Huge debate roars over vague hint that ‘menús del día’ should drop beer and wine

Could Spain's restaurants really be forced to drop alcohol from their menus of the day? No, but the storm in a teacup that's brewed in recent days over the government's alleged call for healthier diets shows just how much food and drink matters to Spaniards.

Menu del dia in Sevilla
Are menús del día going to drop alcohol? Fat chance. Photo: Clarence / Wikimedia Commons

Spain’s much-loved menús del día (menus of the day) are sacred to many Spaniards and can be found in pretty much every city, town and village across the country.

They are typically three-course menus served at lunchtime for a fixed price and include a drink, which may be beer or wine, as well as bread.

But in recent days another ‘foodgate’ scandal has been brewing in Spain after it was reported that the country’s Interterritorial Health Council, made up of doctors and other health professionals, had suggested that alcohol be dropped from the menu. 

This supposed proposal has caused such an uproar among restaurant owners, hoteliers and consumers, that Spain’s Ministry of Health finally decided to drop the specific mention of alcohol and instead encourage restaurants to promote the Mediterranean diet.  

“We reiterate that it is false information that bars and restaurants are going to be forced not to offer wine or beers on their menus,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

“Restaurant establishments should promote the Mediterranean diet as a model of heart-healthy eating,” was all Spanish health authorities wished to convey.

News published in Spanish daily La Razón stating that the government will collaborate with bars and restaurants to promote the Mediterranean diet without including alcohol consumption was misconstrued by other media outlets as being a booze ban from menús del día.

The huge debate the fake news has sparked proves just how important being able to have a drink with lunch is to Spaniards, and how once again they don’t like the idea of the Spanish government telling them to let go of one of their guilty pleasures.

What reasons could be behind not wanting alcohol to be included in the menú del día?

Well, despite all the studies over the years claiming that ‘a glass a day keeps the doctor away’, beer and wine can’t technically be considered healthy. 

The Ministry of Health’s strategy points out the harmful effects of alcohol on cardiovascular health, which is currently the leading cause of death in Spain ahead of cancer or respiratory diseases.

More than 115,000 lives are claimed each year: one in four people dies from heart problems and related pathologies.  

With regards to beer, Spain currently taxes €0.03 per 33cl, well below the European average of 14 cents, according to the EU Commission database. This makes it very easy for bars and restaurants to include alcohol as part of their daily menus. 

According to the most recent data from the European health interview survey (EHIS), 13 percent of Spaniards drink alcohol every day, the second highest rate in the EU after Portugal. 

READ ALSO: Will Spain soon no longer be the land of cheap alcohol?

How healthy are the menús del día really? 

The menús del día date back to the 1960s during the Franco regime, when they were called Menús Túristicos and were introduced so that tourists would be able to pay a fixed price to enjoy Spanish cuisine.

In the 1970s, they changed their name to menús del día as they became even more popular with the local population. 

READ ALSO – The secrets of El Menú del Día: The surprising story behind Spain’s fixed-price lunch menu

You can usually select between several dishes for each course and depending on what you order, menús del día can be great value for money and typically cost around €8 to €15.

While menús del día may be popular and very good value, the most typical ones are not usually the healthiest of meals. Yes, there may be a salad option for the starter, but as well as alcohol and desserts, they usually include many fried choices and lots of red meat often served with potatoes – there are very rarely any other vegetables. Think deep-fried croquetas, solomillo con patatas (steak with chips), callos (tripe) or huevos con chorizo (eggs with spicy Spanish sausage).  

While the fish dishes are an obvious healthier option, it’s a very rare day when there are any vegetarian mains on the menu. 

This is not the first time there has been an uproar over alleged changes to the Spanish diet

This is not the first time that there has been controversy and uproar surrounding the need to change the Spanish diet. 

In 2015, the WHO issued a health warning to say that carcinogens were present in certain types of meat, including Spain’s beloved jamón, which caused an outcry across the country. 

Then more recently in 2021, Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón called on Spaniards to eat less meat citing both health and environmental reasons.

Garzón’s recommendations caused anger from livestock farmers and agriculture associations calling for the minister to resign over his attacks. 

The Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition recommends a weekly consumption of between 200 and 500 grammes of meat (carne in Spanish), while Spaniards consume on average more than one kilo. This is between two and five times more than what is considered optimal. 

According to FAO data, Spain is the country that consumes the most meat in the European Union.

