Spain’s Fourth Meal: La Merienda

Pastries in Granada
Arab influenced sweets in Granada, Spain.

Here I am, a Sunday evening, reading food blog after food blog for inspiration and wondering what topic to write about today, when my future mother-in-law knocks on the bedroom door. “Come in” I tell her, hoping she isn’t too upset by the messy room and unmade beds (we’re only here 2 nights…)!

“What’s wrong?” she asks me, “Are you sick?” I explain to her that I am not, in fact, sick, just tired and “working” a bit. “But aren’t you going to have your afternoon snack?!” she asks me, obviously quite concerned. I tell her that I’m still really full from our enormous lunch and not really in the mood to eat anything. “Ok,” she says, still concerned, “but at least come down to drink something warm!” I agree and voila, the inspiration for this post.

coffee portugal

The Spanish Merienda

The merienda or as I translate it, afternoon snack, is like a fourth meal here. I suppose you could also compare it to some cultures’ afternoon tea. Usually people have it between 5:00 and 6:30 in the evening, although being that it’s 7:30 right now (ironically a late dinner time for many Americans) it can be eaten just about any time before dinner.

Typical afternoon snacks can be on the sweet side, such as coffee and a pastry, a yogurt, or fruit, but can also be savory snacks like a small sandwich and soda, or some cheese and serrano ham or chorizo.

I like the idea of an afternoon snack, as it’s another opportunity in one’s day to take a break and eat something while conversing with friends and family. Also, depending on a Spanish family’s eating times, there could be as much as seven or eight hours between lunch and dinner!

My preferred merienda is a café con leche and a pastelito Árabe (different varieties of Moroccan sweets similar to Baklava and made with phyllo dough, nuts, and honey). You can usually find these sweets in Andalusian bakeries, but it’s not guaranteed they’re very good quality.

When visiting Spain I suggest that you take part in the merienda, instead of being the obvious tourists who ask for dinner at 6:00 in the evening! You’d be hard pressed to find a place serving dinner at that time anyway.

As for me, I’ve learned to please my mother-in-law and always at least pretend to have a merienda!

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