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WHY PEOPLE EAT SO LATE IN SPAIN?

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San Miguel Market, Madrid

There's no denying that Spanish food is one of the best in Europe, and the Spaniards love to take time to enjoy their meals. However, the 10 pm dinner culture here may surprise you when visiting this country.

Khoi Nguyen

On my first morning in Madrid, I woke up with an empty stomach and hit the street to find some food. Time was already past 11, so a big lunch is what I wanted. However, most restaurants were still closed, and the opened ones only served cafes. Turns out I was looking for lunch when many locals are still having breakfast. 

While it's not true to say that Spaniards have late breakfast, their lunch and dinner are  generally later than in most countries. In Spain, lunch is the biggest meal in the day and generally eaten in the early afternoon or afternoon, before or during siesta (which is a lunch break in Spain). Dinner is lighter and eaten very late, normally between 9 pm and midnight.

 

Something that many consider "Spanish laid-back lifestyle" could be one of the explanations, however, the real reason why Spaniards eat late is because they live in the wrong time zone. It may sound funny, but this is due to a complicated political reason in the past.

​It dates back to World War II when Spain was under the rule of General Francisco Franco, a dictator. In 1940, he changed Spain's clock to one hour ahead to make Spain in the same time zone as Nazi Germany. After the war, the clock was never changed back, and Spain has been running on Central European time, when geographically it is on Greenwich Mean time zone, along with Portugal, the UK and Morocco.

Spaniards did not adjust their normal schedule to the new time zone, which means their meals, work hours or even TV programs were pushed one hour ahead on the clock. The 8 pm dinner then became 9 pm.

 

Aside from that, the time change also means the sun rose and set an hour later. In the summer, the days are longer, perfect for a 10 pm tapas. These super late dinners explain why the nation has a tradition of siesta lunch break on working days as mentioned above, of course, siesta might be different in big cities. 

Paella pan

"We have dinner so late because of our sun hours so that we adapt our timetable to enjoy and live .." - says Cristina Montoro, a bank HR specialist in Madrid. "No", she explains, "Actually it is has to do with the 40’s former fascist regime and it has finally become a habit. It also depends on where you live, city or a village. My family and I have dinner around 9 pm."

Walking around Madrid at late night, I came across different restaurants and eating areas. It's completely normal to find locals all over the country having dinner at 10 pm, or even later. The smell of the food, the sounds of cutlery, the Spanish language and the live music, all creating a vibrant atmosphere of late dinner lifestyle, a scene that can hardly be seen at other European countries such as Britain.

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"It's different during the week and the weekend," says Javier, a Valencia local and also my good friend. "During the week, we have lunch at 2 pm and dinner at 9 pm. In the weekend, you plus one more hour, so 3 for lunch and 10 for dinner." 

 

"There are two main reasons why we have this timetable," Javier continues, "Firstly is the sunlight. Our lifestyle has to fit with the sunlight. We have sunlight til 9 pm in the summer and maybe til 7 in winter time. Second one is because of our traditions. In towns and small cities, people go back home for lunch, not in big cities. In big cities, people work from 9 to 5 or 6 like anywhere else."

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A scene of Spanish family meal time. Javier is setting up the lunch table at 3 pm

During my time in Madrid, I also became friend with Tos Osses, a digital designer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who says: "Yes, it's exactly the same, we have dinner at 10 pm too in Argentina. The only difference is the time zone, Spain is like 4 hours ahead of us. But yes, dinner is at 10 pm." 

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At 9 pm, in Madrid, we both had paella for dinner. 

He continues: "I think it's because Argentina is very similar to Spain, especially speaking of eating culture. And here we are so friendly with each other, and you cook for everyone in your home." 

Spain

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KHOI NGUYEN

Founder and Explorer

I love travelling, making documentary and connecting myself with people of different nationalities. As an explorer and founder of Viexplore, I have traveled to many places, created beautiful memories with the locals and other travelers. This is why I always want to be someone who represents my cultural identity to the world.

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