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The Menu of the Day: Spain’s Best Culinary Value for Your Euro

3863690161_9b10a2f10eLast week, we visited the small town of Poboleda in the heart of DOC Priorat, located just south of Barcelona. After a death defying jeep ride along the beautiful terraced vineyards of Mas Doix – Dramamine anyone? – we huddled together in a family owned restaurant to enjoy an absolutely spectacular Menu del Dia. Savoring flavorful habas beans with chunks of butifarra negra, sumptuous roast duck and homemade flan, it occurred to us that to date, we have failed to share with you one of the best culinary values for your dollar.

Mind you, although we had heard about the menu of the day upon our arrival to Spain, we continued to order off the normal menu until it dawned on us that we were spending a considerable amount more for less food. It wasn’t until we enjoyed our first menu of the day in Madrid that we finally understood how amazing the meal can be. (photo by luzezita (entesinada))

During Franco‘s 30 year reign, el menu del dia (menu of the day) was established to feed the starving masses a nutritious and balanced lunch on a budget: essentially, the working man’s meal. Served between 1 and 4 in the afternoon, when air conditioning was nonexistent and heatstroke was common, this 3 course menu came complete with bread and a beverage, allowing for the maximum amount of consumption for maximum savings.

Nowadays, prices will range dramatically depending on where you are on the peninsula. We’ve seen prices as low as 5.50 and as high as 21 euros. However, as a rule of thumb, the menu of the day will average around 10 euros. Will price dictate quality? Not necessarily. We’ve enjoyed amazing homecooked meals in Rioja for as low as 8 euros, far outweighing the 21 euro menu from the posh restaurant up the street. In reality, the quality is hit or miss, but its always worth a shot.

How do you know if a restaurant has a menu of the day? El Menu del Dia will typically have their featured dishes scrawled in white on a chalkboard propped against the outer restaurant wall listed as El Primer Plato (first course), El Segundo Plato (second course) and El Postre (dessert). However, if you find a restaurant that doesn’t have their menu listed outside, this doesn’t mean it’s not available. In this case, simply ask the server “Hay un menu del dia?” If it is available, they will list it for you verbally. If your Spanish is rusty, politely ask them to list it in English. If their English is rusty, go for a game of Charades. Having spent over a year using this method, I can guarantee both entertainment and a learning opportunity. Granted, you may get stewed pigs feet instead of a chicken filet, but hey, that’s how we learn :) At least you’ll never forget the word for pig’s feet again.

What can you expect from a typical Menu del Dia?

Example Menu del Dia

El Primer
Ensalada Mixta (mixed green salad)
Paella (traditional rice dish with saffron and various meats and vegetables)
Sopa del dia (soup of the day)

El Segundo
Chuletas de cerdo (pork chops)
Pollo asado (roast chicken)
Filete de merluza con tomate (white fish filet with a tomato sauce)

El Postre
Flan (think creme brule without the hard caramel shell)
Dulce de membrillo (quinze paste desert)
Yogurt

Beverage
Glass of House White or Red Wine
Water (with or without gas)
Soda

To be clear, the menu of the day is not your only option, as most restaurants will also have a full menu to choose from. There are times when we simply want a quick bite without a full three course meal, or have a specific dish in mind, motivating us to order from the main menu. In short, follow your taste buds.

A few rules of thumb:

  1. If the place is packed around 2pm, it’s generally a good option
  2. If you see a board propped outside with photos of the food, run
  3. If you’re in a tourist area, head to the side streets to find great little dive restaurants
  4. Use commonsense when choosing the restaurant. It may look sketchy, but if it feels right, take a risk. You may stumble upon a gem.

What has been your experience of the Menu del Dia? Are there treasures you’ve stumbled upon your stay?

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

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  • Steve

    The menu del dia was our favourite choice while in Catalunya, even in the poshier or more “touristy” restaurants it was the best bang for the buck by far.

    • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

      Hey Steve! Out of curiosity, were there any specific menu’s that caught your attention and why?

  • http://twitter.com/cpfitzsimons Chris

    Great article. I especially love rule of thumb no. 2.”If you see a board propped outside with photos of the food, run!” :)

    The “menu del dia” in Spain or the “prato do dia” in Portugal is always wonderful value. I have eaten, without any doubt, some of the best food in my life here in Porto for under €5.00.

  • http://vinosambiz.blogspot.com Fabius

    I love Menus del Día! In Madrid, there are more restaurants serving a menu del día than there are restaurants in the whole of Norway! The price variation is from about €8 to over €20, but the average is around €10. The quality also varies a lot, as does the ambiance/decor. If you’re in a city you don’t know, it’s well worth the ‘risk’ of going for one, as the chances are that it will be pretty standard. This risk increases however, the closer you are to tourist attractions and if there are photos of the food on display!

    The only thing wrong with menus del día (in Madrid anyway) is that the wine served with them is so awful and undrinkable that you have to mix it with lemonade! On the one hand this makes me think “well, what do expect for €10?” (1st course, 2nd course, dessert or coffee, bread, beverage!) But on the other hand, I also think “Come on, we’re in Spain, land of wine! How hard/expensive is it to provide a decent (‘just decent’ not superb) bottle of wine that can be be drunk on its own???

    I took a photo of a bottle over lunch today, which I’m trying to upload onto twitpic, but no luck so far!!!

    • http://vinosambiz.blogspot.com Fabius

      I’ve started taking photos of the tables wines served up at typical Menus del Dia and I’ve uploaded a few already on twitpic http://twitpic.com/photos/vinosambiz

  • Esteban

    if it is in English… do also run.

  • Sarago Jinx

    You need the whole menu