4 Ways to Enjoy Spanish Food on a Budget

March 26, 2015
4 Ways to Enjoy Spanish Food on a Budget

My top priorities while traveling are eating well and stretching my dollars (or euros) as far as they’ll go. While living in a European capital and making just enough to get by each month, I learned how to find and enjoy cheap food and drinks. My friends and I would occasionally splurge on a meal for a special occasion. However, we usually cooked at our respective apartments, invited each other over for meals, and took advantage of inexpensive food and drink options.

While I’m most accustomed to doing this in Madrid, I also learned how to eat on a budget during my travels throughout Spain.

If you’re looking to save money and aprovechar, or take advantage of, the way madrileños eat Spanish food on a daily basis, read on and take notes!

4 Ways to Enjoy Spanish Food on a Budget

1. Sample local culture up close

If you find yourself in the Spanish capital in October, I highly recommend participating in Tapapiés, a multicultural food festival in barrio (neighborhood) Lavapiés with specialty tapas sold for one euro each.

Similarly, in June, there is BollyMadrid, an Indian cultural food and entertainment festival also in Lavapiés (can you tell that I love this neighborhood?). These are just two of Madrid’s many gastronomic events held each year. 

2. Eat like a local

If you are unable to cook during your stay in Spain, skip a fancy breakfast. Spaniards don’t eat a large breakfast and instead may have coffee and toast, so start your day at a local frutería or market where fresh produce is found, and have yourself a picnic in one of the many free parks around the city, such as Retiro, Parque Oeste or Madrid Río.

A piece of fruit, a baguette, and some jamón y queso (ham and cheese) make for a delicious and filling meal.

In Madrid, I found that my neighborhood of La Latina and those surrounding it had several fruterías selling inexpensive fruits and veggies. My personal favorite was a chain called ¡Ay Madre! La Fruta (Calle de San Cayetano, 1) which can be found all over the city.

I was able to purchase a full bag or two of fresh produce for around five euros and would be set for the week. If you really want to treat yourself, however, stop by the café and bakery La Mallorquina on Calle Mayor, 2 and savor a rich Napolitana de chocolate, a soft and flaky pastry filled with gooey chocolate and powdered plentifully with sugar.

4 Ways to Enjoy Spanish Food on a Budget

4 Ways to Enjoy Spanish Food on a Budget

3. Enjoy a menú del día

For the afternoon, a menú del día, or menu of the day, is a great lunch option. For the Spanish, lunch is the biggest, and typically longest, meal of the day. It’s normal to have soup, salad, a main dish, and fruit or yogurt for dessert. With menús del día, one can fill up on two courses for a reasonable price. Although some menus can get pricey, it’s definitely possible to find menus for ten to fifteen euros and get a good quality, filling meal.

It’s worth the effort to seek them out! My favorites were the numerous Indian restaurants lining the long and winding streets of Lavapiés, such as Raja Mahal (Calle Ave María, 15). It’s important to note that menus are typically only available during the week.

4. Learn to love tapas

Living in Spain has made me fall in love with the small, easy-to-manage portions of delicious tapas. I highly recommend going to a bar and ordering a drink before you decide to order food, because chances are, your drink will come with a small plate of food. Whereas in the United States I was accustomed to eating dinner at 6pm, dinner in Spain is closer to 10pm, and tapas can be enjoyed in order to hold you over until the evening.

My favorite, and I’m sure the most stereotypical, place to venture for heaping portions of cheap food is El Tigre. El Tigre is the quintessential tapas bar for study abroad students, locals, and travelers alike. Along with huge drinks, you are given a large plate of food piled with tortilla de patatascroquetas de jamón, patatas bravas, and more, all for around 3 euros!

The vino rosado there is tasty and is typically accompanied by bread and chorizo, and the tostas are savory and hearty enough to share with a friend.

If you succeed at sweet-talking the guys behind the counter, you could be lucky enough to score extras of your favorites.

If you seek something quieter, Diaz y Larroy (Calle Cava Baja, 6) is small, quiet and cozy. The vino rosado there is tasty and is typically accompanied by bread and chorizo, and the tostas are savory and hearty enough to share with a friend. My favorite consists of melted cheese and apple compote, and almost a year later I find myself still craving it. Spanish food is simply perfect!

4 Ways to Enjoy Spanish Food on a Budget

4 Ways to Enjoy Spanish Food on a Budget

4 Ways to Enjoy Spanish Food on a Budget

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Have you traveled to Spain? What were your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Photo credits for 4 Ways to Enjoy Spanish Food on a Budget by Marisa Mansueto and Jodi Marie Smith.

About Marisa Mansueto

Marisa Mansueto is Pink Pangea’s Spain Correspondent.

After graduating from Lafayette College, Marisa spent two years teaching English in Madrid and falling deeply in love with Spain. She recently returned from a two-month volunteering trip in Arequipa, Peru and is ready for her next Spanish-speaking adventure.

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