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This segment is about culture with a small "c" emphasizing customs concerning food and meals.
Cultural items - Sometimes travelers are upset that there is no butter with their bread or that someone is sitting forever at the sidewalk café, long after they are done with their snack or meal. These observations reflect lack of understanding of the Spanish culture, and although cultures are blending and becoming more global and international, there still are some differences.
A Spanish breakfast is simply bread, toast, or roll with marmalade. Drink is usually either hot chocolate or coffee with milk. Orange Juice, bacon, sausage, etc. would be served in a hotel that caters to more international taste. Churros are another breakfast item often eaten on the weekend although there are cafes that serve this stick-like pastries daily with a very chocolately hot chocolate. Almost liquid fudge.
The “noon” meal is served between 2 and 3. Many stores close during the siesta to accommodate that tradition. This is the main meal of the day, which consists of three courses plus a dessert of fruit or cheese. Ice cream or cake is a special treat although it is easy to buy ice cream on the street. Coffee is served at the end. Bottled water is often served, but there is no problem with the drinking water.
Eating on the street traditionally is for children only. Drinking soda and eating ice cream may be done in parks but appears out of place for adults in the city, who are usually dressed in city attire. City attire means long slacks, leather shoes, polo or dress shirt rather than baggy or short shorts, tennis/sports shoes and t-shirt. Although as the world becomes smaller, some Spaniards have adopted these heretofore foreign customs, i.e. eating on the street and wearing casual city dress.
The menu del día will be posted at a restaurant. This is today’s special which is usually a good value. It’s a three or four course meal, often with several choices for each course, all for a fixed price. It usually included bread and wine or mineral water. It does not include coffee, butter or soft drinks.
The evening meal is eaten between 10 and 11 pm. Unless one goes out for dinner, it is usually a lighter meal of huevos (fritos o tortilla) or leftovers.
At the restaurant or café, the customer has the right to stay until he is ready to leave. Then he asks for the bill. If there are many people waiting, that does not interfere with the customer’s privilege. The waiter will give you the bill when you ask for it…not before.
By the way, tortilla is an omelet. Tortilla francesa is an omelet as you probably know it while the tortilla española is a potato omelet. If you are unsure of a tapa to order, consider tortilla española.
A tapa is a bite to eat with a glass of wine or beer. As the stories goes, a glass of wine was served with a piece of bread or a small plate to cover the glass and to keep the flies out of the wine. Then the bartender put a little snack on the bread or plate as a nice gesture. The snack is often a salty one so the customer orders more wine.
When ordering tapas, it is cheaper to stand at the bar. If you want to sit at a table you pay at least 15-20% for that privilege. The percentage goes to the waiter for the table service. The customer can’t order at the bar and then take tapas and drink to a table.
Table manners. Forearms should be on table; it is unacceptable to have hand in lap.