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Spain Restaurants - A Venta in Andalucia

Sue Eatock

A "venta" is a road side cafe, bar and restaurant, which is family run and therefore very individual. Look out for them on the larger country roads between towns and villages. Visiting a venta is an excellent way to see traditional fare and way of life. They have a friendly, family atmosphere.

The simplest ones consist of a bar and tables in one room. The larger ones have a separate dining room away from the noise of the bar and perhaps an outdoor terrace. Often on display is a selection of local produce and crafts to admire and, of course, buy.

New smoking laws have recently been enforced in Spain in public areas. The regulations state that a cafe, bar or restaurant less than 100 square metres in size can choose to be smoking or non smoking. The small bars are therefore as smoky as before. The establishments that have larger internal dimensions divide the area into smoking and non smoking areas. This generally means that the main restaurant area is smoke free and the bar is the smoky zone.

An excellent example of a venta in Andalucia is "El Tropezon 111", situated on the main road between Ronda and Arcos de la Frontera, at the junction to a village named Montecorto.

El Tropezon 111

El Tropezon 111, a typical venta

El Tropezon 111 consists of a bar adorned with tapas and local seasonal fruit, alongside a light and airy seating area where you may smoke. This room also houses the obligatory television, fruit (gambling) machine and cigarette vending machine. As you enter prepare to be greeted by tall metal frames full of cured hams.

A small shop selling a wide array of local produce is connected to the bar. This includes honey, wine, oil, marmalades, cheese, beans, grains, bread, walking canes, and leather goods. And many more cured hams.

Swing doors lead to the large dining room, the walls and pillars of which are beautifully decorated with old tools of the land, many plants and a myriad of bottles of wine. Smoking is not permitted in here the dining room.

Opening Hours (Los horarios)

Open all day! (closed Thursday)

El Tropezon 111 opens at 7:00am so people can come for breakfast on their way to work. Closing time is around 11:00pm to midnight, depending on the evening trade.

Morning

They serve coffee and breakfast throughout the morning. The morning "rush hour" is 9:50am - 10.50am. At this time all workers in the area take a break and come to the venta. Therefore it is not the best moment for a relaxed drink. With the coffee grinder whirring and the milk steamer blasting, the television burbling and fruit machine chiming, it is no quiet affair! Interesting, yes. Quiet, no.

For your first time in a venta aim for a little before or after the morning rush, unless you are feeling brave of heart or are hard of hearing! Don’t be alarmed by the brandy chasers or the quantity of rubbish that builds up on the floor around the bar. These are normal practices in all bars.

See the sample cafe menu

Topped Mollete

A traditional breakfast is toast and coffee (Tostada y Cafe). The bread may be a long crusty loaf cut in half, a large round loaf sliced thickly or a thin type of roll called a mollete. The traditional toast topping is a liberal pouring of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. This may be enhanced with raw garlic and/or pureed tomato. Butter and marmalade are offered in tourist areas. Technically they are actually margarine and strawberry jelly, but it is close!

Mollete

Mollete y Cafe

The photo above shows toasted mollete with a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and a Cafe Americano on the right. A Cafe Americano is a cafe solo (small espresso) in a bigger glass filled to the top with hot water.

Mollete

Mollete con Tomate y Aceite

Mollete con Tomate y Aceite, show above, is a round bread cut into two slices and toasted (or warmed in an oven). Rub it with garlic, add pureed tomato, drizzle with olive oil, and add salt. That's a standard breakfast here for the workers. Sometimes there is no mollete so it's just pan tostada (toasted bread) but the toppings are the same.

Topping Selection

Mollette Toppings

Zurrapa on toast is an alternative for the brave - meat eaters only. It is almost a pate but with more fat than meat, often three colours are displayed.

Lunch Time (Almuerzo or Comida)

At lunchtime a selection of tapas and small meals in the bar room are very popular. This is the only bar I know where you have to place the order at the bar and also collect it from the bar; most places deliver the food to your table.

The midday meal in Spain is normally at 2:00pm. For the workers it can be a rushed matter to ensure plenty of siesta time. Lunch for the families on the other hand is extended, allowing for lots of chatter. Sunday lunch is the busiest time in the dining room. Many families dress smartly and head to a favorite venta for a meal and a relaxed Sunday afternoon.

If you find yourself ravenous and the kitchen staff are in and busy making preparations, you can ask them to serve food earlier than normal. Remember though that it is being freshly cooked for you so be patient, tuck into olives and perhaps a little bread to keep you going.

