Meals and Food

Spanish Specialties

A lot Spanish food is part of the Mediterranean diet consisting of olives, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, onions, sardines, and other fish. Spanish cuisine may differ regionally, and I am most familiar with the dishes I encountered in Madrid. Spanish food is rarely spicy and often I found my American palate more tolerant of hot spices than Spaniards.


Legs of cured ham hanging in bars, restaurants and grocery stores are a common site in Spain from which thin slices are shaved and find their way into many dishes, sandwiches, tapas and appetizers. Jamón comes in three general grades and prices depend on what pigs are fed. I conducted a blind taste test and was surprised to experience how drastically different each of the hams tasted.

  • Jamón Ibérico
    This ham has a dark burgundy color and is the most expensive (~400€ per leg) as the pigs are fed a diet of 100% bellota (acorns).
  • Jamón de Cebo
    This ham is less pricey (~200€ per leg) as the pigs are fed a diet of 50% bellota (acorns).
  • Jamón Serrano
    The least expensive ham (~85€ per leg) and with a medium red hue is from pigs that have no speciality diet.

Cochinillo (Roast suckling pig)

Roast suckling pig is a dish in which a baby pig (between two and six weeks old) is roasted and served in its entirety. This is a popular cold weather dish served in many restaurants in Madrid and its surroundings, dating back to the 1700’s.


A tortilla, or Spanish omelet, is an egg, potato and onion omelet often served cold as an appetizer, but can also be served warm as a side dish or with ham and cheese as a main dish. It’s quite the versatile dish. At parties, it is cut into cubes and served with a toothpick placed in each small piece. In a room full of teenagers, this dish is consumed in minutes.



This chilled tomato-based soup, originally from the southern region of Andalusia, is enjoyed throughout the country all year long, especially in the hot summer months. Many Spaniards make their own special recipe, but gazpacho is so popular, it is available in paper cartons (like milk) found in the refrigerated section at grocery stores. For a quick snack, I like to pour myself a glass of gazpacho and chug it down. At parties, gazpacho is also served in mini glasses as an appetizer.


Breakfast 8:00 am

Spaniards eat a rather typical continental breakfast with croissants, pain au chocolat, toasted baguette bread with butter, jam or Nocilla (Spanish Nutella). Pan con tomate is distinctively Spanish and is often eaten at breakfast, but can be consumed as a snack as well. Toasted bread is served with a tomato spread, consisting of grated tomato mixed with olive oil and seasoned with salt. Some people like to rub garlic on the bread first, but I only like that at snack time.

Snack 11:00 am

Because lunch is not eaten until 3:00 pm, most Spaniards take a late morning break for a little snack.

  • Bocadillo
    The most common snack is a bocadillo or sandwich, either on baguette bread or on crustless bread. These tasty bocadillos only cost 1 or 2 euros and come in a variety of flavors: ham, cheese, tomato, thinly sliced tortilla, tuna, etc.
  • Olives
    Spaniards of all ages adore olives and they even come in small snack sized tins that are convenient to take to school.
  • Potato Chips
    Chips are eaten in HUGE quantities in Spain and also come in some special Spanish flavors, like ham or egg flavors. At restaurants and bars, chips are usually always served when ordering drinks.
  • Sunflower seeds
    When attending movies, bullfights or even casual gatherings, Spaniards love munching on “pipas” (sunflower seeds). Most often, they come in their shell, which requires chewing on the shell, extracting the interior and then spitting out the shell.
  • Candy
    Candy can be purchased in bags at grocery stores, but it is very common to find in bulk at the local convenience shop and it is very inexpensive. Gummies and sours are more popular here than chocolate, which is more for a special treat.

See blog SNACK TIME!

Lunch 3:00 pm

Every afternoon, many Spaniards sit down to a hot meal.

The first course often consists of salad or gazpacho.

The main course typically consists of meat, (pork, lamb, veal, chicken) or fish. However, after living with four different Spanish families, it is my impression that Spanish dishes are rather simple, sometimes bland, lacking tasty sauces and seasoning. In addition to vegetables, the most popular sides are boiled potatoes, potato salad, French fries, risotto, and rice served with tomato sauce. Pasta is not quite as popular as in the U.S.

After the main course, fruit is served: strawberries, pears, peaches, kiwis, and Chirimoyas. The Chirimoya is a green heart shaped fruit with a brown oval design. Once cut in half, the interior soft custard-like flesh tastes like pear and cream with a hint of sweet pineapple. The black seeds should not be eaten as I was told they are poisonous if swallowed. Apparently, this fruit can be found (not easily though) in the U.S. and is called a custard apple.


