Spanish Meals: Just how many time can you eat in a day?

Yesterday’s meal nearly finished at five o’clock, and as I wandered back home with new shoes and applied two chickpea-sized blisters above my baby toes, I got to thinking.  Just how many people who have never been in Spain understand that you can depart from a restaurant at the same time most people in the world depart from work and say, “That was a great lunch.  Now what should I do?”  Aside from my dysfunctional feet, I made it home all right and basically unscathed. 

         Eating is such a serious matter in Spain that if you don’t really understand it, you risking starting you visit with a serious handicap.  This is how the typical schedule can work on, say, a workday:

  • Breakfast at home
  • Mid-morning coffee break (second breakfast – almost more important than the first)
  • Lunch
  • Mid-afternoon snack – known as the merienda (I guess it’s kind of the Spanish equivalent of the British concept of teatime)
  • Dinner

       That would be your basic 1.0 version, cost-free and with all the basic services included.  Here’s what the premium offer could have in store:

  • Breakfast at home
  • Mid-morning coffee break
  • Pre-lunch drink and snack (commonly known as the aperitvo)
  • Lunch
  • Merienda
  • Evening tapas
  • Dinner
  • Intravenous solution at the intensive care unit

          This would not be every day, of course, but it can happen.  And it does.  I can offer firsthand testimony.   So I will analyze this sector of Spanish life for your information and enjoyment and invite you to participate whenever you get a chance.  Plus, it just helps to know what you can expect before you say, as a friend of mine once told me on our way to yet another dinner, “Brian, I have not been hungry for four days.  Why are you doing this to me?  And why can’t I say no?” 

         Because that is what Spain does like no other country I know.  Just don’t tell me I didn’t warn you! 

Oh, it was good! Real Good!

Boy, we gave it our best, but we didn’t quite get the whole cocido down.  The kilo of chickpeas in themselves was a true challenge.   It also didn’t help that we held an olive oil tasting contest to open up the eating session and accompanied it with tons of bread.  I am not much of an olive expert so the training session was interesting.  We tried Picual, Arbequina and Hojiblanca and another whose name escapes me at the moment.  Good stuff, all said an done.   Then we moved on to the main dish and gorged for another lengthy period. 

           Like so many dishes, the cocido was a classic working-class, post Civil War cheap nourishment that has become over the years standard Wednesday menu and even fancy fare in some restaurants.  I can think of some fine spots to check out, from the oldest and probably priciest version at the L’Hardy restaurant near Puerta de Sol, to La Daniela in the nearby Salamanca district, to the the local Los Porches, in the Plaza del Niño Jesús which makes it own mean version.  But I really for my own.  There is nothing like getting up at eight in the morning to make lunch.  It soothes the soul.

          Damn, all this talk has had me rushing to the kitchen for a little cold cocido.  Another day or two and I’ll be preparing the pringá!  But that is hardcore Spanish gastronomic knowledge.

       I’ll tell you about it when I get there. 

Spanish Cooking 1: The Cocido Madrileño

Boy you guys out there on the planet don’t know what you are missing!  Forget the gazpacho and the paella (pronounced, by the way, /pah-eya/) and make some room for this classic stew from the capital which works great for a day like today, when the sky is so gray and the mist so thick I can barely see the Retiro Park just a block away.  In terms of eating on a cold day, it is as close to paradise as you can get.  The ingredients are the following, grab your veins:

  • Chickpeas
  • A hunk of beef
  • Old hen meat
  • Chorizo
  • Thick fresh bacon
  • Lard
  • Black Pudding (I usually add this on the side so as not to dominate the soup)
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes

As we speak I have two enormous pots stweing the bones, hen, beef, bacon and lard.  And the chickpeas too.  I soaked them in water last night to soften them.  As the liquid concentrates, I extract it from the pots and put it into a bowl and have added whole spearmint leaves to soak.  That is a traditional touch in the Madrilanian cocido which I just learned about yesterday from the woman at a nearby shop which specializes in these things.

I will use the liquid to make a noodle soup.  That is the traiditional first course. 

The next stage will be to add the chorizos and, in another pot, the vegetables.  I stew them last because otherwise they can get overcooked.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!