The Many Mealtimes of Spain

Though I have avidly travelled around Europe for the last 20 years, I have always been apprehensive about Spain. This has nothing to do with the culture, which is wonderful, or the Spanish people, who in my experience are absolutely wonderful. As one of the warmer counties in Europe, Spain is the place I fear I might run into a tarantula. And then there’s the mealtimes.

As I thought I knew, Spain has legendarily late mealtimes. Pictures I have had in my head concern a table of very good looking dark-haired people speaking the gibberish language that makes for Spanish in my head. They are sitting around what I thought tapas were and they are casually ignoring the clock on the wall, which says 11 pm.  

I have nothing against eating late – I used to be a major advocate of the midnight snack. In college the hours between 11 pm and 3 am were prime feeding hours. Amazingly, this is where my weight issues began.

However, it’s in my forties that eating after 8 pm leads to stomach issues and heartburn that could light up Newark. Nevertheless, upon buying a ticket to Barcelona for the weekend, I had to face my fears of mealtimes.

My mood was lightened when a little research told me that there were five mealtimes. Any place that has five mealtimes can’t b a bad place. I decide that Sunday will be my day to observe all five mealtimes of the Spanish.

Desayuno 7:00-9:00

This evidently should be a sweet snack. I opt for the churro with chocolate dipping sauce and a Viennese coffee (with whipped cream – go big or go home). I cry.

Almuerzo 10:30-12:00

This should be a salty snack to follow up the sweet breakfast, sort of like a reverse dessert. I go for an Iberian ham sandwich and a cup of Viennese coffee (if it ain’t broke…). I become drunk on joy and ham.

Comida 14:00-16:00

At lunch, I decide to get actually drunk on booze. I get a pitcher of sangria and wash it down with tapas, or, as I have begun to refer to it, my reason for living. Tapas are whatever you want them to be as long as they come on small plates and you share them with someone nearby. Today’s are fried artichokes, fried cod fritters, and ham croquettes. Ham croquettes taste like cream chipped beef fried in breading and if I don’t have them every day for the rest of my life, I will lose my shit.  

Merienda 17:30-19:00

This meal is meant to tide you over until dinner. It’s usually a sweet or a pastry, but a sandwich is also OK. Today it’s paella and shrimp with a liter of sangria. I chase this down with a shot, more like two shots, actually way more vermouth that one should drink. In Spain they drink it on ice and cut it with an orange slice. The end of merienda is a bit fuzzy, but I am bolstered by the fact that I’ll be able to eat in another 2 hours.

Cena 20:30-22:30

This is dinner. For dinner, I decide to get a burger. The waiter all but forces me to get a beer by pointing to a drinks menu. I have two before having two more.

I crawl into bed by 11:45 (I think). What have I learned? I learn that I love Spain. I adore a culture that makes sure there are only 90 minutes in a day (2 maximum) before you get to eat again. I have pledged my blurry allegiance to sangria, Spanish vermouth and wine, light beer, and chasing it up with tapas. I could live here. Ole.

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