The most popular dessert, called bizcocho, is similar to pound cake and comes in different flavors: vanilla, chocolate, marbled, and yogurt. Strawberry and chocolate mousses are well-liked desserts. However, cookies are not nearly as popular in Spain as they are in the U.S. While Spaniards bake cakes, they rarely bake cookies. The word “cookie” in Spanish specifically refers to a chocolate chip cookie.

Snack 6:00 pm

There is another small snack called merienda, often consisting of bread with spreads, olives and potato chips.

Churros y chocolate

Churros are long strips of fried dough that resemble Play Doh squeezed through a press with a star template to create beautiful ridges. Once deep-fried, one sprinkles sugar on the crispy golden exterior and then dips them into hot, thick, gelatinous chocolate, more viscous than drinkable hot chocolate. This Spanish specialty is enjoyed at breakfast, snack time and early morning for those who enjoy Madrid’s active nightlife.


Dinner 9:00 pm – 10:00 pm

During the school year, dinner is served relatively early compared to the summer when dinner can start as late as midnight. Dinner consists of a smaller version of lunch and is a bit heavier in egg dishes and tortilla.


As is typical in many European countries, water is the beverage of choice, and is rarely served with ice. At restaurants, clients are asked if they would like plato (flat water) or gaseoso (carbonated water). In either case, you are charged for the water. If you do not want to pay for bottled water, you can ask for a jarra de agua (pitcher of water) and you will not be charged. However, not all restaurants will accommodate your request for a pitcher of water.

At parties and festive occasions, the popular drinks for children and teenagers are: Fanta limon, Fanta narajana, Nestea, and Coca Cola.

Starbucks are popping up all over and when I saw one close to home, I imagined that this would be a local hang out location, but that was not the case as Starbucks are frequented by young working professionals.

The most popular drink for adults is cerveza, which is enjoyed at lunch and after work by men and women alike. Red wine is also popular, followed by white wine. Tinto de verano is a summer drink consisting of red wine mixed with a carbonated citrus drink such as lemon Pellegrino water, and served over ice with a wedge of lemon.


Tapas are small bites of food that are served with drinks, typically in the late afternoon or early evening to hold over the hunger until the next meal. Croquettas are very popular and are often creamy ham and cheese fritters, golden brown on the outside and soft and flavorful in the center, although there are many variations. Tapas consist of many varieties and the most common are tortilla, jamón, chorizo (spicy sausage) and calamari. Manchego, Spain’s most renowned cheese, may also be cut in triangles and served as tapas. I still find it odd that when jamón and manchego cheese are served on platters, you simple pick up a slice of each and put it in your mouth. There are rarely bread or crackers served on which to put cheese!

Eating out

Teenagers primarily eat at fast food restaurants, McDonalds and Burger King being the top picks, although in Madrid are also located Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway and Domino’s pizza.

100 Montaditos is the name of a chain restaurant where teenagers love to purchase montaditos for only one euro. A montadito is a small bocadillo (sandwich). Pizzerias and Mexican restaurants (with non-spicy food) are also favorites of teenagers. Asian food, a personal favorite, is not as popular in Spain, and the few times I tried it there, I was underwhelmed.

VIPS is a popular restaurant loved by children, teens and adults. This chain promoting American cuisine specializes in hamburgers, salads, milkshakes, club sandwiches, ribs and more is a crowd pleaser. From the interior décor to the menu selection, I felt as if I were eating at a Denny’s back in the U.S. I preferred a restaurant called Rodilla for salads and sandwiches of which they have an extensive assortment. My favorites are chicken curry or basil and tuna.

The best food in Madrid is found in local restaurants and cafés that serve typical Spanish dishes made from fresh ingredients.

Grocery Shopping

Supermarkets provide the greatest convenience in grocery shopping, and I particularly enjoyed buying produce in them. Clients are expected to wear disposable plastic gloves provided by the store for handling fruit and vegetables. The fruit is then usually weighed and ticketed by the clients prior to going to the checkout lanes.

For a more intimate shopping experience, there are specialty shops for meat, fish, fresh produce, bakeries and pastry shops. The most revered pastry shops in Spain are those of Mallorican origins and the local pasteleria near my home, Formentor, did not disappoint.

Frozen food stores called la Sirena are located throughout the city. I was amazed by the numerous items that can be purchased frozen, including avocado halves, butter and yogurt.