Spanish Food 101: Bebidas (La Primera Parte, Refrescos)

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the last in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

What is food without the drink? Why, still wonderful of course. But the drinking culture of a country can speak volumes, and in the western world it can often be seen that we speak more passionately about our drinking than our eating. We are a drinking people, that is true indeed. Without drink you will die far sooner than without food, but, as less of a flaccid platitude, it is often drinking which leads to adventures or follies. This will surely be the subject of my children’s book.

I went on a walk at 10am this morning (as opposed to 10am at night) and passed a café with at least three people drinking beer outside. While day drinking  has long been one of my preferred pastimes, there is still plenty for Iberia to teach me about this art, and relaxing more wholly: bebiendo por la mañana. In Elephant & Castle, London’s Spanish/Latino district, I came across the same phenomenon (phenomenon, habit). Five beers before midday on a Sunday. Hey, at least it wasn’t a weekday. This isn’t really the type of drinking culture that I was necessarily looking to talk about, but it was worth the digression.

Onto the drinks. Salud!


Orxata / Horchata


In December, drinking Horchata / I’d look psychotic in a balaclava. 

Not to everyone’s taste, so much so that it is currently the only drink that I have first been offered a tiny taste of before being committed to being poured a full glass. Two of the three children absolutely love it, the other doesn’t, but she doesn’t like milk.

Horchata is  made of  ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley and tigernuts.  It is milky in texture, a little bitter and a little sweet, like a milky-textured child. It is no mystery as to why it is an acquired taste, but not quite why it gets such vehement dislike. Having strong opinions gets you more girls may be the reason, but very likely isn’t.

In Catalunya it is traditionally it is served with fartons, a combination that I did not taste though having tried them both individually am sure that it is perfectly fine. Maybe they will come together to really pop – like fries and a Frosty, or wheels on a bus – but alas I cannot tell you definitively. Buy bottled from the market, make your own at home, or have yourself a treat afternoon at one of the many combination gelateria-orxatarias around town.




Not to be confused with the rice dish ‘cubana’.

As my foray into drinking Cola Cao and eating postres may suggest, my ongoing attempt to give up azucar is not going particularly well.

Here is another drink primarily for children which is often served during la merienda. An aim here appears to be making horchata more palatable, or giving the combination gelateria-orxataria something to give their indecisive customers.

“Cubano! Cubano!” the children scream excitedly, still dripping wet from their evening swim. Their mother says that I don’t have to have it if I don’t want it. I have only been with the family for three days and she is yet to be fully accustomed to my “eats everything” attitude.

Quite simply, you take horchata, put a scoop of chocolate ice cream in it and grate some chocolate on top. Frankly, what can’t be made better with these additions? A great many things, I hear you say. Well, I retort, clearly someone hasn’t watched the film Chocolat, or read my questionable screenplay.


Leche Merengada


This morning I asked the mother what the name of that cinammon milk (como se llame el bebida con leche y canela? were exactly the words I used. Spanish grammar still eludes me) drink that we had a couple of weeks ago.

“Leche merengada,” she said.

Gracias,” I replied, “I wanted to check for that thing I’m writing. Escribo?” I make a very loose effort with my Spanish at least, even more so when I have just been swimming with jellyfish.

On the way home we stopped off at the gelateria-orxataria and she bought some leche merengada, which polite English me felt equal parts grateful and guilty for, and the child in me would rather that we had got good old-fashioned helado.

Leche merengada, which translates as ‘meringue milk’, is made by heating milk and simmering with cinnamon, lemon and our trusty friend sugar. Well-made merengada is supposedly left to infuse for a few days, though this might be a lost-in-translation story which would leave me with food poisoning were I try to follow the advice at home. Nigella Lawson says to add brandy, but this wasn’t the merengada that I meren-had-a.

Horchata for people who don’t like horchata but do like cinnamon. Also for people who enjoy sweet cinnamon drinks, milk, want a taste of Christmas year round, or just have a plain old sweet tooth.

On cinnamon: in Andalusia the phrase “loose cinnamon” was added to my “list of word couplets I find pleasing to the ear.” Others on this list include “flaccid platitudes” and “free [anything]”.

Cola Cao


The above picture is quite optimistic in the solubility of Cola Cao, a chocolate powder similar to Nesquik which seemingly never dissolves no matter how long you stir. It is popular among children (or the young at heart!) for breakfast and le merienda, usually with a Marie biscuit, which is best described as being somewhat similar to a Rich Tea. It is a healthy alternative to when chocolate cake and lard seems too indulgent, though the pack assures me that there are vitamins and minerals nestled within.

It tastes a lot better than Nesquik (another children’s health drink with vitamins and minerals), hence the willingness to accept your fate of having a chocolate powder mustache every time you drink it, showing to the world that you are a proud youth who tantalises their tastebuds at every turn.




It shouldn’t come as a surprise that coffee culture is quite prevalent in Spain. Coffee is the most popular drink in the world after all – I once got that question in a pub quiz.

Unlike the Italians and Portuguese, it has been my experience that café con leche is preferable throughout Spain. So great is their ambivalence towards strong black coffee that they spell expresso like so in a lot of coffees. Es/xpressos are often served cortado, that is, with a drop of warm milk.

“I would have had a coffee but they spelled espresso wrong” are real words that I said out loud at breakfast in Barcelona.

I drink my coffee black, to the mild surprise of my Nespresso-machine-owning host family. “No leche? No azucar? Are you sure??” It was to their additional surprise that I prefer coffee to tea, being that I’m English and all, and stereotypes hold strong.

n.b. Spanish people really don’t drink tea. In Andalusia at least, if you order tea, you will receive a cup of hot milk with a teabag in it.

Hot coffee in the morning, café con hielo in the afternoon. Sleep is for suckers.


More on drinks in part two.


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