Tell me about eating in Andalucia
August 12, 2013 7:53 AM   Subscribe

I will be spending ten days in southern Spain at the end of next month. I love food and am more excited about the eating than maybe any other part of the vacation - not just because of the food itself but because the whole eating culture and schedule is different from what I am used to as an American.

So, can you explain what it's like as a tourist in Andalucia as far as the eating goes? The guidebooks are making it sound as if Spaniards spend the entire day roaming from place to place, alternating tapas with full meals every couple of hours. Surely this cannot be the case, as Spain does not appear to be a nation of obese people and presumably they do have jobs and other activities that preclude them spending half their time eating.

What times of day do people generally eat their main meals? Am I really going to look like an annoying American tourist if I try to get dinner before 9:00pm?

I am also interested in how tapas work if you do not drink alcohol - from what I am reading the tapas culture is very intertwined with drinking, and my husband does not drink. Will that be weird?

Also, if you have specific restaurant recommendations in Seville, Cordoba, Granada, and Ronda, I would love to hear them.
posted by something something to Travel & Transportation around Spain (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You won't look annoying — the Spanish are very friendly, and will be glad to have your custom whenever they are open — but you will look like tourists, and you will often be alone. They really do eat that late.

The way tapas "works" is that you order what you want, eat them, and then order some more if you're still hungry. Typically people share. As with any other food item, many feel the experience is enhanced with the appropriate alcoholic beverage, but it's not required. You can order a nice bottle of water if your husband wants to be seen to be drinking something.
posted by ubiquity at 9:17 AM on August 12, 2013

Tapas have become global things and so have lost their meaning a bit. A Tapa in Spain is usually a tiny morsel of food to accompany your drink. Sometimes they're even free. You usually consume them while standing at a bar.

If you sit down you'll probably be ordering raciones or media raciones. Half-plates or plates. If you're a couple sharing 3-5 media raciones will probably make a nice meal.

Tapas are just an optional way of eating. For lunch, you can just order a lunch plate like everywhere else in the world. Probably around 2pm. Or you can order tapas too. It's up to you.

The whole tapas scene really gets going at night. Dinner is after 9pm, yes. Even 9pm is a bit early in some places. Dinner will often be lighter than lunch and may consist mainly of tapas and small raciones.
posted by vacapinta at 9:21 AM on August 12, 2013

A lot of times, tapas are already prepared (trays of things up at the front of the bar) and you can see what's available and delicious looking.

There's no pressure to drink booze. Order bottled water, it's fine.

Agree with ubiquity that they'll be happy to feed you dinner earlier than the locals eat it. You won't be annoying anyone. If they didn't want the custom the restaurant would not be open, would it?

Dinner is not the same as tapas. Tapas is more like a pub crawl.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:23 AM on August 12, 2013

You won't be annoying anyone. If they didn't want the custom the restaurant would not be open, would it?

Agreed. But its good to know for planning purposes that many places will not even be open for dinner until after 9pm.
posted by vacapinta at 9:25 AM on August 12, 2013

Eating out in Andalucia is fantastic. Eating times are late. Get to a restaurant in the evening during the warmer months at 9pm and you may be the only person there. I'm serious. It'll feel weird. WE did it on one trip because we missed lunch and were starving. Get up late, lunch late and eat at 10pm. It's an easy habit to get into.

No, it won't be that odd if you don't drink if you have tapas, but expect the selection of non-alcoholic drinks to be poor.

Tapas places can seem a bit daunting, though, and the best ones don't cater for tourists in as much as the waiters often don't speak English and if there's a menu it won't be in English. Learn enough Spanish to say "I'd like" and "I'll have one of those" and "what is that - I'd like it" etc and to be able to recognise the names for the most common meats, fish and fruits and vegetables.

Try not to be a tourist. You won't succeed, but you'll probably get better service and more importantly feel more comfortable if you don't disrupt the atmosphere for everyone else enjoying a drink by blundering about or taking ages to order something simple. That said, the most daunting, busiest places were never less than charming about my attempts to speak basic Spanish. Also, best not to be too fussy about food. Adopting a devil may care attitude to what you order is fun as hell.

Tapas is tapas though - it's not all there is to eating culture by any stretch. As vacapinta says, if you go for raciones or media raciones (half portions) in bars you'll be closer to what you probably understand as tapas from back home - a sit down meal with a selection of dishes that you share. You can always order more so no need to order everything at once. Top tip: don't forget to try the sherries. A cool glass of manzanilla is a little taste of southern Spain and is never as good once you've got back home.

