The curious reason why the Spanish eat so absurdly late

You could happily spend the whole day eating and drinking wherever you are in Spain and I often do. One thing leads to another – if you do it right.

Be warned though, this means resetting your eating habits and eating your lunch and dinner at least an hour or two later than you might be used to. That means lunch sometime after 2pm and dinner no earlier than 9pm, although much earlier than 10pm is the norm. But why do the Spaniards eat so late?

When the sun is at its highest in Spain, it’s not noon, it’s 1:30 p.m. If you measure mealtimes by the position of the sun and not by what’s on the clock, the Spanish eat lunch more or less at the same time as the rest of Europe. Dinner, about seven hours later, is also in line with its European counterparts. So why are the clocks not in sync?

Well, up until 1942, Spain used Greenwich Mean Time, just like Britain. But then General Franco, in his dubious wisdom, decided to put the country’s clocks ahead by one hour, corresponding to German Central European Time (CET) or GMT+1. However, after the end of World War II, Spain stayed with MEZ.

If you look at the geographic location, Spain is in the GMT zone. The Greenwich meridian runs through Castellón on the east coast, so most of the country lies to the west of it – as does Portugal, the Canary Islands and the UK, all of which of course have GMT. Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain, is so far west that it should actually be in the nearest time zone, GMT-1.

Another factor influencing late meal times is that during the years of poverty following the Spanish Civil War in the 1940s and 1950s, many people had two jobs: one from early morning to 2 a.m. and another from late afternoon to late evening so they had to adjust their meals to their long work hours.

There is increasing demand to bring Spain back to GMT, but switching the routine would require other changes as well. For example, major news programs appear at 9pm and popular programs such as soap operas and reality shows don’t even start until around 10:15pm and last until at least 11:30pm. Shops are open at least until 8 p.m., as are many museums. Although some companies, particularly multinationals, now allot just an hour or less for lunch, many others allow two hours or more, and many people in all kinds of occupations then have to go back to work by at least 7pm.

Regardless of their work hours or daily routine, however, Spaniards always find time to eat. Of course they don’t all eat all day, every day, but sometimes it sure looks like it. However, oddly enough, they are generally less round than we are in the UK. This has a lot to do with eating real meals; Lunch at lunchtime and dinner at dinnertime is still very entrenched in Spanish society, meaning less snacking on the high-fat, nutrient-poor foods that pack on the pounds.

Wine at 11? How to eat and drink like the Spaniards

To jump right into the gastronomic craze in Spain, dodge breakfast at your hotel and head to a bar. The closest one will do, the first on the left will usually do just fine – look for one that has waiters scurrying about and saucers are lined up on the counter to expedite coffee delivery. Make your way to a stool and order a croissant or toast, with either butter and jam or olive oil and tomato. Or opt for the high-calorie combination of churros and chocolate. On a chilly morning, it’s perfectly acceptable to order a carajillo – coffee with a sip of brandy.

After a bit of sightseeing, it’s time to meet up with the locals again at the bar for an 111, maybe a piece of tortilla or a toasted sandwich. Although this happens across the country, they take it particularly seriously in the Valencia region, where it’s called esmorzaret and often takes the form of a giant baguette filled with some sort of gooey mixture — morcilla sausage, egg and peppers maybe. You could drink more coffee, but a beer or a glass of wine is more likely to go down well at this point. The curious reason why the Spanish eat so absurdly late

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