La Comida—Spain’s Most Important Meal

Spanish food, American food. Spanish meals, American meals. Spanish life, American life. How are they similar? How are they different?

Okay, I’m going to stop sounding like a blue-book exam right about now.

In Spain, you may hear people say the following:

  • Salimos después de comer.
  • ¿Cuándo vais a comer?
  • Paramos para comer.
  • Te dieron de comer, ¿no?

I’ve figured it out—the Spanish day isn’t structured around the clock (not really). It’s all about la comida, lunch. (In high school we learned the word almuerzo, which isn’t the same thing in Spain. Almuerzo tends to be a mid-morning snack, whereas la comida is lunch around 2 or 3 p.m.) This led me to tell Mario that people are fixated on eating lunch! It plays such a central role.

In the states, we have morning until 11:59 a.m., afternoon after 12 p.m., evening after about 6 p.m., and night after about 9 p.m.

In Spain, morning is until you eat. After that it’s la tarde (literally “the afternoon”) until you have dinner. After dinner, it’s nighttime. For me, it’s still weird to hear 7 p.m. being referred to as 7 in the afternoon, but I’m getting used to it.

Spanish food

Photo from Hayley Comments

Eating must be pretty important for Spaniards! Of course, you know it is. Most Spaniards I know would not want to spend their lunch hour in front of the computer with a sandwich in their hand. Indeed, this is the antithesis of the traditional Spanish lunch.

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Dad and I eating in San Sebastián, Spain

What is the (traditional) Spanish lunch about, then? It’s about …

taking a real break. Don’t give me any 30-minute lunches, I’m talking at least an hour and maybe two. Of course, if you have a job, it’s shorter. Mario has a full two hours to eat, but since we live in Madrid, going home for lunch would just be silly. In small towns it is much easier to do this. Nonetheless, most Spaniards take a break, even if it is just to sit down with work colleagues in the office.

… first plate, second plate, fruit, dessert, coffee. At least in la casa de mis suegros, this is how it goes, almost always. You can shake things up a bit by having small appetizers for the first course or making the fruit the dessert. My father-in-law has fruit, dessert, and then sometimes a small cookie with coffee. Sweet tooth? Nah.

… the three o’clock news. Unless it’s a special meal, the news tends to be on while we’re eating. This doesn’t mean we always pay attention to it. Before the news comes on, we watch The Simpsons. Because of the timing, a lot of Spaniards end up watching the Simpsons, a fact I attribute to its immense success here in Spain.

la sobremesa. A word with no real English equivalent, sobremesa is the chat after the meal, as people linger over coffee, sweets, and liqueurs. As people are generally content with their bellies full and the wine flowing through their veins, there can be some really intriguing and enlightening conversations that occur.

la siesta. This is not as true as it once was, but many do pause to take a short nap, whether it be on the couch or in a bed! I find that the more I eat, the more I want a siesta! Of course, when we’re having dinner at my in-laws’ house, we generally don’t eat lightly.

La comida, besides meaning lunch, literally means “food,” emphasizing the meal’s importance for many Spaniards. As I live here longer and longer, I am beginning to love the concept and embrace the (outdated?) concept of sitting down with loved ones and pressing pause for a moment.

What do you love about the Spanish idea of la comida?

Drinking Domus in Toledo

Put down that Mahou. Right now.

Mahou

I mean it. Put it down.

Newsflash for all you non-beer drinkers: Mahou, Spain’s most popular beer, is not that good. Most large-scale Spanish beer isn’t that good. (But never fear, Spain! Neither is large-scale U.S. beer.) For example: San Miguel, Estrella Damm, or Cruzcampo. (Cat, please don’t kill me for this statement, and I promise I will buy you all the Cruzcampo you want.) The one good thing it’s got going for it is that it’s refreshing. Mmm, watery beer. According to this review,

I can’t find anything that would distinguish it from a hundred others … Well, maybe one thing—it’s way too gassy for my liking … It’s refreshing enough if served ice cold and as it’s pretty inoffensive … bland even.

