La Comida: What's in a Traditional Spanish Lunch

  • 01 of 06

    The Typical Spanish Lunch

    Family toasting wineglasses at table in yard
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    Lunch in Spain is a bit different from what we're used to in America. The large midday meal, called la comida, has several courses and usually includes five or six choices in each. At home, Spaniards do not traditionally eat “fancy” dishes on a daily basis, but still enjoy a soup or pasta dish, salad, meat and/or fish, and a dessert, such as fruit or cheese. 

    Here are the various courses you would enjoy in Spain during la comida, including some typical dishes for each course, along with recipes you can try at home.

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  • 02 of 06

    Entrantes: Appetizers

    Jamon
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    Appetizers, or entrantes as they are called in Spain, are simple dishes to start the meal, such as a plate of cheese, Serrano ham, or other cured meats and cheeses that are popular in Spain. Although we think of  tapas as appetizers, tapas are not called entrantes, even though some of the same dishes are eaten.

    Pan con tomate (tomato bread) is a humble dish often presented at the beginning of la comida. Crusty bread is toasted, rubbed with a clove of garlic and ripe tomato, and drizzled with olive oil. Bringing the tastes of sweet and salty together is melon con jamon, an easy-to-make dish of skewered honeydew and Serrano ham.

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  • 03 of 06

    Primer Plato or Primero: First Course

    Sopa de pescado y mariscos
    Robin Grose

    This course can comprise many different dishes—a soup, such as sopa de pescado y marisco (fish and shellfish soup), or a vegetable dish like grilled asparagus, artichokes sautéed with ham, mushrooms, etc. A traditional Castilian recipe, sopa de ajo (garlic soup) is a peasant-style bowl made with day-old bread, ham, and garlic (of course); each bowl is topped with a poached egg.

    Or bring a bit of the Mediterranean to your table with Spanish grilled eggplant in a tomato vinaigrette, a make-ahead dish seasoned with capers, basil, and garlic.

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  • 04 of 06

    Pescados: Fish

    Seafood Paella
    Dave G Kelly / Moment / Getty Images

    The next course may be fish or shellfish, such as clams or shrimp with sauce or rice, or grilled or baked fish. The Spanish love all types of seafood and expect it to be fresh, no matter how far away they are from the coast. Try rape al limon, fish in lemon sauce, or pescado frito con salsa de cebolla, simple dish of fish with onion sauce. Bacalao con tomate—codfish with tomato sauce—is also a nice choice. Of course, you can put together the fan favorite paella de marisco, a delicious seafood rice. 

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  • 05 of 06

    Carnes: Meat

    rabbit stew with tomatoes
    Getty Images/Brian Hagiwara

    In this course, any one of a variety of meats might be eaten, such as beef fillets (filetes), filet mignon (solomillo), steak (entrecot)roast lamb (cordero asado), pork loin (lomo de cerdo), or roast suckling pig (cochillo asado). In high-end restaurants, you may see game birds such as quail (codorniz) or partridge (perdiz) on the menu.

    In the winter months, it's common to serve a comforting casserole or stew, such as fabada Asturiana, a bean and sausage casserole from northern Spain, or caldereta de cordero, a lamb casserole. Cocido Madrileno is a stew named after Madrid where it originated and is comprised of several parts of the pig, beef, chicken, sausage, garbanzo beans, vegetables, and pasta. Another popular recipe to try is estofado de conejo, rabbit stew in tomato sauce.

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  • 06 of 06

    Postre: Dessert

    Leche flan
    Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

    It may be hard to think about dessert after all this food, but considering the tempting options, you'll want to make room! Typically, you will be offered fresh, seasonal fruit such as peaches in red wineflan (a custard in caramel sauce), several types of ice cream cakes, or ice cream on its own. At the same time, espresso coffee will also be offered.