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Last updated : Nov 2009
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Food and Drink

Eating out in Spain is often resonably priced and the meals are substantial rather than gourmet. One of the best ways to sample Spanish food is to try tapas, or snacks, which are served at any time furig the day in local bars. These range from cheese and olives to meat delicacies or squid and are priced accordingly.

Most of the specialities of Spanish cuisine are based on seafood, although regional specialities are easier to find inland than along the coast.

In the northern Basque provinces, there is cod vizcaina or cod pil-pil, angulas, the tasty baby eels from Aguinaga, bream and squid. Asturias has its bean soup, cheeses, fabada, and the best cider in Spain, and in Galicia there is shellfish, especially good in casseroles, and a number of regional seafood dishes such as hake à la Gallega.

In the eastern regions of Spain , the paella has a well-deserved reputation. It can be prepared in many ways, based on seafood or meat. Catalonia offers, among its outstanding specialities, lobster Catalan, butifarra sausage stewed with beans, and partridge with cabbage. Pan amb tomaquet, bread rubbed with olive oil and tomato, is a delicious accompaniment to local ham and cheese.

The Castile area specialises in roast meats, mainly beef, lamb, veal and suckling pig, but there are also stews, sausages, country ham and partridges. Andalucía is noted for its cooking ,which has a strong Arab influence, especially gazpacho, a delicious cold vegetable soup, a variety of fried fish including fresh anchovies, jabugo ham from Huelva and many dishes based on the fish that the coast provides in such abundance.

Restaurants are classified by the Government and many offer tourist menus called menu del día. Many Restaurants and cafes have table service.

Spain is essentially a wine-drinking country, with sherry being one of the principal export products. Its English name is the anglicised version of the producing town Jerez, from which the wine was first shipped to England. Today, Britain buys about 75 per cent of all the sherry exports. There are four main types, fino (very pale and very dry), amontillado (dry, richer in body and darker in colour), oloroso (medium, full-bodied, fragrant and golden) and dulce (sweet). Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa María are other towns famous for their sherry and well worth visiting. Tourists are able to visit one of the bodegas (above-ground wine stores) in Jerez. In the Basque Country, a favourite is chacolí - a green wine, slightly sparkling and a little sour, rather than dry.

The principal table wines are the riojas and valdepeñas, named after the regions in which they are produced. In general, rioja, from the region around Logroño in the northeast, resembles the French Bordeaux, though it is less delicate. Valdepeñas is a rougher wine, but hearty and pleasant It will be found at its best in the region where it is grown, midway between Madrid and Cordóba.

In Catalonia, the ampurdán and perelada wines tend to be heavy and those that are not rather sweet are harsh, with the exception of the magnificent full-bodied Burgundy-type penedés wines. The Alicante wine, dry and strong, is really a light aperitif. Nearby, the Murcia region produces excellent wine. Often it makes a pleasant change to try the unbottled wines of the house (vino de la casa). It is much cheaper than the bottled wines and, even in small places, is usually quite good. Similarly, inexpensive supermarket wine is very acceptable. Among the many brands of sparkling wines known locally as cava and the most popular are Codorniú and Freixenet, dry or semi-dry. The majority of Spanish sparkling wines are sweet and fruity.

Spanish brandy is as different from French as Scotch whisky is from Irish. It is relatively cheap and pleasant, although some brandy drinkers find it a little sweet.

Spain has some good mineral waters. A popular brand is Lanjarón which comes from the town of the same name. Vichy Catalan is almost exactly like French Vichy. Malavella is slightly effervescent and Font Vella is still. There are no licensing hours in Spain.

Nightlife

Spaniards often start the evening with el paseo, a leisurely walk through the main streets. A cafe terrace is an excellent vantage point to observe this tradition, or enjoy street theatre in the larger cities. The atmosphere is especially vibrant at fiesta time, or when the local football team has won, when celebrations are marked by a cacophony of car horns, firecrackers and a sea of flags and team regalia.

Tapas bars offer delicious snacks in a relaxed, enjoyable setting and it is fun to try several bars in one night. The nightclubs of Ibiza, Barcelona and Madrid have attracted the attention of the international media, but the variety on offer caters for most tastes. Things work up to la marcha, good fun, relatively late and it is possible to literally dance until dawn. Flamenco or other regional dancing displays provide an alternative for those who prefer to watch dancing.

Shopping

In Spain, the shopper can find items of high quality at a fair price, not only in the cities, but in the small towns and villages as well.

