Apart from the beautiful and varied landscape, the heat of the andalucian sunshine and the passion of the people, Andalucia is well known throughout the world as a very social and friendly place especially when it comes to enjoying food. Andalucia, the largest and southernmost region of Spain is famous for its gastronomic culture which involves long lazy lunches and many hours socialising over a tapa.
It is said that the andalucians and indeed the Spanish eat more food than their European counterparts. This may be true, but it is the manner in which the local people approach their meals that is so special.
First up is of course breakfast. However unlike the British where breakfast traditionally involves a large fry up or cereal topped with fruit followed by toast, the Spanish breakfast is the smallest of the day. Usually the day begins with a cup of tea or coffee or a glass of milk or a batido (chocolate milk drink). This is often accompanied by biscuits of some sort. In the ‘desayuno’ or breakfast section of the supermarket you will find all manner of biscuits from the healthy high in fibre ones to the kid’s varieties packed with calcium and chocolate for good measure.
The true Spanish breakfast however is usually between 10 and 11am. Bars suddenly become full of people enjoying a ‘bocadillo’ which is a large sandwich made with French style bread. This is usually served with coffee, often with a drop of the local liqueur or even a beer. It is not uncommon, as you drive through the villages, to see workers sitting around with their sarnies and a communal bottle of beer which is passed round for all to share.
Apart from the bocadillo at mid morning, other traditional Spanish breakfasts include bread or toast rubbed with garlic or tomato a sprinkle of salt and olive oil. Then there is the ‘pan con tomate y jamon’ which is bread rubbed with a ripe tomato, thin slices of Serrano ham and a drizzle of olive oil. As the Spanish don’t usually break for lunch until at least 2pm, this hearty mid morning snack is essential to keep them going.
Lunch is typically between 2 and 3pm but can go on until at least 4 or 5pm. This is especially true in Andalucia during the summer months as it really is too hot to do anything much and lunch time is an opportunity to have a good meal, get out of the sun and enjoy a siesta.
When a Spaniard says ‘medio dia’ he is referring to midday but here in Spain midday is not 12 o’clock but rather 2 o’clock as that is the midday break for lunch. Lunch is the largest meal of the day and can involve many courses, and not just for special occasions. There is usually a salad, followed by a starter. Then comes the main course with accompanying vegetables served separately. Then you will have dessert, coffee and sometimes liqueurs. Not surprising then that a long lunch break is required and a siesta a necessity after all that eating. The Spanish do enjoy a long walk after lunch and in cooler weather you will see families and friends out for an afternoon stroll to work off their large lunch.
Before lunch however, comes the famous ‘tapa’ tradition. Workers on their way home will often stop off in a bar to enjoy a drink and a chat with friends. This is the time when the tapas are usually at their best and you can get a little free sample of what is on offer for lunch in the bar that day.
After lunch and a siesta or a stroll, the working day usually begins again at four or five depending on the type of business. In some places shops don’t open again until at least six or even seven pm in the summer months. It is not surprising then that dinner is a very late affair. There are, however, plenty of opportunities in between lunch and dinner to take advantage of a ‘snack break’ to keep you going. After children finish school, they often enjoy ‘merienda’ which is just a drink and a biscuit. Then there is ‘la hora del aperetivo’ round about 7 or 8pm and pre dinner tapas anytime between 7 and 9 pm.
Due to the late lunch and seemingly constant snacking in between, dinner doesn’t usually happen before 9pm. Although smaller than lunch, the Spanish evening meal is still a social affair with the family sitting down together. Dinner can consist of two or three courses, or a bbq in the summer but sometimes it is just a yoghurt and fruit or something light such as a bowl of rice with vegetables or a bowl of soup. A light evening meal or supper is often the case during the winter months when children and parents have to get up early for school and work.
Holidays and fiestas however can often mean dinner at 10 or 11 pm and that is just the start of the evening. The Spanish are apparent night owls and young and old can be seen taking to the streets well after midnight enjoying the festivities or just frequenting the bars to chat and be social with friends over a drink and a tapa of course!
We mustn’t forget of course the constant slicing of and nibbling on the famous Serrano or Iberico ham throughout the day whenever the mood takes you!
You do wonder then, after so much food and drink is put away each day, how the Spanish are not as big as houses. The Spanish are very social people and enjoy a taste of something here and a nibble there with friends and family. Plus there is the healthy Mediterranean diet of fresh fruit and vegetables with local fish and meat produce accompanied by plenty of olive oil. It is the quality of the food along with the social way in which it is eaten that makes the gastronomic culture here so special.
About the Author:
Gayle Hartley is a food writer living in Granada Southern Spain and co owner of Orce Serrano Hams.