Spanish food differs from the food we in the U.S. often associate with the Spanish language. Tacos, tortillas, burritos, and enchiladas are all Mexican, not Spanish. Spanish food is more European and decidedly Mediterranean. Seafood and pork are hugely popular in the Spanish diet. Many foods are sautéed or fried in olive oil, which is a staple of the Spanish diet. Breakfast is very light or not eaten at all. Lunch, referred to as comida (not almuerzo), is considered the main meal of the day and is eaten around 2:30 pm. In the middle of the day, families will often meet at home to eat, chat, and take their siesta together. You will either go home for lunch or you will arrange with your homestay host to pack a lunch. If you choose to eat lunch out on occasion, almost every restaurant offers this meal in a menú del día comprehensive price that includes a first and second course, bread, wine and coffee, and dessert. Supper is eaten around 10 pm - be prepared for the late hour if you are eating with your family. Supper is very small, usually a Spanish omelet and yogurt or soup.
The Spanish meals times are one of the major obvious differences you will notice upon arrival, as most meals times are far later in the day than is typical for the USA. The Spanish siesta coincides with lunch in the mid afternoon and takes place in the middle of the day, anywhere from 1 to 4 pm. Most businesses in Madrid remain open all day long. Some business may run roughly from 9 am to 2 pm, then close for a few hours and then reopen from 5 pm to 8 pm. However, major department stores like El Corte Inglés and most businesses do not close in the city center for siesta. When you leave Madrid and travel to smaller towns in Spain you may notice more shops closing for siesta than you would ever see in Madrid.
Tapas (small dishes or appetizers), served in bars and restaurants are another Spanish tradition. They are generally inexpensive and range in selection from olives to empanadas to pieces of bread with jamón serrano (a type of prosciutto or ham) to a tortilla española, (a Spanish omelette with potatoes and onions). Inexpensive drinks Spaniards typically have with Tapas are beer (cerveza) or sangría (red wine with fruit juices). Try paella, even if it is expensive! Paella originates from the city of Valencia, along the Mediterranean coast and is a very authentic Spanish dish.