There are tons of normal, sit down eating places too that operate just like any normal restaurant.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:31 AM on August 12, 2013

Eating times for non-tourists: Breakfast when you wake up. Second breakfast at about 11 am. Lunch at 2 or 3 pm. Snack at 5 pm. Dinner after 9. But as others have said, in touristy places, there will be restaurants open that will be willing to serve you when you want to eat. Less so outside of big cities.

I don't drink much and I didn't have a problem getting soda with my tapas. FANTA LIMÓN OMG. Please drink it. It is the best soda in the WORLD.

Also tapas are free in much of Granada and Jaén (meaning, if you order a beer, wine, or soda, you get a tapa with it. Usually the restaurant chooses which one. Ordering water doesn't count as a beverage so you won't get a tapa with it).

My favorite tapas:
-Berenjenas con miel: lightly battered eggplant slices drizzled with honey.
-Patatas bravas: Home style hash brown potatoes and a spicy tomato sauce.
-Croquetas de bacalao: Fish and mashed potato rolled in bread crumbs and fried. OMG. If you don't like cod then they also do croquetas with ham or chicken.
-Pulpo al gallego: Octopus!
-Tortilla española: Like a frittata but the only ingredients are potatoes and sometimes onions.

Also! Don't tip. It will feel REALLY FREAKING WEIRD, but I promise you the waiters get a living wage and it is not the custom to tip.

And also be prepared for complete strangers passing by your café table to wish you "buen provecho" (like "bon appetit"). It's a cultural thing, like saying bless you after a sneeze.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to lament that I am no longer living on the Iberian peninsula.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:16 AM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you're going to Cadiz during your trip, I highly recommend El Faro - the tapas in the bar are prepared by the same chefs that work for the restaurant and are a great way to try the renowned cooking without paying as much.
posted by Skaramoosh at 10:16 AM on August 12, 2013

I just got back from Spain a few weeks ago. I was in the North and you'll be in the south, but I've been in the south before and it is broadly similar. The best idea is to try and have the activity cycle of the Spaniards, get up earlyish and have a light breakfast and then have a nice big lunch at 2:00 (get a menu del dia 3 course lunch usually with a bottle of wine). Head home and have a two to three hour nap, everything is closed then anyways so you're not missing anything. Head out again and do more touristing after 6 and have a later light dinner around 10 or so.

The most difficult thing is trying to understand what everything is going to come with. I tried to get a half raciones of meat and half of potato, but I would have had to order a full one of each instead I just got the meat and it came with potato anyways.

Learn your meat names (at least know carne or pesca ie meat or fish) and also learn the things you don't like eating (Me it is fungi so no champiognes for me) Don't be afraid to try the octopus, but I don't think you'll find a good pulperia down there as the pulpo al gallego is Gallician octopus and it is a northern dish. Still even suboptimal octopus will probably be really good, especially if there are other people eating it.

While in grenada you would find lots of places where you could get a cana + tapas for 2 euros. and I am sure you could just get two tapas for the same price.
posted by koolkat at 11:08 AM on August 12, 2013

as Spain does not appear to be a nation of obese people
Sadly, you're going to be disappointed. Andalusia has one of the highest obesity rates in the country.

What chainsoffreedom says about eating hours (there's a catch: almuerzo is second breakfast. Vermut is pre-lunch tapas. They're both kind of optional meals, however. The afternoon snack is the merienda, although typically only children eat merienda).

Keep in mind that the heaviest meal is the lunch, and if you want to eat the way Spaniards do, just look for the menú del día (set meal) on the door of the restaurants, where you get to choose between 3/4 first courses (vegetables, soup, pasta, rice or suchlike), 3/4 second courses (meat, fish) and you get dessert and water or wine with it for between 8 and 13€ or so.

If you don't like the choices, just go to the next restaurant and check their menú del día.

If you want to eat something between hours, any neighborhood bar can make you a bocadillo (with crusty bread) or a sandwich (with sliced bread) on demand. A ham-and-cheese sandwich is a "sándwich mixto" and a lettuce, egg and tuna sandwich is a "vegetal", but some typical bocadillos are the pepito (pork loin and green pepper) or one with potato omelette. You almost certainly can have serrano ham cut from the leg in front of you and put between bread with squeezed tomato.

In Andalusia you get lots of tapas with battered and fried fish and seafood. Try them.

Also! Don't tip. It will feel REALLY FREAKING WEIRD, but I promise you the waiters get a living wage and it is not the custom to tip.

You can tip if you want, but it's not usual for small purchases like a coffee and if you want to be nice, it's more like a 5-10% for full meals, leaning towards the 5% side.
posted by sukeban at 11:21 AM on August 12, 2013

L'Atelier is an excellent vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Mecina-Fondales, a small town in the Alpujarras, ... yummmmm... it is very casual and very excellent... It is also a bed and breakfast.. if you are in the area it is a must visit.

