As the observant visitor to Seville will quickly notice, the day here has a different rhythm from what’s typical in either North America or the countries of Northern Europe. Most of the shops close for the afternoon, and then open again late into the evening, and the streets start to fill with people just when the guiris (foreigners) are heading home to bed. A lot of this has to do with the weather, of course. In summer (basically from April to October) it makes good sense to be out and about in the cool of the morning and the cool of the evening, and the consequent short nights and the afternoon heat means you really need that afternoon siesta.
This Mediterranean timetable also affects the times that people normally eat meals. Naturally this varies a bit from person to person according to circumstance, as it does anywhere, but there are some regularities. Meals are generally eaten later here than in northern Europe.
Breakfast (desayuno) is often not much more than coffee and a quick bite, eaten at home, and equally often is repeated in a bar or café around 10.00 – 10.30 am (so not the best time to go to the post office or bank). For children a typical breakfast would be cola-cao (a chocolate milk drink) and a sweet roll or magdalena, a typical Spanish cake. The famous churros and chocolate will usually be reserved for weekends (it’s a great hangover cure).
The main meal of the day is lunch (almuerzo), usually eaten between 2.00 and 4.00 pm. For working people who have to eat lunch out on a regular basis most tapas bars have a menu del día (a daily special), a two or three course meal with several options and usually including bread and a drink, costing between 6.50 and 12 euros. Don’t confuse the menu and the carta (main menu).
It’s common to fill in the gap between lunch and dinner with a merienda, the Spanish equivalent of the now sadly almost defunct English high tea. This takes place between 5.00 – 7.00 pm and is typically a light snack, or more often, a cake with coffee.
Dinner (cena) tends to be a lighter meal and starts around 8.00 in the evening, or even later if you’re eating out. At home this will be something like an omelette, or maybe some soup or salad. If you’re out with family or friends, tapas is the name of the game. For most people full restaurant meals will be for special occasions only.
Tapas bars and restaurants are usually open from 1.00 to about 4.00, and again from 8.00 to about 11.30. Some will stay open all day but few have all-day kitchens, other than very touristy places. If you stick to earlier mealtimes than what’s normal locally the bars won’t be busy when you arrive, and if they get busy later you’ll already have the best seats.
For more about tapas and tips on how to order them, take a look at Tapas 101.