Member comments

  1. I wonder if that’s true that Spain consumes more meat in the EU? My view is that per head of capita Ireland, the UK, & most of the northern European countries would eat more meat than the Spanish. My view, I hasten to add, is not based on any factual evidence but merely my observation – lest I’m torn apart for want of statistical evidence.🤫

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These are Spain’s new Michelin-starred restaurants

The new 2023 Michelin Star guide for the best restaurants in Spain and Portugal has awarded new stars to 34 restaurants across Spain. Read on to discover which ones and where they are.

These are Spain's new Michelin-starred restaurants

En España se come bien (People eat well in Spain), you’ll hear many Spaniards proclaim. That’s coming from a country that’s not accustomed to singing its own praises on the global stage. 

Although these higher-than-average gastronomic standards apply to all types of bars and restaurants, when it comes to haute cuisine, Spain continues to be among the top five countries with the most Michelin-starred eateries, together with France, Japan, Italy and Germany.

On Tuesday November 22nd, Michelin revealed its newest restaurant selection of acclaimed Spanish restaurants during an event in the Spanish city of Toledo.

As of November 2022, two restaurants in Spain have been awarded the coveted three Michelin Star distinction.

Three have gone up to the two-star category and 29 restaurants have been given new one-star rankings.

Atrio in Cáceres (Extremadura region in western Spain) and Cocina Hermanos Torres in Barcelona have both earned the top award three-star prize, which is the highest award that can be given, and have joined the 13 other restaurants in Spain at this level.

According to the judges, Atrio won the distinction due to “its elegant and delicate dishes, prepared by chef Toño Pérez, who has shaken up local gastronomic traditions”. His menu focuses on Iberian pork and other products from Extremadura.

While in Barcelona, Cocina Hermanos Torres has been given the top award for “firing the imagination with every bite”. Chefs Sergio and Javier Torres have created “a magical space in which the gastronomic experience consistently seeks out the very best seasonal produce and exceeds foodies’ expectations, turning it into a dining extravaganza,” the judges said.

READ ALSO – REVEALED: Spain’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants

Of the 2023 guide, International Director of Michelin Gwendal Poullennec said: “We were delighted to see how younger chefs are taking the lead and embarking on their own journeys, in many cases flying the flag of reinterpreted regional or fusion cuisines”.

“In turn, vegan options are gradually forging ahead on menus, something which was already occurring in other European countries,” he added. 

Below are the Spanish rankings for the 2023 guide, including the three stars awarded to Atrio and Cocina Hermanos Torres. 

Two stars

  • Deessa, Madrid
  • El Rincón de Juan Carlos, Adeje, Tenerife
  • Pepe Vieira, Serpe, Pontevedra

One star

  • Ababol, Albacete
  • Ajonegro, Logroño
  • Aleia, Barcelona
  • AlmaMater, Murcia
  • Alquimia-Laboratorio, Valladolid
  • Ancestral, Illescas
  • Arrea!, Santa Cruz de Campezo
  • Ceibe, Ourense
  • Cobo Evolución, Burgos
  • Código de Barra, Cádiz
  • Come, Barcelona
  • Enigma, Barcelona
  • Etxeko Ibiza, Es Canar, Ibiza
  • Ferpel, Ortiguera
  • Fusión19, Muro, Mallorca
  • Gente Rara, Zaragoza
  • Kaleja, Málaga
  • La Finca, Loja
  • Mont Bar, Barcelona
  • Monte, San Feliz
  • Montia, San Lorenzo de El Escorial
  • Oba, Casas-Ibáñez
  • O’Pazo, Padrón
  • Ravioxo, Madrid
  • San-Hô, Adeje, Tenerife
  • Slow & Low, Barcelona
  • Tabaiba, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
  • Ugo Chan, Madrid
  • Zuara Sushi, Madrid

The Michelin Guide also handed out special awards to three different chefs.

The Young Chef Award for 2023 went to Almería-born chef Cristóbal Muñoz, who at age 31, heads up the kitchens at Ambivium in Peñafiel, Castilla y León.

The Chef Mentor Award for 2023 was given to a well-known name in the world of Spanish gastronomy – Joan Roca, who together with his brothers turned El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona, Catalonia into one of the best and most famous restaurants in the world.

Finally, the Michelin Service Award for 2023 was presented to Toni Gerez from Castell de Peralada, also in Catalonia. As the restaurant manager and sommelier, he “excels in customer-facing roles, in particular, when presenting his marvellous cheese cart that goes from table to table,” explained the judges.

In total, the 2023 Guide lists 1,401 restaurants throughout Spain, Portugal and Andorra. Out of these, 13 have three Michelin Stars, 41 have two Michelin Stars and 235 were awarded one Michelin Star.