Spanish Meals: The Second Breakfast or the Coffee Break

At some time between 10 and 12 in the morning, the Spanish stop whatever they are doing and they go for a second breakfast or mid-morning snack somewhere.  They do this because they are hungry, and even when they are not.  This slot in the day, by the way, is the absolute worst time to enter a government agency expecting quick results.  About half of the country’s public servants are across the street ordering a coffee and those little electric signs in the offices that go beep and indicate who is next up and what desk they should go to suddenly come to a near standstill.  This is especially true of post offices.  You are better off taking along a nice book or joining work staff at the bar across the street and returning in an hour.  Unless of course you are at the American Embassy which has a TV screen and CNN running around the clock.  They do this because they want you to be entertained as well as help you integrate better into society by showing you how millions of Americans spend most of their day. 

        So around this time, there is a dip in national productivity, but since this forms a traditional part of the daily routine it is factored into the GNP, or whatever they call that indicator of growth.  Anyhow, the most popular choice is coffee, especially among those who enjoy the drink.  Otherwise they order something else.  In my case, this is the single most important drink of the day.  My first cup two hours earlier had served solely as a way of getting me out the door and to the streets without tripping down the stairs.  I function, but I am not really doing anything.  This second round gets me really going. 

           Other drinks include soda, chocolate milk, water and even beer or wine.  The last two are not commonplace but after I’d say eleven not frwoned upon either…as long as you haven’t had seven.   I avoid the habit because otherwise I start telling my students what I really think of their English and begin to reveal certain radical political views that are best kept to oneself.  Coffee doesn’t do that to me, thank God. 

       People often accompany the drinks with a snack of some kind, like a roll, toast (with the butter and jam), a doughnut, which is pronounced in Spanish as “doe-noose”, trust me, it’ll get you places.  Another classic is the croissant.  This classic French pastry which we so often associate with fine European continental morning fare is quite common in Spain.  The thing is, when left on its own, it’s often terrible when compared to the versions made north of the border (that’s France).  Spanish croissants, which incidentally means “crescent”, are often dry and insipid as if they were made with a mixture of some basic building materials and not enouth water.   The Spanish won’t admit to this but they prove this theory by almost never ordering one in its original state.  They have it done “a la plancha”, which means the cook cuts it in half, smothers melted butter on it, slaps it on the griddle and flattens it with a spatula and it is toasty broan.  Then he puts it on a plate and serves it with more butter and jam which you can apply according to your taste.  This procedure immensely improves the quality of the bun. 

        Other morsels include grilled ham & cheese sandwiches known as sandwich mixto, for your information, and the immortal tortilla española (or Spanish potato omelet) which is this country’s single greatest contribution to fast food, and quite possibly the item of gastronomy that sticks the longest in the memory of the foreigner who likes to eat. 

       Then people return to their workplaces and the nation’s productivity shoots up.  And everything is the way it should be in the best of all possible worlds. 

Spanish Meals: Breakfast

Unlike some other places in the world, the Spanish don’t waste a lot of time filling the tank in the morning to get a solid start to the day – after all they do have a lot of eating ahead of them in the next 18 hours, why spoil it.   While they do like breakfast, when left to making their own, they can’t be bothered.  Not even McDonald’s serves breakfast, if that is any indicator.  You can buy a beer but not an egg-McMuffin.  Many feel that is a good thing. 

       For the most part, though, it’s pretty simple fare: toast, jam, cereal, some kind of pastry, orange juice, coffee or milk.  The offer can be extensive, just the consumption isn’t.  It’s mainly a question of time.   And even if they did have time, they normally don’t spend it on sumptuous meals. 

        The orange juice issue is a big one here as many Spaniards insist on it being freshly squeezed or squozen, as some prefer.   To them, there is no alternative, and taking the time, and trust me it is time that you take, makes all the difference.  There is no denying that any glass of liquid extracted directly from the fruit minutes before is going to normally stand out for its superior taste to, say, something kept in a brick container for months, but it comes at a price.  Plus, once in the glass, you have something like seven minutes to drink it or all the vitamins begin to float away.  If you foresee that the drink cannot be imbibed within that time, then you can cover it up with saucer as a lid and cut off the vitamin escape route.   Then allow them to lick the bottom of the saucer afterwards…I was just kidding, so please don’t do that.

      For adults, coffee is essential and almost what breakfast is all about.  The rest is just an excuse for drinking it.  It can be freshly brewed, but as opposed to the orange juice issue, the Spanish are more practical when it comes to drinking coffee and they don’t mind substituting freshly-brewed java with a spoonful of instant stuff mixed in a cup of steaming milk.  100% milk.  So much for the quality above all else theory.  I have to admit, I like the combo.

        When it comes to eating…I will talk about that when it comes time to talking about eating!  Now I am back to talk about eating.  The Spanish go mainly for breaded food whose greatest virtue is that it can be dipped in the drink until soaked, sloppily removed and dragged into the mouth with plenty of drops and mushy blobs scattered on the table and around the region of the lips and chin.  I have become a fully converted member of this team.  It makes breakfast messier but no less tasty.  These include muffins and similar items known only to someone who knows Spain like Sobaos or Valencianas.  

          One of the big hits at any home is cookies.  Any type will do.  Some people back home find this unusual, and though they may be right because normally people there don’t eat them, but it all comes to cultural differences and customs.  I sometimes retort, “What’s wrong with that?” and they will reply incredulous.  “But they’re cookies?” as if there really is a proper time for eating one. 

         To which I reply, “You sometimes eat smoked pig’s meat which has been fried in melted butter.”  Then I drop the subject.  I don’t even bothering bringing up Pop Tarts and other weapons of mass destruction.

       Toast is another options.  That often gets a nice coating of butter or margarine, capped with a thick layer of jam.  Of late, the Andalusian-style toast has caught on.  Some Spaniards look to this as proof of the healthy benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but they tend to forget that no one ate that fifteen years ago.  Maybe in the south, I can’t say for sure, but the rest of the country didn’t.   This consists of toasted baquette bread on which you pour olive oil.  Then you cut a tomatoe in two and rub the inside on the bread.  Then a little salt and you’re rocking.   It’s alctually really good.  But as I say, at home and during the week, most people go for the quick route.  And you can forget the scrambled eggs stuff.  That’s only for hotel chefs.  Oh, well, their loss.