Spain is a country that offers incredible sightseeing – world-class cities, great museums, fabulous architecture, history, culture, beaches and more. So what about its food?
We found Spain a fairly challenging destination – not because of the food – which was fine, though seldom outstanding, but rather because of the cultural difference when it comes to mealtimes.
You see, people sit down to eat in Spain late, really late. Lunch seldom begins earlier than 2pm, and so tourists looking for a restaurant serving lunch at midday are most likely to find “tourist’ restaurants open – which are most likely to serve mediocre food at high prices. Authentic Spanish restaurants, where the Spanish themselves eat, won’t be ready for their lunch business so early.
Same with dinner – which can be expected to start around 9pm and continue long into the night.
For singles, or couples without kids, this is completely fine, but for parents with kids, one needs to either plan well, or get used to the fact that the meals that you are going to eat are just not going to be so great, as you’ll undoubtedly be missing out on the best Spanish restaurants.
When I took my kids we stayed in an apartment in Barcelona – this gave us our own cooking facilities which were extremely useful – we weren’t tied to anyone elses eating hours. Out of the big cities, we often stayed in small villages or in rural accommodations with little or nonexistent nightlife, and as a result we found food was much easier to obtain at times that suited us.
Spain is a great place for kids – people are friendly, and even sights that one wouldn’t immediately think would be interesting to kids turn out to fascinate them. Think of the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona- they are so weird and unusual that kids find them fascinating, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao turned out be super kid friendly – well it should, with a massive flower bedecked statue of a dog outside.
As for food, we found that it was good but not great. We struggled to find a memorable paella, and the sweet dishes and pastries were only ok. The best food we had by far was at a small “Pazo” – a rural castle – in Galicia in North-West Spain. Galicia is studded with the most incredible accommodations, typically noble houses and estates that have been in the same family for centuries, and we really hit the jackpot at Pazo de Souto, an incredible manor house somewhere on the way to La Coruna. It was amazing for the kids – it even had its own maze in the huge estate gardens. The food we had there was simply outstanding – wonderful “rape” (monkfish) and incredible steak. I would probably go all the way back to Spain just to eat there again.
I guess the one problem with our food experience in Spain is that we are not pork eaters – and if there is one product that Spain prides itself on it is its ham. Throughout our journey, we would see huge hams hanging from the ceilings in restaurants and specialty food stores, and I have no doubt that Spanish ham is outstanding – perhaps the best in the world for all I know. But we didn’t try it.
So, if you’re thinking of taking the kids to Spain go by all means – they’ll love it and so will you. But perhaps don’t expect to be blown away by the food, at least not in the main tourist areas. As soon as you get off the beaten path though, the chances are high that you’ll hit some fantastic places to eat. And make sure you have snacks on hand for the kids – chances are neither you nor they are going to get used to the Spanish eating times while you’re there.
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