My mouth is watering just thinking of the Jean-Claude's magic.. he is a master chef, and I am far from a vegetarian.. cash only but not expensive..

Tapas is easy... the bars in the various small towns all serve a small dish of something with each drink.. I do not think that the drink has to be alcoholic.. but then again, my friend and I always had a glass of wine (or three) or beer.. very inexpensive way to eat and drink, but you do not get a choice in the food.
posted by snaparapans at 2:45 PM on August 12, 2013

Best answer: I just got back from teaching English for a year in Andalucía and traveling across the region two months ago--it's probably my favorite part of the country: affordable, warm, and with a lingering Moorish charm in certain corners. There's a very well-developed tourist infrastructure so you won't ever feel out of place.

Here's what a typical Spanish eating schedule looks like:

7-11am = First breakfast of coffee/orange juice and toast with grated tomato & olive oil or a sweet pastry. Make sure y'all share chocolate con churros at one point--molten chocolate that you dip crispy churros/long donuts into. Breakfast is very light in Spain--no big, eggs-and-bacon we Americans & Brits are accustomed to. Spanish grandpas will often enjoy a glass of brandy or a beer in the morning, just so you know. :D

11am-noon-ish = Optional second breakfast/mid-morning break to hold you over until dinner. Can be just a coffee or a small bocadillo (sandwich). If you're starving, get a little snack, but you'll need a good appetite for lunch.

2pm-4pm = "La Comida" is literally the main Meal of the day. As a tourist, your best bet is to look for the menú del día--the set menu of the day (foldable "menu" in Spanish is la carta, fyi). These meal deals ranging from 8-12 euros will include a first course of a salad, soup, or other vegetarian dish and a second course of meat or fish with small sides. You'll also get a beverage, bread, and (usually) dessert or coffee. It's a great bargain and allows you to easily experience a wide variety of Spanish cuisine.

5-7pm = This period of time is when people go out for their paseo or afternoon stroll around town, and also when folks tomar un café ("drink a coffee"), which can mean anything from actual coffee to tea, sodas, beer, wine, or mixed drinks. This rarely involves eating food--just nursing drinks while conversing and people-watching.

9pm-midnight = "La Cena" is Spanish for dinner, and while most restaurants serve the same food they do during lunch, supper is usually a bit lighter affair than lunch. You can get another set menu (which isn't just for tourists, by the way!) but it might be more fun to share tapas. When families or groups of friends go out for food in the evening, they get large-sized plates that more or less correspond to American "appetizers"; these are called raciones and have probably enough food for six tapa-sized servings. You and your husband could order a ración of this, a ración of that and share two or three plates and make a meal out of it instead of ordering two individual dishes.

Re: restaurant hours--for lunch, places start serving food at 1pm and close up at 4, so don't feel ashamed to order food if you're ravenous at 1:30pm. Most *Spaniards* won't start coming in until 2pm, though, but you won't be judged. At dinner, bars/restaurants will open their doors at 8pm but Spanish people start filtering in by 9:30-ish.

Re: tapas & alcohol--you're correct that the custom of tapas is closely linked to the consumption of alcoholic beverages (which is one reason one of my Spanish friends argues that los españoles saben beber "Spaniards know how to drink; i.e., without getting drunk") BUT there are plenty of Spanish people who don't drink and the custom of serving free tapas isn't bound to ordering booze. In Eastern Andalucía--the provinces of Almería, Granada, and Jaén--tapas are served gratis with whatever beverage you order, alcoholic or not, but in the west part of the region--the provinces of Cádiz, Córdoba, Huelva, Málaga, and Sevilla--you have to specifically order a tapa if you want one. Good non-alcoholic choices include:
* Coca-Cola (or Coca Cola Zero (sounds like "SAY-roe") for a lite option)
* Fanta (de limón "lemon-flavored" or de naranja "orange-flavored")
* Nestea (bottled iced tea)
* cerveza sin alcohol (non-alcoholic beer)
* mosto (grape juice, either rojo "red" or blanco "white")
* zumo de naranja (fresh or bottled orange juice)
* agua mineral (bottled mineral water)

Going out for tapas (ir de tapas/tapear) is a great alternative to another big meal or sharing raciones at supper--you hop from bar to bar, order a drink and a bite to eat, enjoy your 45 minutes or so there, and move on to the next one for a total of 3 or 4 places. You can put together enough sustenance for often merely 10 euros and have a lot of fun, too.

May you have a lovely tour of Andalucía! The cities you've chosen, while certainly popular, are wonderful places and some of my favorite towns in the country. You're gonna love it! :)
posted by huxham at 9:21 AM on August 21, 2013

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