Menu del dia
A great way to eat economically is the “menu del dia”, or a set menu, offering a selection of the starter (“primero”), main course (“segundo”), some bread, a drink and a dessert or a coffee. It is believed the menu del dia was invented during the Franco times to ensure everyone can have an affordable meal out. And affordable it is! Depending on the area, the price of the whole set menu can be anywhere from 7 EUR to over 20 EUR (naturally, the prices are higher in the touristy places) with the average is probably 9-10 EUR in not very touristy places. In some places, half-menu is available (½ menu or medio-menu) at a discounted price and that usually includes the starter OR the main course and the bread, drink and dessert. Note that the menu del dia on the weekends can be substantially more expensive than on the weekdays (at times, twice more expensive).
One thing that is very confusing to almost all foreign visitors is that the word “menu”, which most of us associate with a list of items available to eat and the prices, in Spanish refers exclusively to menu del dia. The Spanish word for the menu (as in a list of prices) is “La Carta”. As such, if you ask the waiter for “the menu”, they will almost certainly assume you’re talking about a set menu unless the restaurant is catering exclusively to foreigners.
Language barriers aside, the menu del dia almost always provides an outstanding value for money and is much cheaper than ordering separate items “a la carte”. With a selection of at least few items both for the starter and the main, one can have a delicious and filling meal economically.
Of course one can have a traditional dining experience and order a la carte. There are thousands of excellent restaurants in Andalucia and the rest of Spain, either providing a mixture of the local foods or specialising in certain areas in particular. Along the coastal beach areas there are many chiringuitos, the restaurants right on the beach, usually specialising in fish and seafood. The prices vary enormously and especially for the items sold by weight (such as fish) one should always ask for an estimate to avoid unpleasant surprises. Checking the reviews of the restaurant beforehand wouldn’t harm either.
Spain has the usual selection of soft drinks, as well as good coffee and of course an abundance of beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks.
When it comes to coffee, one would need to specify the type of coffee they want. A simple espresso would be “cafe solo” whereas if one wants a coffee with milk that would be “cafe con leche”. The other popular variation is “cafe cortado”, which is an espresso with a bit of a milk foam. The other international variations, such as latte or cappuccino, do exist but aren’t nearly as popular - especially in local places. At the heat of the summer a refreshing drink to order is “cafe con hielo”, which is literally coffee with ice.
When it comes to beers in Spain it’s almost universally lager beers, even though dark beers can be found and there are even some craft beers - but those aren’t that popular unless its a specialised beer place. The “default” serving of the draft beer (cerveza de barril) is caña (pronounced “kanya”) which is a small 0.2l glass. The weather in Spain can be hot so ordering smaller measures of ice-cold beer more frequently rather than a large glass at once makes more sense. If one wants a bigger portion then you can ask for “doble”, “jarra” or “pinta”. It seems that every restaurant or bar has their own interpretation of the size of those measures, but it’ll most likely be somewhere between 0.33l to 0.5l glass. The pint will almost certainly be smaller than the British pint unless it’s an English or an Irish pub. When it comes to price, caña should cost around 1.30-1.70 EUR and the larger beer around 2.50-3 EUR - there are, however, some places where it can be had much cheaper. Though the prices may vary from place to place and will be higher in more touristy restaurants and places.
Of course one can also order a bottle of beer (botella, pronounced “boteya”) which is almost certainly a 0.33l bottle - though 0.25l and 0.5l exist too. There are various national and local brands of beer available and while some will swear by one brand over the other, in our humble opinion, they all taste more or less the same. It’s a lager.
If beer is not your thing then maybe wine could be - and that’s where Spain truly excels! With an ample choice of red wine (vino tinto), white vine (vino blanco), rose (vino rosado) and sparkling wine (usually referred to as cava) one is always spoiled for choice. Going into the details of every variety will require an article in itself, but it’s enough to say that the taste is usually great and the price is usually cheap. One can also go for house wine (vino de la casa) which is normally served in a carafe of 0.25l, 0.5l or 1l.
There is also a variety of wine-based drinks. The world-famous is sangria, which is a (usually) red wine with some water and fruits. While it’s often associated with Spain you won’t actually see many Spanish people drinking it. Way more common is tinto de verano, or simply tinto, which is basically a carbonated version of sangria. Extremely refreshing on a hot summer day!
And of course Spain has an abundance of harder drinks, ranging from fortified wines such as Jerez and Vermouth to the usual international fare of liquors and spirits.