This was our fourth trip to Spain, and still, after all of these visits, we can’t seem to figure out what to eat when. There are these rules about when to eat in Spain that I just can’t wrap my head around.
I know the Spaniards eat dinner late, like 10pm or later. It is part of the reason why tapas are so popular, they are almost like an appetizer. Or, you can have tapas for lunch.
There is still a tradition of siesta, although I am not sure how many people actually go home to sleep. It is more likely that restaurants and shops will just close during the afternoon for a few hours. We tended to sleep the first few days after we arrived in Barcelona due to jet lag, but Eric was struggling with sleeping from 5-7 pm, and then heading out for tapas at 8pm. He just could not wake up and was groggy at night. How do they do it, eating that late?
I also know that on a Sunday cities and towns across Europe come to a stand still. There are often a few places open, but it is quiet!
The rules on when to eat in Spain are complex, but I thought I understood them. I seemed, though, to have forgot these important rules during this last trip to Barcelona, and here was what ended up happening.
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When to Eat in Barcelona
First off, when we finished our walking Barcelona food tour with Devour Barcelona, we were in need of a little more food, a glass of wine, and more important, a chance to sit for a few minutes before making our way home. We had a detailed conversation with our guide about what places would be open at 2:30pm on a Friday to serve plates of meat and cheese. To me, this seemed like a no brainer, but many of the places she thought about would be closed at that time. Who knew?
Then, Sunday came, and I realized how far off we were from enjoying the city as we should, as the locals would. We made our way back to Casa Pages, which we visited on our Barcelona food tour, to see what else they served. They were closed, which I expected. Instead, we found an Uruguayan place that served large amounts of meat. It was packed for Sunday afternoon lunch, with large families and groups of friends filling the place from wall to wall. Probably because nothing else was open.
We also tried walking through the neighborhood of Gracia, tried going to a bodega for a vermouth, all with no luck. Most of the traditional places were indeed closed on a Sunday, and what was left were the trendier, and more expensive, brunch places. It was like walking through Chicago on a Sunday.
On Monday, we returned to a place we liked for pintxos, a type of tapas, and they were open for coffee, but had not yet placed the trays of pintxos out on the bar. We jumped back on the train and headed back to Gracia, and back to Cafe Pages again, specifically to try the sausage breakfast sandwich we had around 10:30 am on Friday. I thought, it was 11:00 am on a Monday, so they should be serving that breakfast. No sir, the kitchen was not really open.
We returned to the nearby market for lunch, which was bustling and busy at 11:00 am on a Friday, but on a Monday at 11:30 – so quiet. Only a few places were open. It was as though the entire city had a hangover from the weekend. We found a small tapas bar in the back and ordered a few dishes to tie us over until our next stop.
Square Peg Round Hole
What was going on? This was when we realized that when it comes to Spanish dining, we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. There were so many more “rules” than just eating dinner late. There were certain days, where certain foods were eaten at certain times. For our final day in Barcelona we had a list of places to go and foods to eat, but we were trying to eat the wrong things at the wrong times. It would have been more easy to herd a hundred cats, than try to revisit a few of our favorite dishes from the prior few days.
It was as if Barcelona was telling us that it was not done with us. We still needed to learn the food rules, to learn when to eat in Barcelona, and to learn to truly live on the locals’ schedule. I guess it means we need to return. And, we did return, and learned the rules on when to eat in Catalunya were also troublesome for us.
In spite of all this, it seems like you can get a glass of cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, at any place and at any time, including early in the morning. Well, that is at least one thing I can be thankful for when it comes to the rules of when to eat in Spain.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.