When in Spain…

(Or more specifically, When in restaurants in Spain…)

We just returned from a 12-day trip to Spain. Our journey took us to Barcelona, Granada, Sevilla, and Madrid.  As expected, we ate out a lot during the trip. We learned quite a bit from observation and our two guidebooks (Rick Steves’s Spain 2012 and Lonely Planet’s Discover Spain 2012; the former was excellent, the latter was relatively useless).  A few interesting notes that we want to share with our friends, family and other readers.  Note that these apply to the mid-range restaurants that we ate at; low end and high end will have a different set of rules.

  • Sit at the bar.  Service is faster (more U.S.A.-like), food is cheaper (different prices for bar vs. restaurant vs. terrace/patio), and you have more freedom at the bar to explore various pintxo’s (tapas served on bread) that are usually housed at the bar.
  • For variety, order tapas and not the larger raciónes.  The former is great for trying new things, whereas the latter is a larger plate.
  • Notice how hard the waiters and waitresses work. There are no busboys. Waiters often wash dishes. They will cut their own bread for the table. And they often cover what seems like double the number of tables as in the States (something like 10 or so).
  • Like many parts of the world, beer is cheaper than water. House wine and Sangría often are as well.
  • Churros con chocolate are delicious. They are not the typical amusement park churros I am used to from the States. These are freshly made with a bit of salt. Dip them into your chocolate and enjoy.
  • People eat late. Lunch is 1:30-2:30 and dinner is 9:30-11. Come in any early and you are immediately pegged as a tourist.
  • Bread is not free. You have to ask for it.
  • However, if you get bread, you can often get a plate of olives for free with the bread.
  • Patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) are much better in tapas restaurants in the States than they are in Spain. In Spain, the dish is basically french fries with spicy mayo.
  • There are many varieties of gaspacho (cold, delicious soup) in grocery stores. Many of them taste like V8 and are served in similar canisters.
  • Do not order paella from a restaurant that has pictures of it on a board and a brand name for the paella. This is typically tourist fare that is microwaved.