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Why do some Spaniards have bread with every meal?

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Why do some Spaniards have bread with every meal?
The Spanish eat bread with almost every meal. Photo: Brooke Lark / Unsplash

Have you ever noticed how much bread is eaten in Spain, how it's served with almost every meal and why there's a bakery on almost every street corner?


Bread is an important part of the Spanish diet and there’s a reason why panaderías or bakeries are one of the most common shops in Spain – you’ll find one on almost every other street corner.

Bread can be eaten with all of the three main meals in Spain. It’s a typical breakfast food, eaten as mini bocadillo (filled baguette) or tostadas (toast) topped with tomato, olive oil or jamón (ham).

For the main meal in the middle of the day, there’s always a basket of bread that’s put out on the table, whether that’s to eat before the meal, to mop up the sauce or dip in olive oil.

Bread can also be used as a type of eating tool, allowing you to put other food onto it (like the Basque pintxos) and make it easier to eat.

READ ALSO: A gourmet guide to ordering pintxos in Spain's Basque Country

Bread again is often eaten in the evening for dinner. A basket of bread is again usually put out with a selection of tapas dishes or in Catalonia it's pa amb tomàquet or bread with tomato.

Bread may again be used to dip in soup or stews or mop up the juices at the end. Almost every region in Spain has its own type of stew from the Asturian fabada and the cocido madrileño to the Basque marmitako, and bread is often an accompaniment. 

READ ALSO: 14 unusual foods you won't believe are eaten in Spain

Some people in Spain also eat very light meals for dinner and may just end the day with toast or a sandwich instead of a full meal, but still of course featuring bread. 

According to James Blick and his Spanish wife Yoli from YouTube channel Spain Revealed, “If you want to look like a true local, then keep your piece of bread beside your plate (on the table or tablecloth) rather than on the actual plate”.



A study by lifestyle website Uppers found that while all Spaniards eat a lot of bread, it’s typically the over 65s that eat bread with all meals, even with fruit.

Historians believe that this has to do with the traumatic memory from years of hunger between 1932 to 1952. This was also exacerbated by the Spanish Civil War starting in 1936 and the Franco dictatorship beyond. 

Most of those over 65 today were children during this time and many experienced intense hunger.


Historian Gloria Román Ruiz explained on Twitter, that “the echoes of the days without bread still resonate in our current eating practices”.

She found that those who survived the post-war famine still maintain austere attitudes towards food today, take advantage of leftovers, and reject waste, especially bread. Their attitude is then passed to their children and subsequent generations.

Between 1939 and 1942 Spain suffered an enormous lack of basic food products, and at least 200,000 people died of hunger and diseases derived from starvation.  

When people could get hold of bread, eating it was a way to bulk out their meals and fill themselves up – even temporarily – as it contains lots of carbohydrates.

While there is a dark reason behind the fact that many Spaniards eat bread with every meal, it has now also involved into a cultural thing. People now almost expect a basket of bread to come out at meal times and many feel that the meal is not complete, unless it comes with bread. 


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