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Food in Spain

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What do people eat in Spain?

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..it’s Dinner Time. Dinner in Spain is served late. Not just late by UK and US standards. Late by anyone standards. Or at least anyone who eats dinner before 10pm. Maybe it is due to waiting for the heat of the day to subside and the appetite to return with the coolness of the evening but many restaurants don’t even open until 9pm.

Instead, from 7pm until then, people crowd into the bars and cafes for tapas. Traditionally served with a glass of wine or sherry, these little snacks pack plenty of flavor (and salt) into a tiny package designed to whet the appetite and encourage you to buy more drinks. You can, however, turn this to your advantage by keeping an eye out for bars advertising free tapas and having the willpower to limit your drinks to one.

Beware the Paellador

This national dish of Spain is truly a hit or miss affair. Made freshly with quality ingredients it’s an amazing experience. However, especially in areas heavy with tourist cafes and restaurants, owners sometimes seek to lure in unsuspecting foreigners by offering what appears to be a dazzling array of paellas. These mass produced monstrosities are supplied by large catering firms and reheated on the premises. It would probably be a more satisfying paella experience if you threw out the food and ate the plastic container it was distributed it.

If you want to try paella, you’ll probably end up at a restaurant. Even if it was cheaper to make yourself, and that isn’t necessarily the case with as many ingredients as you need, it’s far too complicated to try and cook on the go. When money is tight, choose your restaurant carefully. Go where the locals go and that is easy to determine. If there are people sitting in a restaurant before 10pm, they aren’t locals.

Make sure to check the specials board before ordering as well. It is common for there to be more than one flavour of paella served or at least for the establishment to have almost a “paella of the day” up. Recipes vary greatly and this may or may not be something you like as we found out to my husband’s dismay when it turned out the paella we had been eating was Paella Escargot. Yep. Snails.

Fried Rice, the Other Paella

It’s not hard to find ethnic restaurants around the globe far from their indigenous countries but Chinese cuisine seems to be particularly popular and Chinese restaurants can pop up in some rather strange places, but for one reason or another, Chinese food in Spain seems to be incredibly cheap, and especially in tourist destinations, easy to find. If you’re craving a meal out and short on cash, consider stopping through one of them for one of the special meal deals that seem to abound. It will probably include soup or a spring roll, main course and rice for a rock bottom price. If nothing else the dish will most likely be chalk full of vegetables, and unlike some paellas, freshly prepared. After all, filled with meat and vegetables, isn’t fried rice just the Chinese version of paella anyhow?

Eating as a Vegetarian in Spain

Rice and seafood soup - A Spanish vegetarian meal

Vegetarian? Of course it’s Vegetarian!

I don’t think anything in the world could make me appreciate the food in the UK quite as much as being a vegetarian in Spain. Not only are fish and shellfish in most Spaniards eyes perfectly acceptable as examples of “vegetarian” food, I once had a flight attendant try to convince me that the sandwich she had just served me was not a mistake as it was “only turkey.” To be honest, I think the only thing everyone can agree that is not vegetarian in Spain is beef.

From this I think you have probably already guessed that cuisine in Spain is decidedly meat based which is a shame really. The climate in Spain being what it is makes the vegetable dishes there wonderful! Well, by vegetable I mean vegetable based. They usually include some sort of bacon or sausage for seasoning. If you are a vegetarian, don’t despair though. There is the old standby of the “sandwich vegetal” which is usually made up of tomato, asparagus and mayonnaise on toasted bread. It’s lovely though I’m not sure I’ll be able to face another one in this lifetime after how many I have eaten over the years. Still, it’s safe.

For vegans your best bet is to hit the shops. Fruit and on the go salads will probably end up being your main diet but watch out for anything pre-packaged. It’s not unusual for things like bacon or anchovies to be added into salads unmentioned on the main label as they can be considered unimportant. Read the ingredients listing carefully!

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Filed under: Europe, Food, Spain

About the Author:

Cindy is an ex-pat American who lives in the UK with her charming English husband, overly clever toddler and pudgy cat. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, crocheting, creative writing and might even one day pick up a few miscellaneous hobbies that don’t start with the letter C. When not in the kitchen or at the computer you can probably find her dressed in velvet, wandering castles and dreaming of days gone by. Visit her blog at Medieval Moods, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. has written 12 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.