Food is a huge part of any given culture. It’s important to know what you like and don’t like, but it’s more important to be willing to try new things, and you should try EVERYTHING — unless you have a food allergy, in which case you should not try new things containing foods you are allergic to. Do not do something stupid because a blog post told you to try new foods. Please.
The food in Seville is definitely different from the food in America. How can it not be, right? Obviously. But there are some things I’ve noticed in particular having to do with food that I figured I’d share, so you know what to look for.
The Ice Cream is Not Real Ice Cream
This feels really important to mention; probably more so because I grew up in the Dairy State, but still. They’re big on gelato. You can find tons and tons of gelato, there’s a Gelatería on every street, the same with ATM’s and pharmacies. But. Gelato is not ice cream. It’s close, but it’s like craving a fresh-baked brownie drizzling in hot chocolate sauce and walking away with a kit-kat instead. They do have occasional Haagen Dazs Ice Cream stores, and every once in a while you can find a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. But it’s not super common. So if your go-to stressed out comfort food is ice cream, be ready to look for the nearest HD or B&J places.
Meals and Snacks
Let’s be real here. Snacks are super common in America. I don’t think I went a week in college without at some point packing a granola bar, or stopping to pick up an apple or something during the morning or afternoon. In Spain, they eat breakfast around 7-8AM, lunch around 2-3:30PM, and dinner around 9-11PM. There are occasional snacks around 6-7PM, called meriendas [meh-ree-ehn-dahs], which are usually something light and sweet, like a pastry to go with afternoon coffee (or tea, if that’s your thing). Otherwise, you really don’t have a lot of eating times. And that’s a long time to go in between meals if you’re coming from a place that usually eats their meals approximately 4-6 hours apart with snacks in between. The other part of this topic is that because of the cultural difference, there really aren’t a lot of snacky foods to choose from. Some people were able to find granola bars or crackers, sometimes nuts, but most likely the closest thing you’ll find is some kind of fruit. Which is fine, but it took some getting used to. Like everything else.
Spaniards also tend to think it’s kind of funny to watch us fumble around, asking for food every few hours. It’s such a rare concept to them. But I think we’re more familiar with the concept of grazing; eating less, but eating more often- like, every few hours. In the Spanish culture, lunch is typically the biggest meal of the day. Breakfast is about the same, small or big depending on the person, sometimes even can be forgone. One thing about breakfast though– the typical Spanish breakfast? Tomatoes with olive oil. Toast optional. Yeah, not quite the same as a pop-tart. Lunch is treated more like dinner. Everyone comes home from work (for siesta–favorite part of the day!) and they all eat lunch together before resuming their activities, work, studying, etc. in the evening. Dinner, which falls later at night, is about the size of lunch. It’s not uncommon to have some form of bocadillo [boh-kah-dee-yoh], sandwich, and then get ready for bed. Dessert isn’t really a thing that I’ve seen. If there are sweets, it’s usually part of a merienda. Which leads us back to the ice cream thing…. Know where your desserts are. Even if that means hiding some oreos in your room, like me. But then you need to be careful about the ants…
Know Your Food Words
It might be my host family more than most, because I know they love to cook, but I’ve had a significant number of conversations about food. What I like, what I don’t, how we make things, what we eat, what I’ve never tried, what I want to try…. Especially important if you have food allergies. Luckily, food is usually one of the first units in Spanish class, so if you’ve studied Spanish in school you might know a decent amount to begin with, but if not, you might want to brush up before jumping the pond. My host family usually makes sure at least one of us has our phone near the table during meals in case we hit a language barrier during our discussions, usually them describing a type of food to me and waiting for me to figure out the English equivalent. It’s pretty handy, to help the conversation. But I do feel like I’m going to return with a better food vocabulary than academic vocabulary. Oh well. There are worse things.
American Food Stores
They exist. Not many, but they do. My host dad was so excited to tell me about the American food store (Taste of America, in case you’re in Seville or want to look one up). He wanted to know what kinds of food I usually ate that he had never seen before. Tomorrow I’ll be feeding them Pop Tarts (cookies and cream flavor), peanut butter (most Spaniards have tried it, but it’s always imported so it’s also not unusual if they’ve never had it–most of them don’t like it because apparently it tastes too sweet?), and macaroni and cheese out of the box. #America
Taking Things To Go
It doesn’t happen. Food to go is an extremely American concept. A typical Spaniard would rather be a half hour late and drink their coffee in the cafe than be on time and bring the coffee along to drink on the go. It’s actually one of the fastest ways to identify an American. Sometimes when people-watching, we’ll play games of Spot-The-Americans, and anyone who is eating and walking at the same time is instantly recognized. So, if you have somewhere to be that you CANNOT be late to (another American concept. Spaniards are notoriously late to everything, all the time.), plan ahead, because your meal will 99% likely be to eat in the restaurant. Even if you ask for it to go, they assume it’s to eat at home. Not on the go. AKA if you ask for a coffee to go, there is a chance that they will put it in a cup with a lid that doesn’t even fit because you are the first person in at least three months to ask for a coffee to go and they don’t even stock disposable carry-out cups, which means you’ll go to take a sip of your steaming hot coffee and the lid will fall off and spill down your entire front and down your pants and you’ll make a huge scene in the middle of the street. Ask me how I know…….
But the most important thing to know about Spanish food?