7 tips for navigating the local food scene in Spain

Sara's take:

Whilst living in Europe, I visited Madrid and Toledo with my parents in 2008 and Barcelona with my friends in 2009, and if I could offer one word of advice for anyone going to study or travel in Spain, it would be this: tapas.

Tapas are snacks, canapés or small appetizers that can be hot or cold and vary from region to region.

The beauty of it is that you can order lots of different tapas and experiment with all kinds of food instead of getting just one dish, and you can then share in the deliciousness amongst family and friends.

And as food is such an important part of the culture in Spain (especially given the fact that you get two hours for lunch), this week, Joe Meringolo is here to share some tips on navigating the food scene in Spain.

Written by guest blogger Joe Meringolo

If you haven’t lived in Spain, or if you don’t speak much Spanish, you’ll find that differences in customs come not only come from language but also from culture.

So when you’re navigating Spain for the first time, you’ll want to have some working cultural context to better adapt and avoid misunderstandings when you're going out for a bite to eat.

After four school years of teaching English and completing my master's in Spain, below are some pieces of advice that could be helpful.

These lessons come from observations that I wish that I knew when I first arrived, so hopefully they serve you as you prepare to embark or consider making the leap.

Embrace the “menú del día”

This popular set meal tends to be offered at lunch and involves a first plate and second plate with a handful of options.

Some places offer a combination of A) a dessert B) a drink C) a coffee D) a choice of A-C individually or E) some combo of A-C.

Some places might offer a “menú” at dinner time, but you’ll get the deal at lunch!

To tip or not to tip?

Tips, generally speaking, aren’t necessary for smaller transactions.

For example, if you order a coffee, you’re welcome to leave the change, but it’s not obligatory.

However, if you have a big meal with others and want to leave some gratuity, typically 10 to 15 percent works.

Splitting bills

In the U.S., people typically pay for what they get and everyone splits the bill based on one's individual order.

In Spain, everyone buys their individual drinks and typically food to share in more informal settings, and at the end, everyone tends to split the bill equally, unless someone joined late and only ordered a drink.

Pro tip: have some smaller bills and coins ready!

Ordering food