Why Spaniards eat late

Some light reading for this saturday, head over to the BBC site in link.

I can’t deal with it so what I do is make lunch a main/big meal and eat tapas or have a picnic in my room at my normal dinner time. This way I can go to sleep at normal bedtime. Also did the same in Argentina and Chile.

1 Like

That link is to the BBC’s international site - not available to those of us in the UK.

Members of my extended family are Spanish (although now living in the UK). The brother in law worked in the building trade. During the summers, he and his crew would start very early in the morning, allowing them to have done a full days work by early afternoon. So, the working day would be ended with lunch and a siesta.

Siesta isnt as important a thing in the northern Catalan speaking areas as it is in hotter provinces. But there is still a thing where businesses might close for a long lunch break. That means they reopen late afternoon and stay open until fairly well into the evening. By the time, you’ve got home, showered, changed, cooked dinner (or dined out), it is inherently late. Of course, if there’s been a “proper” cooked lunch, food in the evening is going to be much more snacky, even if eaten later in the evening.

1 Like

Holy cats, fascinating. The article doesn’t link late-night dining to the tapas tradition. But is that the thought behind small plate grazing? To avoid a huge meal at bedtime?

NYC people: back in the 19th c I did business in the museum world in Manhattan and it seemed like most people rolled into the office around 10 and stayed working until 8. I couldn’t figure out why. Is this common (still?) ? And: why?

Here is the gist of it, cut and pasted:

While travellers might attribute Spain’s late mealtimes to the country’s laidback Mediterranean attitude, the real reason is a little more peculiar. Spaniards are living in the wrong time zone, and have been for more than 70 years.
Spain goes by Central European Time, putting it in sync with Serbia (Credit: Facto Foto/Getty)
Spain goes by Central European Time, putting it in sync with Serbia (Credit: Facto Foto/Getty)
Glance at a map and you’ll realise that Spain – sitting, as it does, along the same longitude as the UK, Portugal and Morocco – should be in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). But Spain goes by Central European Time (CET), putting it in sync with the Serbian capital Belgrade, more than 2,500km east of Madrid.
Spaniards are living in the wrong time zone, and have been for more than 70 years.
So why are Spaniards living behind their geographic time zone?
In 1940, General Francisco Franco changed Spain’s time zone, moving the clocks one hour forward in solidarity with Nazi Germany.
For Spaniards, who at the time were utterly devastated by the Spanish Civil War, complaining about the change did not even cross their minds. They continued to eat at the same time, but because the clocks had changed, their 1pm lunches became 2pm lunches, and they were suddenly eating their 8pm dinners at 9pm.

And then it concludes: Spaniards are sleep deprived.

1 Like

Thanks for that, jammie.

Let me make this observation. Purely a a personal one, unsupported by hard evidence. We visit Tenerife annually and have noted that, whilst the Spaniards eat dinner late, it doesnt seem quite as late as in, say, Andalucia. And Tenerife (and the other Canary islands) are on GMT, unlike the rest of the country.

I noticed it myself, twenty years ago in New York. It just seemed civilized to everyone.

In fact, I believe the NYC habit of rolling into work late probably saved the lives of thousands of WTC workers on 9/11.

That article was posted on a few Spanish Tripadvisor boards and local experts have debunked it, saying that eating schedules have little to do with time zones and everything to do with work schedules.

I don’t have a horse in this race, but I would tend to believe the Spaniards.

John - you make a good point. Different part of Spain eat at different times. Barcelona seems to eat late, as does Andalusia but up in the Basque country its relatively normal .

I think the clock theory plays some part, but its also driven by the working pattern on the southern coast and hot centre. People start work early, break at lunch for a siesta when its too hot to work (no air conditioning), and come back to work in the early evening, so dinner is later. Its the same in many Mediterranean countries not just Spain.

I thought the tapas tradition was for small snacks to be served with evening drinks before the main evening meal. It’s quite traditional to go out for an evening stroll around the town squares, cafes and bars - a sort of Spanish “Passeggiata” - dropping in for a quick drink with friends as you pass favourite spots.

Originally they were just rounds of bread that were sat on top of the glass of sherry/wine and you would only have one per drink. The modern trend of eating tapas for a meal is quite recent (and I suspect more tourist orientated) but bars did start to compete for business with more and more elaborate tapas.

I’m no expert on this, but here goes. Tapas are not eaten at meal times unless they are ordered as appetizers in certain places that offer them as part of their menu. Tapas are almost always had at bars to accompany a drink. Eating so-called small plates is not a tapeo. The small plates people think of when they refer to tapas are actually media-raciones or raciones. These are eaten at bars, tabernas, mesons, etc. in the communal dining style that non-Spaniards call tapas. When ordering a specific dish in a bar, taberna etc. you can get them in different sizes. A tapa is snack-sized and is difficult to share because it is not meant to be. A media-racion is for sharing by two or three people. A racion is for larger groups. You usually order a number of dishes, not all at once, until everyone has had enough.

Of course, people can go for a tapeo instead of having dinner, but the tradition is to have drinks and tapas before dinner. This, of course, can differ from one region to another as different regions have different dining traditions.

This article explains it well: http://partaste.com/la-carta-raciones-understanding-spanish-menu/

1 Like

With many regions not really having a Tapas tradition. A good example is Barcelona where most of the Tapas places are geared for tourists and tend to reflect Basque or Andalusian styles.

Over the water, Mallorca would be another.

I periodically contribute to an English language forum covering part of the island. I well recall a thread started by someone who had been in a tourist bar which usually had some tapas available. Only this time there was nothing, the bar owner saying that there hadnt been a delivery from the catering wholesaler. Hermanos Brakes, perhaps, Phil. :slight_smile:

Interesting observation


Many people don’t realize that in India (and even other parts of Asia), meals are also had later than what Westerners expect. Lunch is usually at 1-2pm, and dinner at 8-9pm, or even later, depending on work schedules. If you go to a dinner party, having dinner at 10-11pm is normal (there are appetizers or snacks served earlier). Even here in the US, it’s not unusual to attend a wedding reception and be served dinner at 11pm.

When I go to Singapore and Malaysia, it’s common in my family to have dinner around 8:30-9pm, and then go out for supper at 1-2am.

The time zone theory doesn’t work with Greece. I haven’t been there in a long time, but about 30 years ago everything shut down between around 2 and 4 or even 6, then opened until around 7 or 8. A google search on “Greece siesta” says this is still true, though in tourist areas shops and restaurants may stay open during the naptime.

Depends on your industry/job in nyc, plenty of us get in early and then leave late…
in general 8-9pm is prime time for dinner reservations

I loved our trip through Spain but those hours are grueling. Work til 8? Prime time TV at 10:30? At work by 9 in the morning again? Crazy.

We stuck with a 3:00 lunch mostly and that was fine. But a couple of times we wanted a night out and we’d be standing at the door when they opened at 8:30 and then fall into bed stuffed at 11.

It works the other way as well. I always found it tricky to adjust to US dining hours on trips. Lunch at 11:30, dinner at 6:30…how do you fit in a few drinks before diner, what do you do for the rest of the evening…?

Grew up un the UK, lived in France, spent a lot of time on holiday around the med and I am now in Australia - those hours seem quite normal. I find its only really the US that eats so early.

1 Like

In some similar vein, we’re doing a cruise in a few weeks - American owned and operated ship. On another forum, I asked about best place to grab an early quick breakfast on days when we’ve booked a morning excursion. Got replies listing virtually every venue on the ship and I came away with the impression that folk simply didnt think this was “early” and, therefore, there was always plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast.