For Spaniards, food is practically a religion. If you want to understand their culture and savour their essence, there’s nothing better than taking part in their gastronomic rituals – and doing it their way. They say Madrid never sleeps; one could add it never stops eating. Ready to join in the fun?
Eating hours and social etiquette
The first peculiarity of Spanish eating habits lies in the schedule. Regular lunch hours run from 2pm to 4pm, while dinner rarely starts before 9pm. Fear not: bars serve tapas and bocadillos (sandwiches on Spanish bread) all day, every day.
If you’re engaging in social bar-hopping or enjoying dinner with friends, keep in mind that Spaniards tend to split the bill. As for tips, spare change is usually enough for smaller, more casual meals. There is no set percentage when dining at finer restaurants, but something around five percent should suffice.
Local eating habits
Looking to start the day like a local? Nearly every street in Madrid has a cafetería where you can sink your teeth into a crispy churro dipped in café con leche (coffee with milk).
Mid-morning, don’t hesitate to drop by a cervecería (bar) and order a pincho de tortilla (an individual serving of potato omelette) to hold you off until lunchtime.
For almuerzo (lunch), almost all bars and restaurants will serve a menú del día, a set menu with starter, main course and dessert.
Top tip: In Madrid’s countless bars, drinks are always served with a complimentary tapa. This can be a small plate of olives, a bite-sized pincho or a small plate of ensaladilla rusa (a Spanish potato salad of sorts).
Essential lingo for travellers
Spaniards are very sociable. More likely than not, any bar you visit will be buzzing. Don’t hesitate to step up to the counter and call the camarero (waiter). Orders can be pretty straightforward: “Una Coca-Cola, por favor” (“A coke, please”).
Know your cervezas (beers). The smallest bottled option is a botellín, while the standard glass measure is a caña.
When ordering food, keep in mind portion size. A ración is a full serving meant to be shared, while a pincho or tapa is a small, individual serving.