Food and drink

There’s probably nothing written here that doesn’t occur elsewhere, but I’ve never seen a food section on a biking blog – why? Don’t we eat? Well, not very well it seems: living in Spain I all too often see groups of guiris (see the Glossary page for Spanish phrases), bikers as well as ‘normal’ tourists, looking enviously at other people’s tables heaving with delicious grub while they glumly tuck into their umpteenth pizza of the holiday. Moreover, biking is a serious business and maintaining the body in top form, including avoiding the squits, deserves more than a passing thought. Another reason to read these chapters carefully is that when you’re on the road you want to be able to spot a good restaurant or plan to stop overnight, and a sure knowledge of how everything works makes this easy and therefore safe. But more importantly than that, eating, and of course drinking, is fun!

It is also worth remembering that not only is Spanish food very different from Northern Europe but the whole way of life, including eating and shopping for food, is different. This impacts every biker travelling around the country, irrespective of whether you are staying in luxury hotels, shaking down in hostels or catering and cooking over a one ring stove in a campsite. The main difference is based around the siesta, which is integral to eating habits and affects opening times of restaurants and shops. People in Spain really do take nap in the afternoons – usually just a few minutes shut-eye on the sofa, Spanish people are not lazy! – as a consequence people is Spain really do stay up really late!

The Spanish day:
  • Shops: 10.00 – 14.00 and 17.30 – 21.00 give or take half an hour. But note that baker’s shops open at around 08.00 and you can usually buy bread, pastries, (see cuisine), etc. a little earlier directly from the bakery itself if you see one – really handy for getting an early start
  • Large supermarkets and shopping centres, centros comerciales, are open all day
  • Banks: 08.30 – 14.30 many banks open and close half an hour earlier in summer. Note that few small restaurants and no bars accept credit/debit cards
  • Ajuntamientos (town/city halls) and other publics service: 09.00 – 14.00
  • Bars: basically bars can open whenever they want, it all depends on their clients. Many trading or industrial estates (poligonos) have bars and restaurants in them for the workers and these open, and close, early – handy to know! Bars serve fresh sweet pastries and cold bocadillos from in the mornings and tapas, hot bocadillos and grills (see cuisine) happens from around noon
  • Restaurants: lunch 14.00 – 16.00; dinner 21.00 – 24.00 or later at weekends and holidays. In tourist haunts some restaurants are a bit more flexible – usually a bad omen! These hours also apply in bars that have a dining room, even if they serve hot food at other times (see the ‘Bars and Restaurants’ chapter)
Types of meals:
  • Esmorza, breakfast: is a very timid affair in Spain. Most people just have a glass of milk or juice and a piece of bread before hitting the road, taking el primero café on the way to work. Breakfasts in hotels and hostales nowadays include cold cuts as well as the usual sweet pastries. Note that commercial hotels, where contractors are likely to stay, and bars in working districts do various cooked breakfasts. Social breakfasts, i.e. wild boar hunts, biker’s parties, etc. serve very substantial breakfast of local specialities – note that it is not unusual to drink alcohol at breakfast time in small amounts – usually beer, wine or spiked coffee (carajillo) laced with brandy, rum, anisette or anything else you fancy!
  • Tapas: as a  cuisine tapas is well enough known abroad, but it also refers to a mid-late morning snack – keeping people on their feet until the big meal at lunchtime. This is repeated in the early evening! As well as tapas, platos combinados and bocadillos are served at this time – basically when the cook is in the kitchen
  • Comida, lunch: is a substantial meal usually of three courses, including postres, meaning literally ‘afters’. Restaurants serve either a fixed price menú del dia, which includes drinks, or a la carta, (see below) what in English we think of as a restaurant menu. Except in hotels and tourist restaurants, menús are most often available only at lunchtime on weekdays (laborables) and may be more expensive at weekends and public holidays (fiestas) – in which case there is usually more choice and larger portions.
  • Merienda: this is a light meal or snack, usually taken when people haven’t the time to eat a full meal – or who have work to do afterwards! In reality this amounts to a plato combinado, but the term is also used to mean a picnic lunch
  • Cena, supper or dinner: again this is a full meal, but most people don’t usually have two full meals in the same day. As mentioned above, menús are rarely available in the evenings, which is a shame for bikers as la comida is usually too filling – and too alcoholic! People usually only eat out in the evenings for special occasions so A la Carta meals offer more choice and are more expensive. But the portions are larger and/or they are more luxury ‘cuisine’ or specialities. Drinks are not included and you have to peruse the wine list. If you don’t want to pay for water you can always ask for a carafe of tap water – agua de grifo.
Holidays and fiestas:
  • There is no Sunday opening as such in Spain, apart from baker’s shops. Some small general stores open on Sunday mornings and supermarkets and shopping malls are allowed to open on some Sundays to replace trading hours lost during fiestas; these are usually saved up for the pre-Christmas period, etc.
  • Fiestas: it’s worth looking out for local fiestas as well as remembering the national holiday calendar. Every town has two local feast days in addition to the region’s own two holidays.
  • Many small restaurants close one day a week, usually Mondays or Tuesdays, and often the evening before.