Eating out no matter where you live can be a gamble, particularly if you are not familiar with the local restaurants. Here in Spain and particularly in the country districts, the food tends to be “rustic” in content and style.
Unlike the UK and other countries, here in Spain, lunch is the most important meal of the day. This can be somewhat confusing for the visitor as they stroll into a restaurant, in the early evening, only to be confronted by empty tables. Is this restaurant not good, are they closed and do we want to go through the uncomfortable experience of ordering in our somewhat poor Spanish?
The answer is that come about 10pm the evening trade will start to arrive and as the warmer weather begins, then it is normal for diners to go out at midnight to eat, with the children in tow!
When we bought our present home six years ago, it was a country property that needed upgrading. We eventually had the funds to have it renovated and so after various quotations, the builders arrived. The saga of that project will take another day to relate!
The house was duly gutted and we were living upstairs in two rooms whilst the chaos reigned below. One of the first things to go was the kitchen, no great loss as it had one old electric socket from which I had been running two extension cables with fridge, freezer and all electrical goods connected!
I had a freestanding cooker and oven, which ran on bottled gas and this, was duly relocated to an outside covered terrace. Very much like the army, I set up my mobile kitchen with as many utensils as I could and with that true pioneer spirit, took on the challenge of outside catering.
I come from a line of woman where defeat is not an option, solutions only, and I happily coped with the rustic cooking; however, my complacency was soon to be dealt a severe blow. At this time of our life in Spain, we still ate as we had done in the UK. Therefore, it was that each evening I prepared our meal, and by now to get the food upstairs was through an obstacle course!
Having solid tiled floors meant that any work to install new plumbing and electrics, all the floors had to be drilled out and so it was. Carefully navigating a series of planks, I could carry the food trays upstairs to our accommodation where we enjoyed our meal. Not a problem you say, piece of cake, well yes except for the addition of no electrics below which meant, no lights.
We are talking November now and so with my flashlight I manoeuvred the criss cross of boards, but on this particular evening, I missed my footing. My husbands tray went up in the air and the food with it! Collecting myself, I retrieved my tray and took it up to him, not saying a word. Once I had calculated he was finished eating, I followed up with my now meagre meal of a cheese sandwich and blubbered away what had happened.
The following day, we decide that enough was enough and maybe we should eat out. Going down into Aguilas on the coast for lunch, we looked at various places and noticed boards outside restaurants offering “Menu de la Dia”.
The original concept gave the worker who was unable to go home, a hearty lunch, and restaurants would be full of labourers, lorry drivers and anyone who needed fuel for the afternoon.
We liked the menu at a restaurant called the “Orient”, nothing salubrious but inside it was busy, full of people having lunch. Always a good sign when the locals eat there, no matter which country you are in.
We sat down, asked for “Menu de la Dia”, and were presented with a wonderful selection to choose from. For the average price of 8 euros, you got a four course meal, including, bread, choice of wine, water or beer. mixed salad to nibble, pasta and cold meat starters, succulent main courses of “Perchuga” sliced chicken fillet,”Lomo de cerdo” pork fillet beautifully sliced and cooked,” Chuletas” chops of pork or lamb, and not one but two or four depending on the meat. Choices of fish landed locally that morning in the port and to finish a “postre” a pudding!
Over the following months, we toured to different towns and restaurants having the “Menu de la Dia” and almost as food critics, grading them accordingly. Not only did it do our stomachs good but it helped our bank balance as well.
The other thing that happened was we started to see the benefit of eating our main meal during the day; having only a light snack in the evening. We actually felt better and started to lose weight but more importantly we really know the Spanish food and it changed our diet completely.
Nowadays I cook in my modern kitchen and we enjoy a really healthy lifestyle having given up meat completely, and dine daily on a rich array of salads, followed by one of the wonderful fish selections we buy locally.
We still dine out occasionally for lunch and for any visitors coming, they love the atmosphere of being included in a true Spanish experience. So the next time in Spain when you want to know where to eat, follow the locals and try the “Menu de la Dia”!
For the past seven years Carol Roberts has been living and working in Spain. You are invited to visit Living in Spain and follow her everyday blog along with her observations about living with the Spanish. Also, if you are interested in learning Spanish as a second language, register and get your