Spanish Breakfast Foods

In Spain, a breakfast, or el desayuno, is the smallest meal of the day. The Spanish typically eat a large midday meal but start the day off with something simple such as a sweet roll and coffee. Children may drink a cup of thick and creamy Spanish hot chocolate or cold chocolate milk with a roll, although cereals have become popular with children in the last 20 years.

If breakfast is eaten outside the home, like in a cafe or local bar, it will be a little more substantial, but still, nothing compared to a typical American breakfast. Toast with various toppings and small sandwiches are common fare enjoyed by Spaniards to begin their day. Any breakfast you eat in Spain should tide you over until noon when you’ll most likely be whisked off to the local bars for a few glasses of wine and some tapas before lunch!

  • 01 of 07

    Cafe Con Leche

    Cafe con leche
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    Coffee is an important part of the Spanish diet, but many Americans may be surprised to learn that coffee in Spain is very different from what we are used to in the States. Like most European nations, Spain prefers espresso to drip coffee.

    You can have your coffee black (cafe solo), but the Spaniards' drink of choice is cafe con leche, espresso combined with steamed milk. Thanks to companies like Starbucks, most Americans are now familiar with the espresso drink known as the latte, which is similar to cafe con leche but includes "microfoam." 

  • 02 of 07

    Spanish Hot Chocolate

    Cropped hand holding a churro over hot chocolate

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    This common breakfast beverage—for adults and kids alike—bears no resemblance to the hot chocolate we are familiar with in America. Instead of a pale powder, Spanish hot chocolate is made with pieces of chocolate, cornstarch, and milk. After melting the chocolate into the warm milk/cornstarch combination, the mixture is cooked slowly over low heat until it is thick. It becomes so thick that a churro can stand up straight in the cup. 

  • 03 of 07

    Various Juices

    Filtering fresh orange juice

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    Many bars and cafes have a juicer and will be making freshly squeezed juice to order. The most popular is zumo de naranja, or orange juice. At home, it may be more common to drink bottled juices.

  • 04 of 07

    Ensaimadas (Sweet Bread)

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    One of the best elements of a Spanish breakfast has to be the sweet bread known as ensaimadas. These breads come in many different styles and flavors, and they date back centuries. The first known recipes for these breads originated in the 1700s. Back then, reduced pig lard was a major ingredient, but today you can find most breads without it. Now it's common to have fruit or sugar-coated ensaimadas.  

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  • 05 of 07

    Breakfast Pastries

    Churros and hot chocolate

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    The most basic breakfast food would be a simple roll with jam or a sweet roll, but another popular breakfast treat is a magdalenaoriginally a shell-shaped lemon-flavored cake that is now more often in the form of a cupcake. Magdalenas are rich in flavor, but light and fluffy in texture, and have a sweet and lemony taste.

    Although we may know churros as a Mexican or Spanish dessert, they are a traditional breakfast food in Spain. The lightly fried dough is similar to a doughnut but shaped into long "sticks" with deep ridges, and sprinkled with sugar or honey.  

  • 06 of 07


    Torrijas in a pile

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    Another popular breakfast food is torrijas, which is Spanish bread pudding topped with sugar and cinnamon or rich honey. Torrijas is very similar to the popular American dish French toast and is usually made with the slices of bread that no one wants to make a sandwich with, like the ends. Milk, sugar, and cinnamon are brought to a boil and left to rest for five minutes before pouring over the bread. After sitting for an hour, the soaked bread is dipped into a whisked egg and fried.  

  • 07 of 07

    Toasts and Sandwiches

    Pan con tomate and serrano ham

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    Whether at home or in a local cafe, it is not unusual to see toast accompanied by butter or mild, soft cheese. Pan con tomate is very popular; a simple toasted bread rubbed with ripe tomato, garlic, and olive oil. Other open sandwiches enjoyed as a first meal are tostada con mantequilla y mermelada (bread with butter and jam) and toast with jamon, which is Spanish dry-cured ham. French bread sandwiches called bocadillos are offered with a variety of fillings for breakfast.