Spanish culture revolves around mealtime as a chance to relax and socialize. With the wide variety of fresh, delicious Spanish food available, it's no wonder mealtimes often last for hours. Most Spaniards begin their day with a light breakfast, enjoy a multiple-course lunch and eat a late dinner. Because of the traditional light breakfast and long gap between lunch and dinner, mid-morning and afternoon snacks called "tapas" are also common in Spanish culture.
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Meats, Eggs and Fish
Since the vast majority of Spain's borders touch some type of water, it's no surprise that fresh seafood of all kinds is available no matter where you go in Spain. In fact, seafood is often a course by itself during both lunch and dinner. Some of the most common varieties include shellfish, white hake, monkfish, eel, squid, trout, anchovies, tuna and cod.
Eggs are another crucial part of the Spanish diet, sometimes served instead of fish during the second course of a meal. Cooks prepare eggs in a variety of ways, including omelets. However, a true Spanish omelet, or "tortilla espanola," consists of eggs, potatoes and onions.
The Spanish people enjoy a number of roasted meats, especially pork or chicken. Cured ham, including the renowned delicacy "jamon iberico," is another staple food in Spain, and local lamb meat is always a favorite.
Rice is perhaps the most important starch in the Spanish diet. However, the traditional American version of Spanish rice is not common in Spain. Instead, Spaniards eat paella, a rice dish that is usually seasoned with saffron and topped with shellfish, sausage and peppers.
Bread is a staple in many Spanish meals, including breakfast. Spaniards traditionally eat bread with olive oil dipping sauce.
Fruits and Vegetables
Traditional Spanish vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, beans and potatoes. Olives are widely used both by themselves and in the form of olive oil. Salads are rarely an important part of Spanish meals.
Most Spanish families forgo dessert and enjoy a bowl of fresh fruit instead. Peaches, pears and oranges are especially popular.
Desserts and Drinks
When Spaniards serve dessert, it usually includes flan, ice cream or pastries. Nearly every meal is followed by strong coffee in the form of half coffee/half steamed milk or espresso with a splash of milk.
Wine is always part of a Spanish meal, regardless of the occasion. Water is usually available in both carbonated and non-carbonated forms, though it can be rather expensive. Milk is also common, but it sometimes loses its flavor during pasteurization.