I think that I have worked very assiduously to integrate myself into Spanish life. I study the language like a conscientious undergrad. Spanish cooking comes naturally to me and I probably eat less American food than the average Spaniard. Football to me is fútbol and not the game with pads and helmets. Despite all of my efforts to fit in, I just can’t get used to the Spanish dinner hours and their rather rigid notion of what one eats and doesn’t eat at a certain hour of the day. The biggest problem I have is the local prohibition of eating rice for dinner.
¿Arroz en la noche? “Rice for dinner?” I remember the first time someone asked me about this after telling them that I was making a risotto for dinner. For Valencianos eating rice for dinner rates right up there with rat poison. Rice is a midday meal for them, period. If you went to a restaurant and ordered paella for dinner I think they would first laugh at you and then escort you brusquely from the premises while warning you never to return.
The Spanish eat their big meals in the afternoon. They feel that eating a big meal in the evening is basically just asking for trouble; trouble in the form of weight gain, disturbed sleep, gout, rickets, and possibly erectile dysfunction. You name it and eating big in the evening causes it. From everything that I have read about nutrition there is absolutely basis for this belief because the body is basically on a 24 hour schedule and what matter is the total caloric intake during the day and not when they are consumed. I understand that it is the tradition to eat a big afternoon meal basically everywhere in the Mediterranean basin. I respect tradition but this doesn’t mean that the tradition is based on science.
Even after all this time here in Spain I would much prefer to eat a being meal in the evening. And it’s not like Spanish people don’t eat big meals late in the evening. It’s rare to see anyone in a restaurant before 10:00 pm and it’s not like people only eat carrots and celery when they go out at night. Someone who admonishes you for eating rice at night will think nothing of eating a prodigious amount of bread with a salad for dinner. Potato dishes are quite popular for dinner as well as other recipes steeped in carbohydrates.
If I am going to eat a big meal I like to have a bit of wine with it. Having even a single glass of wine at lunch just wipes me out for the rest of the day. I can drink wine at lunch on Sundays when I have nothing to do the rest of the day put the rest of the week this just isn’t the case. I will often eat rice for dinner (only if there are no Spanish people around to witness this heinous crime). I sleep like a baby after these meals. You can read all about it in my upcoming book, Eat Rice at Night and Live to Tell about It!.