You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to eat amazingly in Spain, but there are a handful of words that will make the experience a bit easier. From what the menu means to how to order what you want, these sixteen foodie words and phrases will help you eat (and order!) like a local.
1. Ración: Shared Plate
Ración (noun) \Ra-thee-OWN\: When dining out in Spain, you’ll find that many meals are served family style. The large plates that are ordered for the entire table, often at dinner, are called raciónes. The only difference between raciónes and more commonly known tapas is usually just their size! The general rule of thumb is to order one ración for each person eating, place them all in the center of the table and serve the food onto individual plates.
How to use it: ¿Nos pones una ración de croquetas? (We would like a shared plate of croquettes.)
2. Tapa: Small Plate
Tapa (noun) \tah-pah\: Contrary to common belief outside of Spain, the word “tapa” refers only to the size of a plate, not what is on it! Tapas are small amounts of food that often come free when ordering a drink in places like Madrid or Granada. In other cities, they cost money– but it’s often well worth it for the quality and innovation. A tapa can be everything from two triangles of cheese to a mini-hamburger or small portion of paella.
How to use it: Me encanta este sitio. Las tapas aquí son grandes y riquísimas! (I love this place. The small plates here are big and delicious!)
3. Pintxo: Small Plate with a Skewer
Pintxo: (noun) \peen-cho\: Pintxo is simply the Basque word for tapa. Following Basque tradition, pintxos are often a bit more elaborate than tapas and are almost always served atop a medallion of bread with a skewer through the entire thing.
How to use it: Me gustaría un pintxo de queso de cabra y cebolla caramelizada. (I would like a small plate of goat cheese and caramelized onion.)
4. Menú del Día: Menu of the Day
Menú del Día (noun) \Men-oo del dee-uh\: Daily lunch menus in Spain are a thing of beauty. They usually consist of three or four choices for a first plate, second plate and either a dessert or coffee. All of that will set you back about 10 euros! Menus del día are only served at lunch time.
How to use it: ¿Qué tenéis de menú del día? (What are the options for the menu of the day?)
5. Caña: Small Draft Beer
Caña (noun) \can-ya\: a cylinderical, short glass of draft beer. Cañas are usually about 200 ml (roughly 3/4 cup). Beer in Spain is most commonly ordered by size as many bars only serve the local industrial brew. Instead of ordering a Mahou or an Estrella Damm, you would ask for a caña. The craft beer boom in Spain is slowly changing this, adding more beer options seemingly every week!
How to use it: ¿Me pones una caña, por favor? (I’ll have a small draft beer, please.)
6. Cuenta: Check or Bill
Cuenta (noun) \kwen-tuh\: Asking for the bill at a restaurant in Spain is as easy as catching the waiter or barman’s eye and making a gesture like you are writing in the air. If you do want to use words, though, go with “la cuenta.” In Spain it is considered rude for waiters to bring the check before diners ask for it.
How to use it: La cuenta, por favor. (The check, please.)
7. Postre: Dessert
Postre (noun) \post-ray\: The best part of any Spanish meal (in my opinion anyway…). Desserts in Spain can be anything from a slice of chocolate cake to a piece of fruit. The former usually comes after dinner while the later is more common after lunch.
Check out our list of the 7 most irresistible Spanish desserts here!
How to use it: Para el postre, yo quiero una tarta de queso. (For dessert I’d like the cheesecake.)
8. Ribera: Popular Type of Spanish Red Wine
Ribera (noun) \ree-bear-uh\: Ribera is short for the name of Spain’s second most popular wine region, Ribera del Duero. Many bars and restaurants in Spain serve only two red wine options: one from the Ribera del Duero region and one from La Rioja, Spain’s most popular wine region.
How to use it: Me pones una copa de Ribera, por favor. (I’ll have a glass of red wine from the Ribera del Duero region, please.)
9. Rioja: Popular Spanish Red Wine
Rioja (noun) \ree-oh-ha\: Wine in Spain is almost always ordered by the region, not by the grape. That means you will hear a lot of waiters asking if you want a Ribera or a Rioja, the two most-served wines in the country. Wines from Rioja tend to be lighter and fruitier than their more tannic and juicier Ribera counterparts. Both regions produce primarily tempranillo grapes.
