let’s talk lunch

There’s nothing more satisfying than “research” that amounts to eating food. And as the very thorough and dedicated blogger that I am, I wouldn’t dare speak on a topic without having previously logged several hours in the field. So, straight from the trenches, I present the long-awaited part two of the epic mini-series Meals in Spain: Lunch.

Menú in Olvera, 2010. Thanks for the photo http://www.salvophoto.com

They have a word for lunch in Spanish and that word is almuerzo; but in Spain lunch is known simply as la comida, literally the food. And la comida is eaten at mediodía, which is both technically midday due to the position of the sun and literally noon, as in 12:00. However, science be dammed, because in Spain mediodía is 2 o’clock.

Quick tip: if someone in Spain asks you “¿Mañana qué comemos?” they don’t want to know what to eat tomorrow, but what to eat for lunch.

Right, so we’ve established that Spaniards shift time to eat lunch at mediodía, which is not at noon but between two and three o’clock. Lunch is also the most important meal of the day, i.e. heaviest, which is probably why it’s referred to as the food. But on with the show, what do they eat?

Lunch options are pretty limitless so let’s focus on two. One, the menú and two, lunch at casa Hayley + Hubster.

Menú is the workingman’s lunch, a hearty three-course meal to fill you up and get you back to work. The best place for a good menú is any family-style bar (for a rundown of eateries in Spain check out Lauren’s post) and the price will run you anywhere between 7 and 12 euros, depending on location and how fancy a joint you pick.

I happen to live right around the corner from an excellent bar, La Carrera, so let’s check it out.

Menú, two courses, dessert and a drink all for one low, low price.

At La Carrera the menú will run you 8€, but contrary to the photo they have a lot more options than advertised.

Quick tip: Be ready for rapid-fire Spanish when it comes to ordering your courses. Waiters spit out options like they’re toxic, so go knowing things you like and ready to order them quickly.

Here’s the breakdown of our lunches (note: there’s lots of brown and very few veggies, but that’s lunch in Spain, get over it).

Hayley’s lunch: lentejas, lomo al ajillo y natillas de postre: lentil soup to start, pork loin in a garlic sauce (with french fries) and custard for dessert.
Hubster’s lunch: macarones con tomate y atún, san jacobo y mandarina de postre. Macaroni in tomato and tuna sauce, a Saint James: a slice of cheese and meat rolled up and deep-fried and a Clementine for dessert.
But most days we eat at home. Meals at home are generally plato único, just one course, and involve some kind of meat or legume combined with rice or pasta. We tend to cook in large amounts and freeze leftovers to make for easy meals throughout the week. Thus, answering the question what’s for lunch usually involves a quick trip to the freezer. So what have we got in there?
Now let’s play a game. Who cooked what? Hayley comes in with just one point for black bean soup and the Hubster and his mother tie with two points each. The hub: rice and lentils, the suegra: cow tongue and croquetas.

Yes, in Spain it is e-super tipica for Spanish sons and daughters to stockpile frozen specialties from their mommies. I could soapbox on this one, but I’ll just say thanks for the croquetas!

So there you have it, lunch. What do you make of lunch in Spain? What’s in your refrigerator?

And then there’s this.

Cola Cao

Retro Cola Cao ad claiming it's instantaneous, fast, delicious and nutritious.

There’s something you should know about me, I’m a bit of a hot chocolate connoisseur. I renounced coffee at young age and to this day have never been tempted by its habit-forming ways.  I’ve also flirted with a tea habit after a brief stint in London, but, alas, it was not to last.  My heart has and will always belong to a piping hot mug of savory chocolate.

And while a trip to the local Starbucks might be complicated for most, “I’ll have the latté mocha whosit with skim milk, extra foam, two pumps hazel with a caramel drizzle and a pencil in my eye”… I like to keep things simple: classic hot chocolate, whip cream optional.

But, it was not until moving to Spain that I discovered simultaneously the best and worst hot chocolate known to man, Cola Cao.

Cola Cao is a powder packed with vitamins, minerals and chocolate, of course, that can be mixed with milk, water or even used as an ingredient in baking.  It’s sold in all shapes and sizes of plastic bottles or in individual envelopes that 95% of all bars in Spain carry (the other 5% serve Nestle, a poor man’s substitute).

I remember my first Cola Cao like it was yesterday.  It was a sunny but chilly autumn day in El Puerto de Santa María and I was looking for a familiar friend to warm my weary spirit.  I saddled up to the bar and asked for “un chocolate caliente, por favor.” “You mean a Cola Cao?” the barkeep replied.  At the time my Spanish was so inadequate that I just smiled and nodded.   A minute later the bartender served me a small glass of steamed milk with a packet of Cola Cao balanced on its rim like a hat.  I shook the packet a few times to ensure its contents were in place before ripping it open and pouring the chalky substance into the milk. Instead of dissolving instantly like the powders I was accustomed to, the Cola Cao proceeded to form little lumps, which only an hour of teaspoon stirring could resolve.  Finally the moment had arrived to imbibe this strange new liquid and I was… confused, “What the hell is this crap?” I asked my friend Amanda.  “Cola Cao,” she shrugged.

I’ve come a long way since that first cup.  While odd and disconcerting at first, the taste of Cola Cao has grown on me so much so that I now drink it daily, a morning routine I share with millions of Spaniards.  Plus, who wouldn’t love a drink whose marketing strategy is both catchy and slightly racist? (Oh Spain, when will you learn political correctness?)

“Yo soy aquel negrito del África Tropical, que cultivando cantaba la canción del Cola Cao …
I’m that little black boy from tropical Africa, who sang the Cola Cao song while cultivating…