Pssst...I'm going to let you in one of Spain's best kept secrets. You can enjoy a three course meal with wine for the price of a snack, if you know these magic words; Menu del Dia, which means simply Menu of the Day. Normally served between two and three in the afternoon by just about every restaurant in Spain, this afternoon delight is a great way to eat good food at a very reasonable price.
It all started during Franco's time as a way for workers to obtain a nutritious meal at an affordable price. Franco has gone, but thankfully Menu del Dia lives on, and is in fact as popular as ever, but you have to know about it to get it. Some restaurants advertise their Menu of the Day on a chalk board outside the establishment, whilst others will happily bring you the normal menu without mentioning the cheap option, especially if...how can I put this...you're not a local.
Of course the standard menu may have a list of dishes as long as your arm, whereas the fare on offer for Menu of the Day may only provide a choice of three or four dishes for each course, but there's usually something there to suit everyone. Let's get one thing straight here; the food is not inferior or in any way less nutritious than what's being offered from the main menu. The difference is the price, and I promise you, I've never walked away from a Menu del Dia feeling hungry; quite the contrary in fact. Don't forget that these meals were meant to feed the workers, and still do, so don't be surprised if you find yourself surrounded by a group of Spanish taking their lunch break.
A popular first course is a really tasty soup or a salad, but dishes are as diverse as the restaurants which offer them, so there won't be a problem finding something you like. A Chinese restaurant will have its own particular version, as will an Italian or Indian, but most Spanish bars and restaurants stick to what they know the locals will enjoy. Chicken, fish, meatballs or pork usually come with chips, but that's no different to the main menu. There's usually the choice of a pudding or coffee, but if you want to pay extra, you can have both.
Although Menu del Dia is available nationwide, the cheapest place, according to the Organisation of Consumers and Users, is Malaga, which weighed in with an average price of EUR7.55 which is pretty good value for a hearty meal. The national average is EUR9.50; still representing terrific value for money. Apparently, this information was gleaned from a survey of one hundred restaurants in Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Seville, Valencia, Vigo, Zaragoza and Malaga. I wonder who carried out the survey, and if he can fit through his front door these days; nice work if you can get it.
The only problem with Menu del Dia is that you probably won't want to eat a big meal in the evening, which could spoil your restaurant plans, but if you're happy to eat your main meal in the middle of the day, and are looking to save money, it's made for you, so the next time you're on holiday in Spain, don't forget the magic words.