Embracing 5 Culinary Differences Between the U.S. and Granada, Spain

Grace Lower is a student at The Ohio State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Granada, Spain.

They say that one of the best ways to get to know a culture is to sample its food. In my efforts to “eat like a local” here in Granada, I’ve encountered some fascinating culinary differences along the way:

1. Flexible mealtimes

Back in the US, I used to eat several small meals each day, with plenty of snacks to tide me over. In Granada, however, there’s a slightly different approach to gastronomy: a typical day consists of a tiny breakfast, a gigantic sit-down lunch, and a light late-night dinner.

Arroz Negro is one of my favorite Spanish lunches. This traditional seafood dish is made with calamari, aioli, and squid ink.

As strange as it seems, there’s a reason behind Granada’s shift in mealtimes. Since workplace productivity naturally decreases during the hottest parts of the afternoon, most local businesses close for a few hours at midday so that their workers can go home, relax, and enjoy a hearty meal. The best thing about this large, mid-afternoon lunch is that it leaves you feeling full and content: just in time for a quick siesta before heading back to work!

2. The joys of tapas gratis

Before coming to Spain, I felt lucky if I received a complimentary basket of bread at a restaurant or bar. Little did I know that Granada is one of the few remaining cities where—with the order of a drink—you receive a plate of savoury snacks, or tapas, for free. From slices of Spanish omelette to open-faced sandwiches, you can make a full meal out of these bite-sized portions!

3. Tiny coffees that pack a punch

When I ordered my first café con leche in Granada, I was slightly surprised by its small serving size. I finished the coffee in a matter of minutes and wondered how many more I’d have to order to maintain my (admittedly unhealthy) caffeine addiction.

It might look dainty, but this Spanish coffee is incredibly strong!

Shortly after, my eyes were wide and my legs were bouncing uncontrollably. I’d later learn that a traditional café con leche has several times the caffeine of a standard American brew. Lesson learned: take time to enjoy your coffee—you’ll regret it if you don’t!

4. “Whole” foods

Granada’s proximity to the coast means that there’s never a shortage of fresh seafood (which is incredibly exciting for a Midwesterner like me). That said, if you’re eating in a homestay or at a very traditional restaurant, don’t be surprised if your fish still has its head! Many Spaniards believe that seafood tastes best when it is cooked whole.

5. The importance of jamón

While ham plays a prominent role in many American dishes, Spaniards take their pork consumption to an entirely new level. Spanish ham—or “jamón” as it’s called here—is more than a meat: it’s a way of life. Aside from being a staple in many dishes, jamón has even worked its way into local slang (“¡Y un jamón!” is a colloquial way to say “absolutely not!”).

Before coming to Spain, I had no idea there were so many types of ham!

Although some of these culinary differences have certainly taken a little getting used to, I’ve quickly fallen in love with Granada’s cuisine. But would I say no to a bowl of American-style mac-and-cheese right now? ¡Y un jamón!

Want to read more about Moorish Spain? Check out “Why Granada is ‘Tapa’ the Food Chain”