1. Tapas is a kind of food.
“Is this tapas?” many confused foreigners ask whenever they eat something at a bar in Spain, eager to try the famous, almost mythical dish. Or, even more confusing (for us, Spanish hosts), they ask it about the dish you just have served on the table…at home. There’s a widely spread misconception about the famous tapas being a specific kind of food, when they can actually be anything. And by anything I mean they can be seafood, meat, vegetables, pasta…what are tapas, then? Is that how we say “food?”
Of course not: tapas are a way of eating food. Any small dish you eat along with your drink (not always for free) is a tapa. And you could eat that tapa all by yourself, but the most common thing is to share it with the people you’re with — several small dishes, each person with a toothpick or fork.
2. Paella is a national dish.
It is not. Paella is actually from Valencia, and while you can get it almost anywhere in Spain, you shouldn’t be surprised if you visit a restaurant in, let’s say, Asturias, and they don’t have it on the menu. Why should they? Also, rice is the most important thing in paella, not seafood. Actually, “paella valenciana” doesn’t have any seafood; you’re mistaking it with “paella de marisco.”
What’s the national dish, then? Probably tortilla de patatas: it is as common in Madrid, as in Sevilla, Barcelona, or Santiago.
3. Spaniards always accompany their lunch with an alcoholic drink.
We can do it; that’s true. We can order a beer or glass of wine to drink with our lunch and no one will think we have an alcohol problem, but that doesn’t mean we always drink alcohol at lunchtime! Some people do, sure, but most people prefer drinking water on a daily basis. Then, of course, if we are eating out, with friends, or just feel like it, we will have a beer or some wine. Why not?
4. Sangría is our favorite alcoholic drink.
Have you noticed how on the previous point I only mentioned beer and wine? There’s a reason for that: those are the most-common alcoholic drinks in Spain. I wouldn’t go so far as to saying that sangría is only for tourists (sometimes we drink it too!), but it’s definitely not the most common thing to drink. Cañas (draught beer) or wine are the “national drinks.” As for sangría, gin and tonics are far more popular!
5. We always have long, heavy lunches.
There’s a basis of truth for this myth — traditionally, lunches were like that, and they still are for many people (especially on weekends). But those long, heavy lunches require a long lunch break, and those are rapidly disappearing in many places. Having light, fast lunches is getting more and more common during the work week. But don’t go to your grandma’s for lunch on a Sunday and tell her you will only have a sandwich. She might have a heart attack.
6. Spanish food is spicy.
No one in Europe would think of Spanish food as burritos and tacos, but outside the continent, where Spain can be more easily related to Mexico because of the language, many people have that idea. Well, they’re wrong. They’re so wrong! The most spicy thing we have are pementos de Padrón (Galician small green peppers), and even they can be absolutely harmless. The popular saying goes that some of them are spicy and some of them are not. So there you go. That’s as spicy as Spanish food will get.
7. We have a healthy, Mediterranean diet.
As in many other countries, it really depends on who you’re talking to. While it is true that is easy to get fresh food (at supermarkets or markets), it’s also true that precooked meals are also becoming popular. So yes, many people have a really healthy diet, but there are also lots of people who don’t. As for the Mediterranean diet, remember that we’re not only Mediterranean: every region has its traditional dishes and way of cooking. And that’s a good excuse to travel across the country and try them all!