Eating in Spain – Bares, Restaurantes, Ventas, Tascas, Mesones, Etc. (by AL)
Among their objectives Visitors who arrive in Spain usually wish to sample and enjoy the culinary richness of this country. Often they are surprised to find a diversity of establishments that serve meals and that have different names: bares, mesones, ventas, tascas, restaurantes, tabernas, cafeterías, chiringuitos… one can eat in practically all of them, but it is interesting to know what the main differences are among them, because obviously they did not get their names by chance, and generally the name refers to the type of food and drink that they serve.
Let's begin by explaining what a “restaurant” consists of, since without a doubt it is one of the most typical and abundant establishments wherever you go. It consists of a place where food and dinners are served to be eaten in the same establishment. Some offer the option of “take-out” food, although it is not the most common thing. Practically all of them have a menu (“carta” or “menú”) from which the customer can choose what he wants to have in a particular way, and many also have what is called the “menu of the day” (“el menú del día"), consisting of a limited menu of first dishes, second dishes and desserts (in general, more than three choices), intended for people who eat in the restaurant on a daily basis for reasons of work. This option is always cheaper than eating “off the menu" (“de menú”).
Another very common establishment is the "cafeteria." They are typical places for meeting with friends for coffee and a lively conversation for a good amount of time. They are not specialized in serving meals and dinners, although some do offer a menu of the day, and in any case, there is always a good offering of sandwiches, sweets, etc., with which to accompany the coffee or a soda.
If you go for a walk along Spanish streets, very frequently you will also come across the popular "bares" (plural of “bar”). In this case they are establishments that specialize in serving drinks: sodas, wines, alcoholic drinks… although, in all the cases, they also serve coffee and some type of food to accompany the refreshments (“raciones,” “tapas,” etc.). They are places that usually have few tables to sit down at, and the most typical thing is for the customers to remain standing, because the time spent is usually not very extensive and tends to be between the 15 minutes and half an hour.
Less common are the so-called "mesóns” and “ventas.” A "mesón" is an establishment specializing in meals, very frequently typical of a Spanish region, or they may also distinguish themselves by serving good meat or fish stews, offering culinary specialization in this way. Therefore, don't expect to be able to have breakfast or coffee, soda, etc. in a “mesón,” because they are not intended for it. The typical thing is to go to the mesón to eat a good representative dish of Spanish cuisine, well prepared and accompanied by a good wine. We should explain, nevertheless, that what was said of the mesón is applicable also to the “ventas,” although they tend to be simpler and cheaper establishments in general.
As for the "tascas” (bars) and "tavernas" (taverns – both establishments are very similar and we can discuss them at the same time), they are places in which mainly alcoholic beverages are served, and often “tapas” and “raciones.” Therefore, it is the most appropriate place to go to taste wine accompanied by some good tapas in keeping with the drink, and to have a lively chat with friends. They are places where there are tables for sitting down, although a large number of the clientele stands, since the typical thing is to visit several "tascas" until you have completed a meal, and therefore the amount of time spent in any one establishment is usually not very long.
Finally, we will also discuss a very typical type of Spanish establishment, found mainly in coastal locations: the popular "chiringuito." These are places that typically have tables outdoors, or even in many cases that don't have a enclosed setting (but instead are "stalls" or stands that are open to the outside), where sodas and alcoholic drinks are served, as well as not very elaborate food such as "raciones," “tapas,” combination plates, and also sandwiches and “bocadillos.” They are very similar to bars, although as we have said, they are usually very simple establishments that flourish in seaside tourist locations and generally with weather mild enough to be able to eat outdoors.
We hope this small review is useful to you when you travel around Spain and must choose the most desirable place to have breakfast, eat, have dinner, or simply spend some enjoyable time talking with friends.
Degustar – to taste, try, sample, check the flavor
Chiringuito – refreshment stand, open air restaurant
Casualidad – chance, coincidence
Rato – while, time, moment, bit
Tapas – snacks served with drinks in Spanish bars (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapas for photos of tapas)
Ración – portion, serving, helping; ration, allotment (“Alongside tapas, you will find 'raciones' which are often just a larger portion of the tapas of the day, say big enough for two or three to share, but not necessarily.” - http://www.topspanishtapas.com/2008/01/tapas-raciones.html)
Rondar – to roam around, to hang about
Guiso – cooked dish; stew
Pensado para – intended for
Matizar – to distinguish, to explain in detail
Acorde con – in agreement with, in keeping with
Costero – coastal, seaside
Establecimiento – establishment, setting, place of business, settlement
Caseta – hut, stall, booth
Benigno - benign, inoffensive
Apetecible – appetizing, tasty
Ameno – pleasant, enjoyable
Por and Para before infinitives: In this audiotext, we see the phrase “Comencemos por explicar” – “Let us begin by explaining.” The sentence, “Tengo tanto trabajo por terminar,” would translate as “I have so much work to finish.” If we say “acabar por” or “terminar por,” we mean that we are ending up doing something; for example, “acabé por viajar por avión” – “I ended up traveling by plane.”
“Estar para” is used to state a fact about an action that is about to occur: “El tren está para salir” – “The train is about to leave,” or “Está para nevar” – it’s about to snow.” However, when you wish to express that you have the intention of doing something very soon, you say “estoy por…” For example, “Estoy por bajar al piso de abajo y decirles que quiten la música.” - “I’m about to go to the apartment downstairs and tell them to turn off the music.” – see http://spanish-podcast.com/2008/03/24/estar-por-vs-estar-para/).
Vayas donde vayas: Note the use of the subjective in this expression. Consider also the title of the book on mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, entitled “Wherever You Go, There You Are” – “Vayas Donde Vayas, ¡Ahí Estás!" or “Mindfulness en la vida cotidiana: dondequiera que vayas, ahí estás.”