My Mediterranean SummerBarcelona, Summer 2012
Just a warning: This post will be about food. But, don’t fear! It’s going to talk about amazing, Catalunyan food and the way that Spaniards eat!
As a bit of background, Catalunyans eat very differently than Americans. Not only is the food different, but the way Catalunyans eat and Spanish mealtimes are completely different. One of my classes focuses on food, specifically how food is an expression of Spanish culture. During my study abroad experience, I’ve learned that Catalunyans don’t share the American focus on nutrition, but instead focus on socialization and conviviality. Based on my experiences, Spanish meals are almost completely different than American meals. That being said, I’m not sure how I will ever be able to go back to the way I ate before living in Spain.
Now, getting used to Spanish mealtimes is not easy. Spaniards rarely – actually never – eat large breakfasts. Tapas time is right before lunch. Lunch is the largest meal of the day, and is eaten at a normal time. After lunch is la Merienda, which is Spanish for “Afternoon tea.” La Merienda is normally around 5 or 6 pm, and consists of a small snack, or Tapa. Cena, or dinner, is late, generally around 10 or 11 pm, and is the 2nd largest meal of the day.
I feel that a definition is in order. Tapas are a phenomenon unique to Spain. As a result of the Spanish Civil war, Spaniards were forced to carry multiple jobs in order to support themselves. Because of late work hours, la Cena was pushed back until late. Because of the large break between lunch and dinner, Spaniards introduced a mid-day snack to be eaten in between meals. Tapas, as this snack was called, normally consists of a piece of bread with various meats and/or vegetables or fruits on top, skewered by a toothpick. Tapas are traditionally eaten standing up, but in many parts of Spain, Tapas are eaten casually whilst sitting. The concept of Tapas is unique to Spain. But, please don’t confuse it with snacking; America is one of the only countries in the world that “snacks” throughout the day.
Last but not least, Spaniards are social creatures: Spaniards rarely eat alone. Meals are an opportunity to socialize and catch up on each other’s lives. I’ve discovered that, unlike many countries (including the US) Spaniards use mealtimes as
an opportunity to build relationships with others and converse about their lives: Spanish meals are convivial.
So what should you take from this? Spaniards love socializing: it is a staple of their culture. Their meal hours reflect their daily scedules, and they are different than anything you will ever experience – minus the Greeks, who have similar mealtimes. And… If you have the chance, get some tapas! They are Godsends. If you ever eat in Spain, get ready to have your culinary world turned upside down!
P.s. One more tip: Most food is basically served whole here, so don’t be grossed out. It makes it taste better and it is (almost as) sanitary! Eat the marisco and the Jamon Ibérico, and enjoy the shrimp brains. They are to DIE for.
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