Saturday, July 16, 2011

Marching Orders: Adjust your body clock

Let's assume that you've arrived in a very new place, and there's a time change. Everyone knows that you need to adjust your sleeping habits. But it's important to reset your meal clock as well, and not just to the new time zone. You have to adjust to the rhythms of the culture. If you don't, well, you'll be swimming upstream for your entire visit.

Spain's a great example, a place where eating matters, and restaurants abound. But Spaniards eat snacks when we eat meals, and they tend to eat meals when we're off doing something else entirely, like going to bed. On our very first arrival in Spain, we tried to conform to our own food schedule as best we could. But restaurants don't open for dinner until eight or nine in the evening, and few local people are ready for the evening meal until well after that. We'd have our noses pressed against the restaurant door waiting for them to open up at eight, and then we'd eat dinner in an empty place. Depressing.

How do they wait for such a late dinner? By eating lunch at about three or four in the afternoon. How can they wait that long for lunch? They eat breakfast when we do. But they have a snack at about noon.

We often have what we call "second breakfast" when we're traveling. It's normally a cup of coffee and a pastry mid-morning. It's handy if you're running around ancient sites or you've just absorbed a museum, or if you just want an excuse to sit at a table portside. And face it, pastry is delicious. But our conventional second breakfast is too early (and probably too empty) to sustain us until lunch in mid-afternoon. So while we're in Spain, we have adjusted to a noon snack, and we're doing what we see around us.

Here's a tostada, with café con leche and fresh orange juice (normally, you'd get one or the other of these beverages.) This happens to be pan intégrale (whole-grain bread), but there's a white toast version of this as well. You can ask for a variety of toppings, but if you don't specify, you'll often get pureed tomatoes and a large drizzle of olive oil.

You might as well adapt. If you don't, you'll limit the number and type of places that will be open when you're hungry, you'll limit your ordering options, and worst of all, you'll be missing life abroad.