally, dessert, which more often than not comes in fruit form. Thankfully, they don’t puree fruit, but they do peel it before eating it. Not just bananas, either: plums, peaches, even oranges are always peeled with a knife at the table. [Sidenote: peeling oranges with a knife is brilliant. You don’t get orange peel under your fingernails, and it goes about twice as fast. Why didn’t I think of that?]
Whew. You’re probably full just thinking about “the meal.” Enter the next brilliant Spanish cultural difference: siesta. Businesses close down–which means you can’t go back to work just yet–and you’re expected to sit down and have a coffee or tea; even if you don’t take a nap, siesta is seen as a time to relax your mind and re-energize for the rest of the day. Coincidentally or not, siesta also gives you some time to let all that food settle, which I, for one, appreciate.
Then sometime between 5 and 7, you can have a merienda, which is an optional in-between meal. A typical children’s merienda consists of milk or Cola-Cao (Spanish Nesquik) and a few cookies. I like to take advantage of merienda to have another tea, since I just can’t get enough.
And finally, dinner. Don’t even think about eating dinner before 9:00. In the summertime, Spaniards sometimes sup as late as 11:00. Regardless of the hour, dinner is basically a scaled-down lunch; at home, my señora and I tended to eat leftovers from one of the courses at lunch or a piece of bread with queso fresco (similar to fresh mozzarella) and a slice of turkey. Basically, dinner is always a light meal; it’s just enough food to satisfy your hunger, but not so much food that you’re still full when you go to bed. Perfect.
Having enjoyed this schedule during my last stay in Spain, I was looking forward to getting back to it, but working in a Spanish school means I’ll have to tweak my meals a bit; luckily, during the student recess, they give the teachers and staff a break with free coffee, tea, fruit and pastries from 12-12:30. When you have to get up at the crack of dawn to get to school by 9, you’re certainly grateful for the 12:00 pick-me-up. The best part? The adults bring in birthday treats (another reason I love elementary school teachers), so I’m already planning what to bake for my birthday come November. They won’t know what hit ’em.
In sum, the Spanish eating schedule is really wonderful. I really enjoy eating the largest meal around 3:00 rather than 6:00, since it feels like you have more time to burn it off. It’s incredibly helpful to have a few minutes to relax in the middle of the day, even if it’s just 15 minutes to close your eyes and rest your mind. They also place a lot of importance in eating meals with your family, which I think is great. Even when I had both morning and afternoon classes, I made a point of going home to eat with my señora and her son at 3:00. We always appreciated one other’s company, and I think that you also enjoy food more when you share it with others. That’s why I’m sharing with you! If you come to Spain, do yourself a favor and try the Spanish eating schedule. I’m sure you’ll like it as much as I do.