What Lunchtime Looks Like In Spain

Across the Spanish countryside, cuisine is king, especially when it's time for la comida. Lunchtime in Spain is a precious window for rest amidst a busy work day, so the locals take advantage of it to recharge before returning to business. Similar to lunchtime in France, the biggest meal of the day in Spain is a multi-course lunch, lasting two to three hours. Around 2 p.m. every day, and sometimes as early as 1:30 p.m. in some areas, businesses close, and restaurants are flooded with hungry, off-the-clock patrons. Clinking wine glasses and friendly chatter fills the air between 2 and 4 p.m., with groups leaving to enjoy the country's time-honored siesta. After a brief power nap, it's back to the grind.

Spain has a famously long work day because of this extended lunch break, during which employees don't get home until around 8 p.m. and may eat dinner as late as 11 p.m. For commuters who travel hours to get to work, the standard lunch hours may look a bit different. The government allows the typical one-hour lunch for workers in bustling cities like Barcelona and Madrid, and many large stores in these areas no longer close during this time for tourists. One major factor contributing to the Spanish late lunch is that the country has been living in a slightly wrong time zone since World War II, so everything is pushed forward an hour.

Dishes commonly eaten for lunch in Spain

A few staple foods can be found on every Spanish lunch table. Freshly baked bread is never in short supply – along with coffee as a midday pick-me-up or a glass of sangria. Tapas restaurants are everywhere, but rather than snacking on a few appetizers, it's generally much more affordable to order from the menu del dia (menu of the day). It's common for eateries to offer this fixed-price menu that allows groups to sample three courses of various must-try Spanish dishes for around 10 to 15 euros. Spain's diet is a healthier Mediterranean cuisine with low sodium and sugar, and desserts are made from fresh dairy or fruit.

Of course, seafood is present on many Spanish lunch menus, with such dishes as soups, paella, or platters of freshly caught fish common. Meats like wine-cooked chorizo, lamb, pork, and roast chicken are standard entrees, while charcuterie boards stacked with cured meats, cheeses, and Spanish olives are a local favorite. Fried potatoes, called patatas bravas, are a flavorful signature food always on Spanish tapas bar menus. Other specialty dishes like chickpea stew, spicy gazpacho, garlic shrimp, and a light serving of flan are also great menu options.