Eating survival guide

Be prepared!! In Barcelona your concept of time will change. Midday is at 2:00pm, and the afternoon starts at 5:00pm - after lunch! If you're coming from the UK for a long weekend, for once the time difference works to your advantage. A 6:00pm flight from London Heathrow arriving at 9:15pm will get you into the city at 10:00pm, just as the restaurants are filling up for the first sitting! Turn up any earlier and they'll tell you to come back later when they've opened.

It's 3:15am on a Friday or Saturday night and the streets around the Plaça Real are packed with people. The bars have just closed and the highthawks are moving on to a club or disco. For the more laid-back, just take a stroll along the Ramblas where the kiosks stay open all night!

The Spanish word for afternoon, tarde, also means late... everything is late. My theory? The time shift is essential to accommodate the unique culture of social eating and drinking. Here's how the Barcelonese do it:

8:00am: Coffee and a croissant in a bar on the way to work. You'll see special offers of "cafe y croissant".

11:00am: Second breakfast of a coffee or small beer, with a sandwich of jamon (dry cured ham), chorizo (spicy, sliced sausage) or a slice of tortilla española (omelette with potatoes), with pan con tomate (slice of bread rubbed with ripe tomato).

2:00pm: Lunch is the bargain meal of the day. Even the most expensive restaurants offer excellent value "menus del dia" - menus of the day. A good and varied choice of starter (primer plato), main course (secundo plato) followed by coffee or a desert, and including a half bottle of wine. Siesta. An afternoon snooze back at the hotel is essential if you are to survive the night ahead. Many shops and businesses close from 2-5pm which makes the siesta possible.

any time: A small beer or glass of wine with tapas (snacks served on bread or cocktail sticks), or spectacular pinchos (Basque style tapas) in one of the Basque bars.

10:00pm: Dinner! With a few exceptions 10:00pm really is the time to eat. This is a substantial meal of hearty portions, meat and a wide variety of fish and shellfish cooked simply.

12:00pm: The bars are starting to buzz.

... and tomorrow the cycle starts over again.