One of the best parts of living abroad in Spain is being able to enjoy the delicious Spanish cuisine. From espinacas con garbanzos and tortilla de patatas to the world class vino, you can’t go wrong. You’ll soon wonder how you ever lived without jamón iberico and you’ll be anxious to experience all the tapas Spain has to offer. Going out for a couple of tapas is the norm and luckily for students on a budget, eating out is very affordable. Typical tapas range from 2€ to 4€ so you can enjoy as many as you want without putting a big hole in your pocket. Though a meal out at a bar or restaurant is sure to be a good time, be prepared for a completely different experience than at an American restaurant.
Because the eating schedule in Spain is several hours behind what Americans are accustomed to, restaurants and bars don’t begin to fill for dinner until 9:30 or 10pm. Because reservations are generally not accepted (and are certainly not the norm), those hoping to head out for a few tapas should expect to wait for a table at most restaurants, especially more popular locations. On busier nights, it is a good idea to get a glass of wine or a beer from the bar while you wait for a table to clear. It’s best to settle in for the long haul, and to get used to the idea that things in Spain take much longer than you might be used to. Don’t rush yourself. Take your time, order one or two tapas to start, and see how you feel. Spaniards value taking the time to appreciate your meal and talk with your family and friends, and this means dinner might go on for two hours or more.
Don’t expect to receive a water glass or a bread basket when you are seated. Most bars and restaurants in Spain will only bring you water if you specifically request it, and it will almost always be bottled and cost you a few euro. Bread and picos (a crunchy, cracker-like snack) are often served with tapas, but some bars and restaurants will charge extra for these.
Although more restaurants are bringing fusion cuisine to their menus, and moving toward a more upscale ambience, the most typical Spanish bars all serve variations on the same dishes. Some of the most well-known tapas classics include patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a tomato and mayonnaise sauce), croquetas, espinacas con garbanzos (spinach with chickpeas, flavored with garlic, paprika and cumin), paella (a traditional rice dish with paprika, chorizo, seafood, and chicken), boquerones (fried anchovies with vinegar), albóndigas (meatballs), tortilla de patatas (a dish similar to a frittata, comprised of egg and potatoes), and montaditos (miniature sandwiches on baguette-style bread with various fillings). Most Spanish food is fairly filling, often fried and carbohydrate-heavy. Be adventurous with your choices – it’s rare to find anything that won’t delight your palette.
Arrive at a restaurant or bar armed with patience – restaurant service in Spain is nothing like it is in America. You’ll quickly realize the attitude of waiters is incomparable to their American counterparts and it is quite evident that servers are not working for tips in Spain. When you want to order, it is essential to be assertive and flag down your waiter. It is in no way rude to raise your hand to get his or her attention, and you could be waiting for hours if you don’t. They will not come and check up on you to see how your meal is going so when you want to order more or get your bill, so do not take it personally. Leaving a tip is not common; however, if you are extremely impressed with your service, you can leave some change. Anything over a euro would be considered extravagant.