The Menu del Dia in Spanish Cuisine and Culture

Generous Portions for Economical Midday Meal

Spanish menu
Menu del dia in Spanish cuisine.

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In Spain, the menu del dia or menu of the day is offered at restaurants during the midday meal (la comida). Enjoying the menu del dia is the most economical way to eat in Spain. This generously-sized meal is offered all for one price. It normally includes soup or salad, bread, main course with a side dish, dessert, and coffee. Wine or water is included. Usually, you will have two or more choices for the courses.

Meal Times in Spain

In Spain, people typically eat five meals a day. They have an early morning breakfast, another one at around 10 a.m., lunch at around 2 p.m. or 2:30 p.m., then they have a dinner at 6:30 p.m. A late-night dinner is typically served at 9 p.m.

The menu del dia is offered for the comida midday meal and you will see it posted for the early afternoon hours. The traditional work break (siesta) is from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. and shops will close during that time. This is typically the largest meal of the day in Spain.

History

The menu del dia was required for many restaurants in Spain by a law enacted in 1965. The law set standards and pricing for the midday meal to benefit tourism. While initially targeting tourist areas, it became popular throughout Spain by the early 1970s. It also provided a good meal at a reasonable price for workers who couldn't go home for the midday meal.

Ordering the Menu del Dia

In Spanish, la carte is the term for the printed listing of all items offered. If you ask the waiter at a restaurant about the menu, he or she will probably talk about the menu del dia rather than la carte.

If a restaurant does not have its menu del dia listed, it may still be offered. You can ask the server if they have the menu of the day available by asking, “Hay un menu del dia?

You don't have to eat from the menu of the day; you can order from the full menu as well. Perhaps you don't want a larger meal and only want something small, so think about what you want to eat—and where you want to eat —before you go out.

What's on the Menu del Dia

The menu del dia is divided into three sections:

  • El primer plato: Choose between two to three dishes. Bread is included and will be served with this course.
  • El segundo plato: Choose between two to three dishes with sides.
  • El postre: The dessert, with one or two selections.
  • A glass of water, beer, or wine is often included, and coffee may be included with the dessert.

If you order a menu del dia, the price will usually be between 8 to 14 euros. You will need to add a tip onto the fee, following the custom of the locale.

Where to Dine

Pay attention to where you eat in Spain. Some restaurants offer low-quality food and will have a standard printed menu del dia. If you see a menu del dia chalked onto a board it is more likely to be made with fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients.

A good tip is to consult locals for the best meals or see where the crowds go—they typically know where the best spots are located. Look for the restaurants that are filling up at 1:30 p.m.—it shows that people are hurrying there to get a table because it is so good. If it's 2:30 or 3 p.m. and there are a lot of open tables, that restaurant might not be the best choice.