How often did you have trouble finding food on the Camino?
This is a complaint that comes up on a regular basis in Camino groups. It usually has to do with one of these 2 scenarios:
- Pilgrims are trying to get cena (dinner), but restaurants are closed and no one is serving hot food.
- Pilgrims want to buy supplies on a domingo (Sunday) or festivo (public holiday).
To avoid either of these situations, you must understand how things work in Spain.
So, what do you need to know to avoid not finding food on the Camino?
Let’s start with the second situation: domingos y festivos.
Most businesses are closed on those days.
Bars and restaurants are usually open. So, eating out on a Sunday or holiday should not be a problem. At least, not at lunch time. Dinner could be tricky.
Panaderías (bakeries) will open in the morning. But supermarkets and other shops in general will be closed. So, you could get fresh bread and pastries in the morning. But, if you’re hoping to buy something else… well, ¡buena suerte! (good luck).
In smaller towns you may find that shops close on sábado (Saturday) evening too.
Something else to keep in mind: buses and trains are less frequent on Sundays and holidays, but that’s not our topic for today, so let’s focus on food.
Finding food when it’s not a Sunday or holiday
Now we know what happens on Sundays and holidays. But what happens the rest of the week? Why do some people struggle to find food? And no, the answer is not siesta, in case that’s what you’re thinking.
The first thing you need to understand is that there are specific times for each meal in Spain. Finding a place that serves hot food outside of those times is a rare occurrence. You can find snacks, but not a proper cooked meal.
For more info on what you can find and where, check ¿Dónde vas a comer?
Breakfast is the least important of all our meals and, as such, it’s more flexible. Most Spaniards will have a cup of coffee and a tostada (toast) or a couple of galletas (biscuits or cookies, depending on where you’re from) before heading off to work. A second breakfast, pretty much like the one pilgrims have, is common.
Lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain. And lunch happens typically between 1.30-4.00pm. After 3.30 (or 3.45 at the latest), the kitchens in the restaurants close and they don’t reopen until dinner time.
When is dinner time?
Late, for other countries’ standards. Having dinner at 9.00, 10.00pm or even later is perfectly normal. But not such a good plan if you’re starving because you’ve only had a few snacks throughout the day. Or if you need to be back at the albergue before 10.00pm.
Restaurant kitchens usually reopen at 8.30pm for the dinner service.
In this restaurant they have their kitchen times posted outside. You can see that their kitchen opens 30 minutes earlier, for both lunch and dinner, than what I said above.
Not every single restaurant opens and closes at the same time, obviously. But finding a place that starts serving dinner before 8.00pm and lunch before 1.00pm is the exception rather than the norm.
What can you do?
Your best bet is to try the Spanish way: have lunch as soon as you get to your destination for the day, as long as you finish walking before 3.00pm. You can shower and rest after you’ve eaten. And then you can have something light for dinner, like a drink and a tapa or two.
Doing it like this will also give you more options, since the menú del día is usually available for lunch but not for dinner.
If having your main meal earlier in the day does not appeal to you, you have 2 options: starve until dinner time or find a shop selling food and buy something to help you make it until dinner time.
Today’s Spanish words
For the pronunciation of siesta (and for an explanation of why siesta is usually not the answer), check 5 things you need to know about Spain.
For the pronunciation and more info on what menú del día is and how it works, check Menú del día.
For the pronunciation of tapa, check ¿Dónde vas a comer?
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