Our fourth encounter with food is known as lunch. Lunch back where I am from refers to a rather light meal whose purpose it is to tide you over until the evening when you have dinner. In Spain, it means addressing the main meal of the day. And it is not to be taken lightly. In Spain they sure don’t. Here’s something for you to consider: the Spanish word for “food” is “comida”. The word for “lunch” is “LA comida”.
On its simplest level, lunch is traditionally a three-course adventure, be it at home or in a restaurant. You have a starter, an entrée and some dessert. At home some people may have a little wine they way you’d expect to in a Mediterranean country, but most people stick to plain water, which, if you are in Madrid, comes straight from the faucet.
Tap water in this city is excellent. Many foreigners from other countries take this bit of information with enormous skepticism, especially from back home. Heck I know Americans who don’t even drink their own tap water let alone put their bowels at the mercy of someone else’s. They regard any water from beyond their borders to be a potion so packed with pernicious vermin that it could floor a hippo with just a sip. And I can’t say they are entirely off base. In the case of an extended stay in places like Mexico, the question isn’t whether or not, but when and how bad. I don’t state this from hearsay. I have lived it firsthand. No one goes unscathed. No one.
But Madrid is a different matter. The climate is so dry you’d think it would please you only if you were dark green, thick-skinned and thorny, but the water comes from the mountains just north of the capital and is of extraordinary quality, which is why it is recommendable to order a pitcher of water instead of the bottled kind; it’s cheaper and probably healthier.
To wrap up the meal, fruit is often the first choice in the household. That surprised me at first because I used to eat fruit as a child about once every time the New York Mets won the pennant. Remember I grew up in the 1970s before the health food craze began to kick in. I certainly never drank water and fruit at a meal in my hometown. It is possible they didn’t even exist back then. It was more like kegs of milk and barrels of cookies, which probably explains why my host family took a step back in shock when I first entered their apartment and also why I dropped about 15lbs in the first two months I was here. But that has to do with the everyday diet and I’ll tell you more about the kinds of food you eat here on another occasion. Suffice it to know that you can eat a square meal almost every day.
At a restaurant, most Spaniards like to choose a menu del día, or the menu of the day, for of you who are not enlightened in the art of knowing Spanish. The advantageous here is that it is usually the freshest dishes of the day. Either that or the rehashed dishes from other days. Another advantage is that it is generally a good value. Restaurants vary in quality and price, but the going rate in Madrid ranges from about 9-15 euros, and the meal includes a first course, a second course, dessert, drink and sometimes, but not always, coffee. Wine can be an entire of bottle of table wine and a bottle of sweetened carbonated water called gaseosa. Don’t be shocked. Table wine often costs less than a bottle of Coke…but that’s another issue. Tough to beat. One thing to bear in mind about menus is that they are normally only offered during the week, sometimes on Saturdays and less often on Sundays.
Lunch on the day of the Lord can be a religious experience where diners feel that it’s time to let their hair down and indulge in food in a way they normally wouldn’t on ordinary days. It becomes your sole aim to make the feast as pleasurable as possible. And with a full-scale siesta awaiting you just around the corner, the chances of success increase tenfold.