An Itty-Bitty Rant on Spanish Food and Eating Habits

If you read my post comparing aspects of Spanish and American culture, you probably noticed I didn’t write about food, an oft-mentioned topic when discussing countries and travel. Well, I had actually planned to include a paragraph in that post about the Spanish diet and food culture, but when what I intended to be only a few sentences on the matter turned into four long paragraphs, I realized I had no other choice but to open a new word document and let my rage flow. Rage, you’re wondering? What could I be angry about? Well, I have some issues with Spanish food and eating habits, so, in full disclosure, this post isn’t really me writing, but more me whining and complaining. For that, I apologize. I tried really hard to avoid writing this post because I didn’t want to dedicate more words than necessary to me being a Negative Nancy about other people’s lifestyle and customs. That’s why I’m only going to comment on the things most important to me.

I’ve learned that bread is one of Spain’s holy grail. Don’t get me wrong, I like having a little before a meal, but sometimes the quantity here kills me. I’ve learned that bread is one of Spain’s holy grail. Don’t get me wrong, I like having a little before a meal, but sometimes the quantity here kills me.

I live by the motto “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” I also have at least two snacks throughout the day, pre-planned to be between my meals and according to when I workout. I perfected this eating schedule over the summer and it has been completely undone here in Spain.

First off, breakfast is not as important to Spaniards as it to many Americans like myself. Since I make breakfast at home when I’m in Madrid, I haven’t had too much trouble maintaining the sanctity of this meal but I’m shocked as to how the members of my host family eat. The mother of my host family eats nothing for breakfast. She also only eats yogurt for dinner, and the dad in my host family once told me she “hates to eat” (a statement I’m still not sure how to interpret), so I don’t think we can use her as the best representation of all Spanish people. The father in my host family will either eat biscuits dipped in milk or will take one or two fruit pieces of fruit with him to eat on the way to work. Similar to his dad, the little boy I’m taking care of eats just a few biscuits with about a quarter cup of milk and that’s it.

My host family’s morning meals mirror the limited selection of breakfast foods at restaurants. Whenever I see people eating “breakfast” at cafes or restaurants, it’s mostly just (white) bread and a coffee. The belief that breakfast gives you necessary energy for the day is so cemented into my brain that I could not imagine thriving, let alone surviving, with such a light start to each day. Where is the USDA-approved balance of proteins, carbs, and vitamins and minerals, which work together to allow you to tackle work, school, and life’s many other mental and physical challenges? What’s even stranger to me is that lunch is very late in the day (between 1-4pm), so these people must be eating their weight in snacks because to wait so long for lunch after such a measly breakfast seems impossible.

I thought I found a healthy, American style breakfast spot in Madrid, but to be honest, they didn’t quite hit the nail on the head with either the avo toast or the chia pudding. A for effort, though! I thought I found a healthy, American style breakfast spot in Madrid, but to be honest, they didn’t quite hit the nail on the head with either the avo toast or the chia pudding. A for effort, though!

Second, as I mentioned above, lunch is eaten very late here, as is dinner. My second week here, I actually traveled to a restaurant for dinner at 6pm just to find they did not open for dinner until 8:30pm. EXCUSE ME?!?! The dining hall at my high school served dinner from 5-7pm and when I ate at home, I would eat right around 7pm. I naturally get hungry between those hours so waiting until 8:30pm is so difficult for me. I feel like there’s no time to digest your food before sleeping! I’ve actually had so many more later nights than I’d like because I have to wait for restaurants to open for dinner and then by the time I finish eating and make the schlep back to my host family’s house in the ’burbs, it’ll be 11pm. The fact that the Spanish schedule has obstructed not only my eating, but also my sleep schedule, has got me looking for address where I can send the bill from my doctor when I return home with a weakened immune system.

What happens when you can’t fully understand the menu: you think you’re ordering a tartine with grilled calamari and vegetables, but instead you picked out a sandwich with just fried calamari and mayo inside. What happens when you can’t fully understand the menu: you think you’re ordering a tartine with grilled calamari and vegetables, but instead you picked out a sandwich with just fried calamari and mayo inside.

Lastly, Spanish cuisine is simply not my jam. I eat Indian food every day at home, so going from that wonderful flavor experience to very lightly seasoned Spanish food was difficult. Also, the most prominent ingredients in Spanish food aren’t too much to my liking. Like I seriously need to pass on that Iberian ham and cheese sandwich. Thanks for offering though. And, while we’re at it, I have to give a solid NO to that plain tomato that has been sprinkled with enough salt to give me and all my future ancestors a life-threatening sodium problem. I actually now don’t go to any Spanish restaurants, opting for other cuisines (ex. Italian, Japanese, Thai, “new American,” etc.), but I can’t eat out for every meal, so, when I’m at home making lunch or dinner for myself, I continue to have a hard time because I can’t cook. I literally eat plain brown rice (the one-minute kind, BTW, because the one time I tried to make my own was really hard) with plain, sautéed vegetables, and no meat, just eggs, because I don’t know all the nuances of cleaning, cutting, and cooking chicken. It’s not terrible, but it feels like such a sad and dreary way to exist. Anyways, I think we’re moving past Spanish things and onto commentary on my general lack of life skills, but I had to make some mention of my struggle in case there are others like me out there. Please do leave me a note if you also can’t cook because I’m thinking we should form a support group ASAP!

I am sharing this blurry, poorly lit iPhone photo because not everything about travel and growing up is glamorous and fun. Gotta keep it real. I am sharing this blurry, poorly lit iPhone photo because not everything about travel and growing up is glamorous and fun. Gotta keep it real. I have also visited a cereal café and counted low-nutrient, sugar-filled bowl of cereal as an appropriate meal. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I have also visited a cereal café and counted low-nutrient, sugar-filled bowl of cereal as an appropriate meal. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Anyways, I hope I didn’t come across as too judgmental or close-minded in this post. If you have any experience with food or eating habits from other cultures, please let me know in the comments because I want to know how you made it work! I have managed to not starve and also to not outgrow my whole wardrobe, so I must be doing something right, but I want to hear from others who had/have a more focused grasp on eating in other countries! Also, don’t worry, I will share some positive food posts very soon because I have definitely had some great meals here. Stay tuned!

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