Merienda, The Afternoon Snack Tradition Enjoyed In Spain

Visiting Spain means discovering new flavors and food traditions, including a variety of small bites to enjoy throughout the day. You've heard of tapas, the mostly savory snacks that are enjoyed at bars before dinner, but you may not know about the delightful Spanish afternoon snack ritual called la merienda. Bridging the appetite gap after lunch and before the traditionally late Spanish dinner time, la merienda is like afternoon tea but less formal and starts around 5:00 p.m. Both sweet and savory treats are enjoyed by people of all ages.

Merienda is both an after-school snack for children and the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends after work. Whether in a cafe or at home, young children may have a more substantial merienda if they are in bed before dinner, and adults enjoy coffee with a sweet or savory treat. The key when traveling is not to look for a filling meal when merienda is served, this is a light refreshment in the late afternoon.

When to look for merienda treats

When visiting Spain, you'll notice meal times flow a little differently. The first bite of the morning, desayuno, is usually just toast and coffee, a quick bite. That's followed by almuerzo at mid-morning. Although translated as lunch, this meal is more of an opportunity to eat something more filling since breakfast is very light. Most of Spain takes a real lunch break for several hours in the afternoon for the biggest meal of the day, known as la comida. After this long lunch break, people return to work until later in the evening, so dinner is delayed until after 8:00 p.m. typically. La merienda is enjoyed in the late afternoon as a way to hold off hunger until dinner.

Merienda may have started as a way for children and grandparents to have a bite in the early evening, but the opportunity to gather with friends is a popular trend for Spaniards of all ages. Traditions are changing all over the world, and Spain is no exception. Some families eat a more substantial merienda known as merienda-cena rather than eat late in the evening but expect most cafes to serve light offerings only until the opening of dinner at 9:00 p.m. 

Merienda treats not to miss

One iconic Spanish treat not to miss at merienda time is churros with chocolate. Spanish churros are simple, you won't find cinnamon sugar on them — they are designed to be dipped in sweet, milky coffee or rich, thick Spanish hot chocolate. Be sure to try airy bizcocho de aceite, a delectable olive oil cake dusted with powdered sugar and served in a huge assortment of flavors. You might also see chocolate croissants, yogurt, and fresh fruit for merienda.

On the savory side, bocadillos, or small sandwiches, are a popular merienda treat. Portable and filling, sandwiches with jamon, cheese, or jam are perfect for kids. A lighter version for adults might be a simple plate of sliced jamon served with olive and local cheese. Whether your preference lies with sweet or savory, Spanish merienda is a tradition to enjoy daily while traveling. Why not take every opportunity to taste all the amazing flavors Spain offers?