Dining with friends – Spanish style

If you have property in Spain then there’s no doubt that you’ve spent some evenings entertaining. Whether it’s a barbecue, a visit to a restaurant or a light lunch – how can you show your friends the best that Spanish cuisine has to offer?

We all know that a traditional meal from your home country goes down well on the odd occasion. However, we are hoping that when your visitors come to stay you are keen to serve up something Spanish and when dining out it’s not just a Sunday roast you’re after.

One of the reasons people buy property abroad is to enjoy the benefits of a different culture and climate. Many people opt for blending or ‘fusing’ together the best of their own and new traditions. Trying new recipes, created with local ingredients, is an exciting prospect and when visitors come to stay you want to show off your new knowledge by entertaining them, Spanish style.

Be brave! Cook it yourself

We may be talking to the already fully initiated in Spanish cooking and dining. Some of you, however, might have found yourselves reverting to tradition and type. Welcoming visitors is a time to relive your first culinary attempts at Spanish cooking and search out that paella pan.

Paella really is the most brilliant dish for catering for any number of people. What better way of saving on the washing up than just cooking everything in one pan! It’s a pretty delicious and wholesome meal too that you can adjust according to the meat/ fish/ vegetable preferences of your guests.

Don’t worry too much about being entirely authentic. Your guests are unlikely to know the difference (unless their Spanish of course!) and even if you do throw in a few peas or even chorizo, it won’t be the end of the world. A seafood paella, in particular, can look incredibly impressive if you decorate it with a few large langostinos. Remember not to stir the rice if you don’t want a mushy mess and allow it to cool a little before serving up.

Eating at home means that you can cater for even the pickiest eater. A Spanish barra de pan can be absolutely beautiful served with an alioli dip and if your guests like cheese and ham then you can easily impress them with a plateful of the best serrano ham and manchega cheese.

Why not take them out?

If you’ve decided that you’d rather take them to a restaurant than having any pans to wash at all, then search out some Spanish neighbours for recommendations. It’s not always the fancy looking venues that present the tastiest meals and they are likely to be the most expensive.

Ask where they prefer to go for a special meal and your neighbours are more than likely to have a few suggestions. Don’t worry too much about the range on the menu. It’s true that seafood and fish usually has a more prominent place than we might find in many other country’s restaurants but they will not be exclusive. The Spanish love their meat dishes too!

What can require a little more thought is if you have a vegetarian or vegan visitor. Major Spanish towns are now well versed on catering for this group, and you should be able to find some in competition. However, if you are based in a smaller pueblo this might not be an option – although many restaurants will be happy to put something on the menu for you if you give them some notice.

If you are wanting a paella but aren’t interested in cooking it yourself then most traditional Spanish restaurants will oblige. However, be sure to check whether this dish needs to be ordered beforehand – you might also have to wait a little whilst it’s prepared – so warn your non-paella eaters that they may have to wait too.

In some cases you might be surprised to find that your meat or fish does not have the same number of vegetable accompaniments as you might think. The Spanish tend to supplement their main dish with a salad rather than lots of vegetables and you will find many different versions that you can have to share in the middle of the table. A visit to Spain cannot be complete without an introduction to tapas. This really is such a perfect way of trying a number of different dishes and allows you to move between bars. Many districts now have special weekends when they offer a ‘tapas route’. If your visitors coincide with one of these it really is an excellent evening out.

If they are on a tight budget then the traditional menu del día may be perfect for them. They can’t but fail to be impressed with two or three courses for 10 euros plus a drink. Most restaurants, including the fancy ones, will have a menu you can choose from – so ask, if you can’t see it displayed.

Get the timing right

What’s very important, depending on the mood of your party, is to pick your times carefully. It depends on the country, but many northern Europeans, for example, tend to eat earlier than those in south. So, if your visitors are used to going for lunch at 1.00 pm and having dinner at 7.00 pm then you may need to gradually introduce them to later eating. If they want to dine like a Spaniard then you should reserve your table for 3.00 pm or 9.00 pm.

Prepare them for a noisy experience! Spanish people like to talk and it’s not usually in a whisper. A Spanish restaurant at peak times will certainly be issuing some decibels – a great way of soaking in the true Spanish spirit but not if you’re wanting an intimate dinner for two or a serious discussion.

Everyone welcome

At peak Spanish eating times you can expect the restaurant to be noisy and you can also expect them to have brought the whole family. Babysitters are almost unheard of in Spain. Where the adults go, by and large, the children go too. So, again, if you’re wanting a romantic evening meal pick your restaurant carefully or just cook at home.

The plus side is that if your visitors have children, there’s no extra expense in going out – you can all dine out together and stay up late without people looking at you oddly. You never know, they might find some other children to play with or fall asleep before you get home.

Something to remember

We’ve only touched on the surface of the possibilities for dining with your visitors in Spain. We could continue and talk about barbecues, pollo asado (roast chicken) or the many international restaurants there are here. Suffice to say that by the time your visitors return to their home country they’ll feel excited to spread the word and keen to make a return visit.

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