If you’ve ever spent any time in Spain then it’s likely that you’ll have heard of the Menu del Dia. This is an incredibly affordable lunchtime special that changes on a daily basis, and offers a selection of two courses, accompanied by bread, a drink, and a dessert or coffee. What makes the Menu del Dia so appealing is its near-impossibly affordable price. So, what can you expect when you order the Menu del Dia? When can you order it? And why is this dining option so popular in Spain? Here’s everything you need to know:
When Can You Order the Menu del Dia?
As the name suggests, the Menu del Dia is only available at lunchtime: in most restaurants this is between 2pm-4pm. The Menu del Dia is also only available from Monday to Friday, as a general rule. How much you will pay depends on the quality of the restaurant, but expect prices to start from 7 euros in a moderate standard place, up to 15 euros in a more high-end restaurant.
Whilst this menu is incredibly good value, the payoff is that it is also very limited. You will have either two or three options for both your starter and your main course, and these are likely to be chosen on the day by the chef, and change daily.
What Are the Origins of the Menu del Dia?
The origins of the menu del Dia find their roots in the late 1950s, when the Spanish government planned to take advantage of the huge economic impact that tourism was having on the country. Manuel Fraga, who was the Minister of Information and Tourism under General Franco’s regime, monopolised this by introducing legislation that would offer a fixed price menu, in a standardised format, to all visitors to Spain, enabling them to experience Spanish cuisine at an affordable price. All restaurants were legally obliged to provide this menu.
When it was first launched, the Menu del Dia was called El Menu Turistico, because its main purpose was to attract tourists. The menu was officially introduced on 17th March 1965, and a state bulletin outlined what restaurant owners (as well as cafes, university and factory canteens, and restaurants on trains and ferries) were expected to supply.
Whilst the Menu Turistico was aimed for tourists, it was so easy and affordable that it also became popular with Spaniards: what an easy way to grab and fast and inexpensive lunch! And because the menu was available in every town and city in the country, you could be sure to find the menu no matter where you went: by the 1970s, the menu had become known as el Menu del Dia, and it remains in place today. The Menu del Dia is as popular now as it was when it launched.
What Can You Expect If You Order the Menu del Dia?
We know that the Menu del Dia is an affordable fixed price menu: now we will look at what you’re actually going to get for your money. You will receive three courses: a starter, main course, and then a dessert. In Spanish these courses are known as ‘primer plato’, ‘segundo plato’ and ‘postre’. You’ll also receive a generous basket of bread, which will be brought to your table before the rest of your meal is served.
The first course is almost always a vegetarian dish, based around vegetables, eggs and pulses. The second course will revolve around a meat or fish option, although vegetarian choices are available in almost all restaurants too.
The whole menu will change depending on the time of year, involving seasonal, often locally-sourced fruits and vegetables. When it comes to desserts, these are generally similar in every restaurant you visit: egg-custard based flans, tarts, and puddings. Rice pudding is also a popular choice. If you don’t have the appetite for a heavy dessert, you can always ask for fruit instead. But don’t expect anything fancy: this will either be an apple or an orange that you will have to peel yourself, but it is a refreshing way to end a meal.
What Next for the Menu Del Dia?
It is no longer the law for restaurants to still provide a menu del dia, but many of them still do. They are a part of Spanish culture, and it’s hard to imagine them disappearing. The next time you’re in Spain, and you’re looking for somewhere to grab lunch, why not look out for a Menu del Dia?
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