Snacking in France, Italy and Spain
Who doesn’t love a light – or hearty! – snack? Discover what people in southern Europe tend to eat and drink between meals.
Southern Europeans have a time-honoured tradition of taking breaks during the day and after work or school. It’s all part of the good life that the sunny region is known for. And during these interludes, you can be sure to find yummy snacks and drinks.
Snack times in France
Upon waking up from their nap or after a long day at school, French children love having a sweet snack. Le goûter, served around 4pm, consists of a biscuit and fruit purée for little ones. Older kids want something more substantial, like bread slathered with chocolate or jam, or individually packaged pastries – madeleines, cakes, brioches – found in supermarkets and convenience stores everywhere. And with pâtisseries around practically every corner, it’s easy for parents to pick up a tartelette, croissant or pain au chocolat (chocolatine in southwestern France) for the kids – and themselves! Children typically drink water or juice with their goûter, while grownups prefer coffee or tea.
Another popular snacking time is l’apéro. After coming home from work, many people like to relax with an apéritif and savoury nibbles before dinner at 8pm. The beverage can be anything from beer and wine to spirits like pastis and whisky. An especially festive pre-dinner drink is kir royale, made with champagne and blackcurrant liqueur.
Snack times in Italy
Italians enjoy spuntini (snacks) day and night, but the classic time to nosh between meals is la merenda. Between 4 and 5pm is when hungry kids come home from school and devour biscuits, fruit, bread with Nutella, yogurt or individually wrapped snack cakes called merendine. This snack time is for people who deserve it, as merenda shares the same linguistic root as ‘merit’.
But don’t worry if you haven’t earned la merenda, because there’s also aperitivo. This pre-meal event can occur before lunch or dinner – usually the latter – and the classic drinks are prosecco and the wine cocktail spritz, accompanied by something salty: crisps, peanuts, olives, pickles, cheese cubes. The later aperitivo begins between 5 and 6pm, and can last until 8pm, especially when enjoyed with friends or colleagues at a bar.
Snack times in Spain
Eating habits differ throughout Spain, but here’s a general idea of when people snack and what they eat and drink.
The two main snack times bookend la comida (lunch), literally 'the meal'. Almuerzo is second breakfast, a bite around 10am so you aren’t famished by lunchtime at 2pm. This late-morning break consists of café con leche and a tostada con tomate (toasted bread topped with crushed tomatoes and olive oil), tortilla de patatas (potato omelette) or a bocadillo sandwich.
La merienda follows the same principle as after-school snacks in France and Italy, but occurs from 5 to 6:30pm – as it has to tide kids over until dinner at 9 or 10pm. Unlike almuerzo, this snack is usually sweet. A favourite is churros dunked in pudding-like hot chocolate. Other options include cakes, doughnuts and pastries.
Adults usually can’t take time out for la merienda, which makes aperitivo all the more satisfying. Starting around 8pm, bars across the country are packed with people grabbing a glass of beer, wine, cava, sherry or cider. A must-have accompaniment to these drinks are the beloved tapas or, when in northern Spain, pintxos/pinchos (skewered tapas). Then it might be time to head home and start thinking about dinner!
(*) Average meal price calculated on the basis of starter and main course or main course and dessert, excluding drinks, menu and promotional offers. The average price is an estimate only, calculated according to the prices provided by the restaurant. Depending on the country, the average price may or may not include all taxes. ↩