If you are looking for light snacks try a range of tapas or a medio racion (half portion).

Half portion

Medio Racion (half portion)

Tapas and Olives (Tapas y Aceitunas)

Tapas are small (saucer size) portions of food that can be enjoyed as a light snack throughout the day, handy as an aperitif while you decipher the menu. A refrigerated display cabinet on the bar makes it easy for you to point out your preference. There may be a list of hot tapas available if there is someone in the kitchen.

Tapas are said to have originated in Sevilla as a small plate covering a drink to prevent flies from entering, beginning with simply bread and perhaps Jamon Serrano, then growing into more adventurous concoctions!

Olives may be offered free with a glass of beer or wine, otherwise you may ask for them if this doesn’t happen.

See the sample tapas menu

Evening (Cena)

8:00pm is a good time to enter a venta for an evening meal. Relax, take your time choosing from the menu, with a drink and some olives. The locals will begin arriving around 9:00pm, often not ordering until 10:00pm. During the summer it is too hot to be hungry any earlier, but this time schedule does last throughout the year.

Although they do not close there may be a rest time for the kitchen staff to eat before lunch and evening meals service starts. If you arrive at one of those moments, stave off hunger pangs with a cold tapa until they are back.

See the sample restaurant menu

Menu del Dia (Set Menu of the Day)

Many ventas offer a set three course meal that is very popular with workers. This is commonly only available Monday to Friday. Basically the price includes your first drink (i.e. beer, house wine, water, fruit juice) a starter, a main course and a dessert or coffee. Most establishments offer three or more dishes for each section of the meal to choose from. They may be written up on a chalk board, printed in the menu or called out by the waiter on request. (The latter can be hard to follow if you are not used to fast Spanish, it may turn out to be a lucky dip!) The price varies from place to place but will start at around 7euros per person complete. Quite a bargain for the amount of food but don’t expect cordon bleu style cuisine.

If the menu says egg and potato or pork and chips, you will normally get just that. Many places do not add any vegetables or salad garnish.

Ordering at a Table 

In cafes you may sit at a table or bar, peruse the menu and a waiter will take your order. If you settle at a table and there is obviously only one member of staff working behind the bar, place your order at the bar and it will be delivered to the table or they will give you a shout when it is ready. Watch the other tables for a moment if you’re not sure.

Once you are seated there is no pressure on you to hurry. In fact catching the waiter's attention when you want order or pay can be difficult. If you order food, be prepared to clear the table of your personal items so that a paper table cloth can be laid out. Bread and cutlery will arrive. The bread is placed out automatically and will be itemized on your bill even though you did not order it.

Paying for the Meal and Tipping

You will not be expected to pay anything until you leave. (This may be different in large cities or at internationally owned chains.) Service charge is included, but every waiter appreciates a tip; 10% is an average guideline. Leave your tip where you were sitting (on the table or at the bar). Tips are usually placed, by the wait staff, in a pot and shared between all of the staff, so as to include the kitchen members too. If a cow bell is clanged loudly and the staff all cheer you may have over tipped!

Toilet Facilities

For the use of clients only. The light switch is often on the outside of the door. There may or may not be toilet tissue. This is because vast amounts are used to dry hands, some places have air blow dryers but not all are wired in. Large sinks (or the toilet itself) may prevent the door from opening fully- a side ways shuffle should be adopted in these cases.

Too Many Fried Foods!

If you find yourself eating loads of fried foods you could go for the Spanish method of ordering a house salad for the number at the table and share the contents. Then have a main course at least having topped up on some extra vitamins. Having said that some of the salad contents may be canned for storage convenience, so treat yourself to some fresh fruit when you pass a market or local store. It is easy to get carried away on all the fried food but don't forget your health just because you're on vacation!

Resources

Slow Travel Photos - Spain - Restaurants, Cafes: Larger version of photos used on this page.

Slow Travel Google Map - Spain, Andalusia, Sierra de Grazalema: Clive, August 2006. Clive and Sue show the sites in their corner of Southern Spain.

Slow Travel Google Map - Andalusia, Spain: DavidX, October 2006: The Andalucia region in southern Spain.


Clive Muir and Sue Eatock run guided nature holidays in the Sierra de Grazalema in southern Spain (www.natural-images.co.uk). They also run www.wildsideholidays.com, a listing site for holiday businesses specialising in active environmentally friendly holidays in Spain.

© Sue Eatock, 2006

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