For the uninitiated, Madrileños may appear to follow crazy lunch and dinner timings
- El Desayuno (Breakfast) - Upto 9 AM
- Lunch - 2-3:30 PM
- Merienda(Snack) - 5:30 P.M. TO 7:30 P.M.
- Aperitivo(Tapas) - 8:30 P.M. TO 10 P.M.
- Dinner - 9:30 P.M. TO 1: P.M.
Breakfast is generally the smallest meal of the day, while lunch is generally elaborate. Previously, siesta after lunch was common with business downing their shutters between 2:00pm to 4:30pm. Not anymore, lunch is now limited to one hour though the tradition of Menu of the day (Menu del dia) has not faded away.
Madrileños are night owls. Dinner is consumed close to mid night. On weekends and on holidays, Madrileños will be socializing into the wee hours of the morning at their favorite neighborhood taverns.
According to this article, odd dinner time has to do more with the time zone of Spain than with any cultural habit. Spain is along the same longitude as the UK and hence should be following Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). However, Spain goes by Central European Time (CET) because,in 1940, General Francisco Franco changed Spain’s time zone to show solidarity with Nazi Germany.
Know the Right Mealtimes for Local Food
It’s okay to get confused with the Spanish mealtimes especially in Madrid where they are more traditional than the rest of the country. Mealtimes in Spain can get confusing for a first time visitor, especially because they change depending on how traditional or cosmopolitan the place is. While you will never be hungry as a visitor, getting the meal-time wrong is the last thing you would want since you will be left with no option but to relegate yourself to reheated bar shop or tourist-trap restaurants.
Madrid meal time table!
- Desayuno (Breakfast): 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
- Almuerzo (Mid-morning snack): 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
- La Comida (Lunch): 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
- Merienda (Mid-afternoon snack): 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- La hora del aperitivo (Tapas Hour): 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
- La Cena (Dinner): 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
A small Desayuno (Breakfast)
Breakfast is the least important meal in the Spanish culture. Spaniards are late risers, and it is rare that you will even find coffee earlier than 7am. Most Spanish folk actually skip this meal, and if one has to take anything ‘proper’, you will have to wait until 10 am. The breakfast meal is usually simple, and the most common Madrid breakfast foods include;
• Toasted baguette brushed with olive oil and topped with crushed tomato
• Croissants (Plain, cream-filled, Chocolate, or grilled with jam)
• Churros and Porros, (fried dough sticks), dipped in thick hot chocolate.
• For drinks, there is café con leche, or fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Almuerzo (Mid-morning snack) on the go
At this time most people are already at their workplace where their employers give them a break to have their real breakfast. Most of them prefer eating a piece of toast with either butter and jam. Some prefer a croissant or pastry. For people visiting Madrid, you may term this as a second breakfast, and you can order coffee and pastries, which are relatively cheaper. You will have all the time until 11 to enjoy your breakfast.
A big La Comida (Lunch)
Spaniards can skip either of the two breakfasts but not lunch. To them, lunch is a big deal, and that is why it is called ‘ La Comida’ meaning ‘the meal.' You hear the sound of that? “The Meal” much like it’s the only meal that actually counts as food! Be patient and wait till 2pm if you are looking for a decent, traditional lunch. Good restaurants won’t even open before 1.30pm.
Notably, most lunch restaurants have a ‘menu del dia’ or set menu of the day. You must have this convenient meal at least once on your trip; it is a complete and economical meal. The prices of the two-course meal plus bread accompanied by a drink (wine, soda or beer) and either dessert or coffee, are usually affordable unless you choose to go to fancier restaurants where you may part with £10-£14. And you can choose from a decent range of options for your first and second courses.
Catch up with a Merienda (Mid-afternoon snack)
The mid-afternoon snack time which is also referred to as La Merinda is often more often used for socializing than eating. This is the time when friends meet up for coffee. The fare for the Merienda is mostly sweet churros with chocolate, ice cream, and pastries.
La hora del aperitivo (Tapas Hour)
Around 8.30 is when the real fun of eating begins in Madrid. This is the time when tapas bars start to open. Although the style, size, and prices of tapas vary depending on the region, in most parts of Madrid, the delightful (though less common) thing is to be surprised by a free tapa with your drink.
Traditional tapas bars are standing-only. Your free tapa could take the shape of a small bowl of potato chips, or if you are lucky you could enjoy a substantial serving of fideua, the Catalonian equivalent of Paella.
La Cena (Dinner) is optional
Dinner is taken at late hours around 10.00 and is usually lighter than it would be in Britain or the USA. Dinner at Madrid will comprise of a salad, sausages or aged cheese, a plate of cured ham or just a piece of fruit. Most bar dinners and restaurants menus include tortilla de patata or Spanish omelet that is made from egg, onion, and potato. Other popular dinner dishes include; cured meats such as Iberian ham and cured sausages, huevos rotos(these are fried potatoes topped with fried sunny-side up eggs) and croquetas.
Here in Madrid, you are sure never go hungry since many tourists restaurants are open to eating at any time. It all depends on what you are looking for. Personally, I prefer tapas to sit down restaurants meals. Tapas bars are always open too.
Authentic meals are served at traditional meal times
Getting to know the Madrid mealtime schedule is very important especially if you are visiting the place for the first time. As a Spain-based tour operator, we often see first-time travelers being caught up on a daily basis. Knowing the meal times is the best way to ensure you eat authentic Spanish foods. And don’t worry about tipping; most places include a 15% ‘servicio incluido’ mention on the bill.