When in Spain: How to eat like a local

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GettyUnlike in the UK, children are usually very welcome in Spanish restaurants

So, if you’re thinking of visiting Spain and want to eat like the locals, these guidelines will give you a little flavour of what to expect.

Meal times – dining in the dark

One of the things that many Brits find hardest to get used to is the fact that Spaniards love to eat late at night. Whereas in the UK many of us eat dinner at six or seven o’clock, in Spain you’ll be lucky to find anywhere open before eight PM. Indeed, the rule in Spain seems to be “the later the better” with many families arriving at restaurants between 10 and 11pm.

In the south at least, there’s a very good reason for this: the fierce heat of the day has subsided, making al fresco dining more pleasant.

Another reason may be that lunch, which is often the main meal of the day, also tends to be a lengthy affair and people just need some time to digest their food.

But with three hour “lunch breaks” who could blame them?

And don’t expect to eat quickly – anything less than a couple of hours for dinner is considered rushed by Spanish standards.

One of the things that many Brits find hardest to get used to is the fact that Spaniards love to eat late at night

Jason Heppenstall

Food and regional variations 

Everyone knows about Spanish favourites such as paella, gazpacho and tortilla, but did you know that these are just the tip of the culinary iceberg?

Most traditional food in Spain is cooked fresh and features a dizzying variety of meats, vegetables and seafood.

Jamon serrano (air cured ham) is a major staple, as is the dish albondigas con tomate (meatballs in tomato sauce) – but every region has its favourite dish and the contrast between one place and another can be vast.

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Taking anything less than a couple of hours for dinner is considered rushed by Spanish standards

Children and restaurants

Unlike in the UK, children are usually very welcome in Spanish restaurants.

For Spaniards eating out is a family affair so you’ll need to get used to children running around in restaurants as their parents relax over dinner.

Menu-wise, children are not usually treated as any different to adults, with nary a kids’ meal in sight, although there are usually plenty of desserts and ice creams on offer to tempt them.

If you bring your own child to a restaurant expect them to be cooed over by the waiters and showered with lollipops.

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