I am always appalled at the cost of an evening out in the UK, even if that evening out is ‘restricted’ to just a few drinks with friends and the odd snack. By comparison, Spain is amazing value for money.
Indeed, the ability to eat and drink ‘out’ cheaply is one of the reasons why Spain’s overall quality of life is so high. Certainly, there can be few pleasures to compare with al fresco dining and this is possible throughout most of the year in Mediterranean Spain within a friendly, bustling atmosphere that is nothing if not seductive..
A good example of terrific value for money can be found in my local town of Gandia – which is located on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, some 70 km south of Valencia. Here there are three tapas routes, in different parts of the town, each of which operates on a different day of the week.
Now, what makes the tapas nights so exceptional is that the cost of a tapa and a drink is only 2 Euros! This is incredibly cheap particularly when you see the size and nature of the tapas, which bear no relationship to the tiny slice of bread with ham that you get in many places. In Gandia, the tapas are huge and are close in size and design to the first course that you would be served in a restaurant. Meanwhile, there can be as many as twelve or fourteen different tapas to choose from in many of the bars!
Indeed, the consensus of myself and friends is that after three tapas it almost impossible to eat anything else. This means that for something like 6 Euros each we can have a delightful night out, eat the equivalent of a full meal and visit three different bars/restaurants. One of the latter, last Friday, even had live music (a couple of superb guitarists).
Wonderful – and all amidst a profusion of other people joyfully circulating throughout the town until the early hours of the morning.
Of course, the more conventional way of benefiting from Spain’s astounding value for money is to have a menu del dia. The latter are available from almost every bar and restaurant across Spain and are set menus, albeit that there are often at least two or three choices for each of the three courses. The cost of a menu del dia can be as low as seven Euros – and this will include a drink (a glass of wine, beer or soft drink).
Menus del dia in Spain are notable for their wholesome food which is invariably ‘home’ cooked, fresh and in portions that will stand you well as your main meal of the day. In fact, to some extent, you are mad to go out for dinner at night where a similar meal may be almost twice as expensive.
So, the canny traveller or person living in Spain will dine at lunchtime and enjoy not just good food but a lunch that is relaxed and that fits well within the natural rhythms of Spanish life and siesta.
Incidentally, do you know where and how tapas originated in Spain?
Well, there are a number of theories – but the one I like best and that makes the most sense is that tapas originated in Andalusia. The idea is that people used to place a thin slice of bread on top of their glass of wine or beer to prevent fruit flies and the like from dropping into their drink. Over time the slice of bread came with some meat or cheese and gradually became an intrinsic part of the drinking process and evolved into a broad selection of (effectively) canapés.
Tapa, of course, in Spanish means lid or cover, so I suspect that this explanation for the origin of tapas is correct (even if it is not quite as romantic as other versions).
Finally, there is much to be said for living in a country like Spain where eating and drinking ‘out’ is cheap. It is a sociable thing to do, it is (by definition) relaxing and it enhances daily life considerably. To some extent it is exactly what living and holidaying in Spain is all about and, perhaps, one of the best reasons for coming here – and something that can be masked by all the endless dreadful economic news!
Nick Snelling – Culture Spain