How to use it: Para mi, un Rioja. (For me, a glass of red wine from the Rioja region.)
10. Albariño: Popular Spanish White Wine
Albariño (noun) \Al-bar-een-yo\: Spain’s most prized white wine grape is albariño, which comes from the northwestern province of Galicia. Albariño is an exception to Spain’s order-by-the-region rule as it is the name of the grape, not the region. Rueda wines, which tend to be lighter and fruitier than albariños, are perhaps the second most popular white wine in the country.
How to use it: ¿Qué vino blanco tenéis?¿Albariño? (What types of white wine do you have? An Albariño?)
11. Vaso de Agua (de Grifo): Glass of Tap Water
Vaso de Agua de Grifo (noun) \Bass-oh day ah-gwah day gree-foh\: To get a glass of water at a restaurant in Spain you have to specifically ask for it. If you just ask for “agua” the waiter will almost always bring a bottle. For just a plain old, free glass of tap water it’s necessary to specify that you want a glass (rather than bottle) of water. De grifo means from the tap (to make it extra clear).
How to use it: ¿Nos pones dos vasos de agua? (Could you bring us two glasses of tap water?)
12. En Su Punto: Medium Rare
En su punto (adjective) \en sue poon-toe\: Literally translated en su punto means at its point as in meat cooked to its point of perfection. Waiters will typically only ask how you would like your meat cooked if you have ordered a beef steak. To order a rare steak ask for it ¨poco hecho.¨ A well done steak would be ¨muy hecho.¨
How to use it: El chuletón para mi en su punto, por favor. (I’d like my steak cooked medium rare please.)
13. Cortado: Macchiato-style coffee
Cortado (noun, adjective or past participle) \core-tah-doh\: Literally translated, cortado means “cut.” In the food world, the thing being cut is coffee. A cortado coffee is a shot of espresso “cut” with a splash of steamed milk and topped with a spoonful of milk foam. You can use it as a noun i.e.: I’d like a cortado. Or you can use it as an adjective i.e.: I’d like a café cortado.
Outside of the food realm cortado means cut, as in “¿Te has cortado el pelo? (Have you cut your hair?)”
How to use it: Me das un cortado, por favor. (I’ll have an espresso with a splash of foamed milk, please.)
14. Casero: Homemade
Casero (adjective) \Kahs-arrow\: One of the most important questions you can ask at a Spanish restaurants is if the desserts are “casero.” Many restaurants in Spain serve packaged products like yogurts, ice cream bars or chocolates on their dessert menu. Some even serve packaged cakes, pies and tarts! Whenever you’re handed a dessert menu, be sure to ask which of the items are actually made at the restaurant!
How to use it: ¿Qué postres caseros tenéis? (Do you have any homemade desserts?)
15. A La Brasa: Charcoal Grilled
A la brasa (adverb) \ah la brah-suh\: This is what I think of when I think of grilled foods. Unless the word “brasa” is used, fire is not. Typically only meats or octopus are commonly found “a la brasa.”
How to use it: Pulpo a la brasa es mucho más rico que pulpo a la gallega. (Charcoal grilled octopus is much tastier than Galician-style boiled octopus.)
16. A La Parrilla: Grilled
A la parrilla (adverb) \ah la par-ree-ya\: The “parrilla” literally means the metal grill top that is usually placed over a fire to cook with. In practice, many of the items served “a la parrilla” are actually cooked on a grill pan on the stove, not over a fire. You will get those nice grill marks, though!
How to use it: Prefiero verduras a la parrilla que verduras al horno. (I prefer grilled vegetables to baked vegetables.)
16. A La Plancha: Cooked on a Griddle
A la plancha (adverb) \ah la plan-chuh\: A plancha is a large flat metal cooking surface that is common in most restaurants. In Spain everything from fish filets to garlicky mushrooms is seared on this type of hot griddle. If the menu does not specify how an item is cooked, I usually assume it will be “a la plancha.”
How to use it: A mi me encanta el salmón a la plancha pero no me gusta el salmón ahumado. (I love salmon that has been cooked on a griddle but I don’t like smoked salmon.)
Any other words you need in your vocabulary before you’re Spain bound?
To experience Spanish cuisine like a local, check out the food tours from Devour Spain!