Food, glorious food. One of winter’s greatest pleasures. Not that food isn’t a pleasure in summer of course, but there’s just something so amazing about indulging in big, hot, steaming bowls of deliciousness, sizzling morsels of marvelousness and creamy, comforting postres in the cooler months. First of all, as with most things in winter in Ibiza, we’ve got much more time to enjoy our mealtimes now. There are less snacks on the go and drinks in plastic cups in the car, and more long and lazy lunches, decadent dinners and even sunny brunches once the season is over. The idea of skipping a meal in winter is preposterous – with so many good restaurants open and such great fresh produce to choose from if you’re cooking, there’s more than enough to go around. Which brings me to one of my favourite Spanish winter rituals: the menu del dia.
Translating literally to the menu of the day, many restaurants – be they humble cafes or five-star dining destinations – present a set, (usually) three-course menu each day, showcasing some of their chef’s finest dishes, or perhaps whatever was in abundance at the market that morning. The menu del dia is generally (bit not always) limited to lunchtime, and also mostly served from Monday to Friday (but again, the odd friendly restaurant may offer it all weekend). Every venue’s menu is different – some offer the choice between two or three courses (for those who don’t have ravenous appetites) and you can opt for starter and main, or main and dessert, depending on your taste bud’s preferences. Some restaurants include a glass of wine, a beer, water or soft drink. Others throw in a coffee with your dessert. Most have a minimum of two options in each course to choose from, and vegetarians can always ask for an option if it’s not on the menu.
You can find a menu del dia in Ibiza for as little as around 6€ for three courses and a drink in a sidewalk cafe, and you’ll also find some of the more flashy restaurants charging around 30€. A pretty standard price for a menu del dia in a good quality restaurant, is between 15€ and 18€. Whether you’re on a budget or feel like something fancy, when you put it all in perspective and think about what a regular menu costs just for one course, you’ll start to fall in love with the concept of a menu del dia, like I did many moons ago. So much good food, so many options! For the menu del dia virgins out there, I’d like to share a little of my menu del dia wisdom, gleaned over many winters spent in search of the holy grail menu.
First of all, you’re going to need to allocate a little extra time for your lunch break than you would usually, if you want to really savour the entire experience. The Spanish typically dine at about 1pm, then head home to make the most of the rest of ‘siesta’ time with a nap, before getting back to business at around 5pm. Whether you’re working all year round or enjoying some down time, I suggest following their lead. Once you’ve wolfed down a creamy soup, some crispy lamb chops and tucked into a slice of flan, it’s no surprise you’re going to feel sleepy. Lunch is considered the biggest meal of the day here, so plan a light dinner for the evening (you see why tapas is so popular a dinner choice in Spain?). My second piece of advice: If you’re going to start enjoying menu del dias on a regular basis and taking siestas like a good Spaniard, then be sure to allocate a little extra time in your schedule for some exercise. Or just be prepared to loosen your belt a few notches, or start wearing your comfy pants more often!
Menu del dias are usually hearty portions, and they’re also not always always the healthiest of options (excluding a few notable locations) – though they are always damn delicious! I’ve never met a menu del dia I didn’t like. Last of all. Don’t overdo it. If you’re anything like me, you might want to steam in there and order the creamy ham and cheese croquetas for a starter, the crispy beef Milanese with chips for a main and then think you’ll have room for a sweet dessert afterwards, but halfway through your main meal, you’ll get the dreaded feeling of being FULL already! It’s best to balance your courses, and choose one light and one heavier, for example start with a soup or salad then opt for a meaty dish or pasta, or alternatively, enjoy your deep fried starter but select a light fish dish for your main. That way you’ll always still have room for dessert.
Here’s the thing: no two menus are alike. You could eat a menu del dia every day of the week throughout winter in Ibiza, and never get bored. You’ve got an entire island to explore – one day it’s a menu on the beach, the next in the countryside, followed by lunch in a quaint and charming village or in the old town. Whether you’re outside on a sunny terrace or cosied up by a fireplace, every menu has its merits. Everyone has an opinion on their favourite menu del dia place and why it’s the best of the bunch, but rather than spill the beans on my secret favourite places, I encourage you to be like the Goldilocks of menu del dias, and keep trying them all ‘til you find the one that’s j-u-u-s-t right (and then go back the next day just to make sure)!