In Madrid, the Rastro Market is recommended, particularly on Sundays. Half of the market takes place in the open air and half in more permanent galleries, it has a character all of its own. Catalonian textiles are internationally famous and there are mills throughout the region. Spanish leather goods are excellent and prized throughout the world, offering high-fashion originals at reasonable prices. Of note are the suede jackets and coats. In general, all leather goods, particularly those from Andalucía, combine excellent craftmanship with high-quality design.

Fine, handcrafted wooden furniture is one of the outstanding products; Valencia is especially important location in this field, and has a yearly international furniture fair. Alicante is an important centre for toy manufacturing. Shoe manufacturing is also of an especially high quality; the production centres are in Alicante and the Balearics. Fine rugs and carpets are made in Cáceres, Granada and Murcia. The numerous excellent sherries, wines and spirits produced in Spain make good souvenirs to take home.

Shopping hours: Monday-Saturday 1000 hrs-1300 hrs and 1600 hrs-2000 hrs. However, most commercial stores and malls stay open from 1000 hrs-2200 hrs.

Special Events

Throughout Spain, folklore is very much alive and there is always some form of festival occurring. It is almost impossible for a visitor to be anywhere in the country for more than a fortnight without something taking place.

The Ministry of Tourism produces a booklet listing and describing Spain’s many national and regional feasts and festivals, of which there are over 3000 each year.

Fiestas, Saints’ Days, Romerías (picnics to religious shrines) and Verbenas (night festivals on the eve of religious holidays) are all celebrated with great spirit and energy.

Holy Week is probably the best time of year to visit for celebrations and it is then that the individuality of each region’s style of pageantry is best revealed.

For further information, contact the Spanish National Tourist Office (see Contact section).

The following is a selection of special events occurring in Spain in 2005:
 
January 19th-20th

Tamborrada, San Sebastián
February 2nd-4th Moors and Christians (traditional festival), Bocairente
February 3rd-9th Carnival in Sitges (gay carnival), Barcelona
February 8th Carnival Tuesday, nationwide
March 15th-19th Las Fallas, Valencia
March 20th -27th Holy Week (religious celebrations), nationwide.
April 12th -17th Sevilla Fair. May Festival of the Courtyards and May Fair, Cordoba.
May 1st-3rd Cruces de Mayo, Granada
May 1st-8th Feria del Caballo (horse market), Jerez
May 15th-29th Fiestas de San Isidro, Madrid.
June San Bernabe Fair, Marbella
June 14th -24th San Juán Festival, Javea.
July 6th-14th San Fermín (Running of the Bulls), Pamplona
July 11th San Beneitino de Leire (traditional festival), Pontevedra
July 16th Sea Festival, Fuengirola
July 22nd-27th Jazz Festival, San Sebastián
August 20th -28th Aste Nagusia, Bilbao
August 31st La Tomatina, Buñol.
September 24th La Merced, Barcelona
October 2nd-3rd Moors and Christians, Benidorm
October 6th -12th Fuengirola Fair
October 28th-30th Saffron Festival, Consuegra
November Benidorm Festival
December 28th The Verdiales (popular music festival), Malaga
 
Note:

Carnival celebrations start around February 8th and last for up to two weeks. Although Carnival is celebrated nationwide, the most famous carnival celebrations are held in the capitals of the Canary Islands, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. For a full list of Carnival events and dates, contact the Spanish National Tourist Office (see Contact Addresses section).

Social Conventions
:

Spanish life has undergone rapid change in recent years and many of the stricter religious customs are giving way to the more modern ways, particularly in the cities and among young women.

Nonetheless, many old customs, manners and traditions have not faded and hospitality, courtesy and chivalry remain important. Handshaking is the customary form of greeting. Normal social courtesies should be observed when visiting someone’s house. If invited to a private home, a small gift is appreciated. Flowers are only sent for special celebrations.

Conservative casual wear is widely acceptable. Some of the hotels and restaurants encourage men to wear jackets. A black tie is only necessary for very formal occasions and is usually specified if required. Outside resorts, scanty beachwear should be confined to beach or poolside.

Smoking is widely accepted. The evening meal is taken late, generally 2100 hrs-2200 hrs. The Spanish have two family names, in conversation only the first should be used.

Tipping: Service charges and taxes are usually included in hotel bills, however in addition, a tip should be left for the chambermaid and porters should be tipped per bag. It is also customary to leave a tip for the waiter. Restaurants often include service in the bill so a tip is discretionary. In cafes and bars, it is 5 to 10 per cent. Tip taxis 10 to 15 per cent when metered.
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