But good news, Spaniards and expats living in Spain! Not all is lost. The microbrewery craze is finally hitting Spanish shores (and inland, too). If you don’t know, a microbrewery is a brewery that produces beer on a small scale. For instance, in my favorite town of Bloomington, IN, a great microbrewery is Upland. In Madrid, there are several new(ish) breweries around. In Madrid, I have had La Cibeles and Lest.

But better than both of those was a beer I had this weekend while on a trip to Toledo:

Domus

Cervezas_DOMUS02

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Domus is a handcrafted beer from Toledo. The name Domus means “home” in Latin and refers to its homemade quality. On the beer’s logo you can see the two-headed eagle from Toledo’s coat of arms.

Domus was launched in 2009 in Toledo’s modest Santa Barbara neighborhood by Fernando Campoy. Campoy had been a beer fan from a young age, and the idea of launching his own company came to him about five years before he began Domus. Thus, he set out to learn and research by talking to different brewmasters from around the world and visiting microbreweries in order to learn and understand every possible detail of the process.

Mario and I tried two beers, the Regia and the Summa. However, we are excited to try more of the varieties soon!

Domus Regia

Domus Regia

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Domus Regia, Mario’s favorite, is a classic: everyone will like it. As a toasted and top-fermented beer, the roasted malt shines through. With 4.3% ABV, the Regia is a lovely shade of amber, and its turbid appearance is due to the yeast, which is suspended in the beer, as it is not filtered.

Given its smoothness and balance, this beer could accompany just about any meal or snack, as it is able to balance high-contrast foods as well as enhance the aromas and flavors of otherwise relatively bland foods (white fish, soft cheeses, etc.).

Domus Summa

Domus Summa

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Domus Summa, my favorite, is not for the faint of heart or for those who don’t like beer. Its higher alcohol content (7.2% ABV) makes it a rather more complex beer than the Regia. The Summa is brewed with roasted malt, but it’s the touch of honey that gives it a subtle sweetness in both its aroma and taste. Its style could be compared to the Belgian abbey ales. It’s also darker than its sister beer, more of a dark-brown burgundy shade.

Unlike the Belgian abbey ales, however, the Summa is not quite as full bodied as one would expect. It is, perhaps surprisingly, quite easy to drink despite its 7.2% ABV. It would go quite well with strongly flavored dishes, like jamón or chorizo, stews, or red meat—not to mention chocolate!

Domus Aurea

Domus Aurea

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Domus Aurea, which we did not try, is an India Pale Ale (IPA). In the 19th century, the English found themselves in need of a beer that would last the whole voyage from England to India. Thus, they came up with a beer with lots of hops and alcohol, which allowed the beers to stay good on the long journey. Nonetheless, the Aurea has rather lower levels of hops and bitterness than a typical IPA. Its scent is very spicy, with the hops being very present. Its lightweight body and carbonation make it a beer that is very easy to drink.

As with Regia, it can be enjoyed with a variety of dishes, from fresh cheeses to desserts.

Domus Greco

Domus Greco

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Domus is also launching a beer for the fourth centenary of El Greco. If you don’t know, El Greco (literally “The Greek”), was born in Greece and resided in both Venice and Rome, but he set up shop in Toledo in 1577, spending the rest of his life there. In that time, Toledo was the religious capital of Spain and one of the greatest cities in Europe. El Greco painted some of his best and most famous pieces there, including El entierro del señor de Orgaz (in English: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz).

Where Can I Find It?

Unfortunately, I think that Domus is only available in the Toledo area or online (with high shipping costs to boot!), so it’s not easily accessible. Nonetheless, if you happen to visiting Toledo for a weekend—it’s a great day trip from Madrid!—stop by one of the many establishments that sell it and enjoy un tercio (33 centiliters) or una caña (draft, smaller portion).

Bodegas Elias Mora

Two weeks ago, I got the chance to visit my favorite bodega (winery), Bodegas Elias Mora. Thanks to my friend Ángela, who’s the owner/operator’s niece, I felt comfortable enough to attend the Festinto 2012, even though it was technically open to the public. I did learn one thing, though: when they say the party starts at 9, don’t get there until 10, or someone will say to you, “I don’t know who you are.” Don’t be on time, did you hear me?

Oh well, if we’d arrived later, we wouldn’t have gotten as good of photos.

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