A Quick Guide to Spanish Breakfast

Dear Wes,

As a lover of all-things breakfast, early morning food in Spain doesn’t always do the trick for me. I cannot survive without a hearty breakfast, and most Spanish breakfast foods don’t provide me with enough (calories, fat, protein…) to get me through to lunch―at 3 pm. However, here breakfasts are meant to be a form of quick fuel for people that are not accustomed to heavy meals early in the morning and could be as simple as a glass of milk. Luckily, in Spain, you have several more options than countries such as France or Italy (which tend to only have access to sweet food such as croissants or cookies). Your basic breakfast options include:

To drink:

While you can always get orange juice, other fun juices are becoming more popular in Spain. 

While you can always get orange juice, other fun juices are becoming more popular in Spain. 

Café con leche or other coffee drinks: Coffee is a staple drink in Spain just like other countries, but they drink it differently than in the US. Check out this article for more details about your coffee options.

Cola Cao: Similar to Nesquik, Cola Cao is a chocolate powder mixed into either warm or cold milk and is a popular sweet drink marketed towards younger people. At the same time, it is also enjoyed by adults who prefer not to start their day caffeinated or have a sweet afternoon treat.

Tés or influsiones: In Spanish, teas are only those which have caffeine and infusions are all other, non-caffeinated beverages made by infusing the water with leaves, flowers, etc. You can easily get black, green, or red tea and usually chamomile or mint infusions. All other options are hit-or-miss depending on your cafetería or place where you will find breakfast in the morning.

Freshly made zumo de naranja: Fresh squeezed orange juice can be found in almost every cafetería in Spain. Other types of juices are becoming more popular too, but this classic juice is always available. 

To eat:

Tostadas: the main breakfast food for daily consumption, the tostada is a piece of toast with different toppings. You can usually get a whole or a half toast (which may be half a baguette, roll, or other type of bread but, a newer phenomenon, could also be a miniature version of the whole toast). You can always find tostadas made of white (normal) bread but whole-wheat (integral) bread is also becoming more popular. Toppings can be sweet or savory and will vary depending on both the specific cafetería and the city where you are.

  • Sweet tostadas: Can be topped with things like butter, jam, butter and jam, nutella, or peanut butter and jelly (only available in places that cater to foreigners).
  • Savory tostadas: The most popular tostada is probably tomate, or pureed tomato with olive oil, but you can also get just olive oil, tomato with cheese, tomato with ham, or tomato with ham and cheese. You can also ask for your ham and cheese bread without tomato, but that is not as Spanish. Other, non-tomato, options may include paté, cream cheese, avocado, or tuna.
Spanish style  churros ―if the photo is blurry it is because we were rushing to eat them ;) 

Spanish style churros―if the photo is blurry it is because we were rushing to eat them ;) 

Churros: Usually ordered with cups of thick chocolate served warm (hot chocolate is not the right interpretation―this chocolate is like a delicious warm version of pudding or mousse) or coffee, churros are a version of fried doughnuts. They are piped into boiling oil in strands and come out mostly hollow. Churros should be eaten as soon as they come to the table; hot they are delicious but as they cool they lose some of their appeal. If you don’t like hot chocolate or are lactose-intolerant like me, you can also enjoy your churros dipped in sugar.

Croissants: Most places will have some sort of sweet pastry on offer which, more often than not, will be a croissant. You can usually ask for butter and jam with yours, but most people just eat them plain.

Warning: Spanish croissants (and pastry in general) are not like French pastry which have a butter base, but are made mostly with pig lard or, sometimes, olive oil. Just keep this in mind if you are a vegetarian.

Crepes: A rather new option available on some menus, sweet and savory crepes can be a fun way to start your morning. Be forewarned, however, although they are French-inspired, they are not the same as in France. Does this make them less delicious? Absolutely not! Just be aware that it might not be the same.  

Eggs and…: This option, if available, was put on the menu for a guiri like you. Very few Spanish people I know will eat something like eggs for breakfast. Anything with eggs, sausages, or the like will be a Spanish impression of British or American breakfast dishes. They will probably be decent, but don’t expect a copy of what you get back home because these are not traditional foods.