There are three simple words that give you access to Barcelona’s most confusing piece of culture: Menú del día.
It’s hard enough forcing your body clock to readjust so you can party all night and still hop from attraction to attraction during the day. But throw in the eating habits of locals and things get even more tricky.
The Spanish are known for their lazy lunches and late-night eating soirees and it can be difficult getting to grips with eating a late lunch and a late dinner, particularly when you’ve been walking all morning and you want to stuff your face at midday.
Luckily, the menu del dia has your back.
It’s one of Barcelona’s best kept secrets, but utter those three words to your waiter and you’re instantly welcomed into the foodie bosom of the city.
What exactly is this menu del dia thing? You ask. It’s a three-course meal served at lunchtime for a fixed price, usually at around €10. That’s right, you get a starter, a main, and a pudding for less than the price of entry to many attractions in the city.
It was originally brought in during Franco’s dictatorship as a way to ensure workers had a hearty lunchtime meal that was easy on the wallet. Today, it continues to flourish in Barcelona, with plenty of locals tucking into all sorts of treats in the afternoon.
Afternoon. Bear that word in mind.
Try and get a table for lunch at midday and you’ll be laughed out. Catalonians like to do things languidly. Lunch (and, therefore, the menu del dia) is eaten between 1.30pm and 4pm, and is the precursor for a well-deserved afternoon nap.
It can be hard on the stomach to wait that long for lunch, but trust that you’ll be filled up in no time and ready to hit the road again (and, even better, there’ll be no stomach grumbles until well into the evening).
Tip: Many restaurants in Barcelona advertise their menu del dia on a chalkboard outside, but there are a few sneaky places that don’t mention it at all, even though you can clearly see locals digging into some kind of grand feast.
Here’s the secret. Often, waiters won’t offer the menu del dia to tourists because it’s a lot cheaper than the a la carte menu. But if you want in on the three-course extravaganza, simply mutter ‘menu, por favor’. The word carta means menu in Spanish and Catalan, but the word menu refers to the menu of the day.
Look out for places packed with locals, too, as this means the menu del dia is a force to be reckoned with.
What can you expect to eat?
The menu del dia usually offers a selection of foodie choices for each course. For starters you can expect to chow down on the likes of stews, soups, salads, and pastas, and for mains you can tuck into paella, chicken, fish, or meatballs. Dessert is a mixed-bag, too, with sweet treats like ice cream, fruit, and crema catalana.
As you can see, the menu is varied but simple and the food on offer really depends on the eatery you choose. Even high-end restaurants known for their innovative creations offer a menu del dia, which often feature simpler versions of their regular menu.
The main thing to remember is that the menu del dia isn’t necessarily a foray into the world of fine dining. Its aim is to fill people up quickly at minimum expense, so don’t expect foie gras, caviar, and oysters. Instead, join the locals in eating hearty, classic dishes that will easily fill you up for the rest of the day.