Believe it or not, talking about lunch in the Spanish-speaking world is no small feat!
Let’s keep in mind that Spanish is the official language of a WHOPPING 21 countries, so customs and culture vary from region to region, from country to country and between localities as well.
Lunchtime, for example, is held in many countries at noon, but countries like Spain and Mexico baffle everyone by eating lunch later in the afternoon … in some households it’s not uncommon to eat lunch at 4 PM!
So, whilst lunch, or ‘almuerzo’, is one of the most substantial meals of the day in the majority of Spanish-speaking countries, it refers to a lighter meal or even a snack between breakfast and the ‘comida’ – or the actual lunchtime – in Mexico and Spain.
Scratching your head yet? All the more reason to level-up your vocabulary with this list of 8 ways to say ‘lunch’ in Spanish!
Let’s get right to it!
‘Lunch’ is mostly said in the following ways –
1. comida = lunch (Mexico and Spain)
2. almuerzo = lunch (Latin America)
1 Comida – Lunch / Lunchtime
According to the Royal Academy of the Spanish language, ‘comida’ is ‘what you eat and drink to nourish yourself’, a.k.a. any ‘food’ (which is why it’s sometimes used interchangeably with ‘alimento’).
HOWEVER, the RAE also defines it as ‘food taken at noon or early afternoon’, meaning it’s also a synonym of ‘lunch’ and ‘lunchtime’.
En una oficina en México
Isabel – ¿No vas a salir a comer?
Beto – ¿Ya es hora de la comida? ¡No me había dado cuenta!
At an office in Mexico
Isabel – Aren’t you going to eat something?
Beto – Is it lunchtime already? I hadn’t noticed!
¡Qué rica se ve tu comida! ¿Tú la preparaste?
Your lunch looks delicious! Did you make it?
As I mentioned before, ‘comida’ is the word for ‘lunch’ in Spain (although NOT in Andalucía) AND México, but don’t expect people from other Latin American countries to use it this way, because they say ‘almuerzo’ instead.
2 (Algo) De comer – Lunch
You may also hear the expression ‘de comer’ or ‘algo de comer’; it´s common in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and other Latin American countries.
Melissa – ¿Qué trajiste de comer, Sebas? ¡Se ve delicioso!
Sebastián – Empanadas de atún, ¿gustas?
Melissa – What did you bring for lunch, Sebas? It looks delicious!
Sebastián – Tuna empanadas, do you want some?
But wouldn’t ‘de comer’ refer to any meal of the day?
The answer is actually no. The expression can be used throughout the day, but in the morning, you’d have something ‘de desayunar’ and something ‘de cenar’ in the evenings.
3 Almuerzo – Lunch / Lunchtime
‘La hora del almuerzo’ in many Latin American countries would be the equivalent of ‘la hora de la comida’ in Spain and Mexico – except for the fact that the former takes place one or two hours earlier than the latter, something that baffles both sides of the spectrum in equal measure!
Regardless, ‘almuerzo’ is one of the two most common ways of saying ‘lunch’ in the Spanish-speaking world.
Julián – ¿Qué trajiste de almuerzo?
Lucía – Arroz con pollo, ¿y tú?
Julian – What did you bring for lunch?
Lucía – Rice with chicken, and you?
*Erika’s note – it’s worth mentioning that the word ‘almuerzo’ IS actually used in Spain and Mexico as well, but it normally refers to a light meal between breakfast and lunch.
4 Lonche / Lonch / Lunch – Lunch / Lunch break
Don’t be surprised if you hear Mexican people actually using the English word ‘lunch’ or a similar sounding word such as ‘lonche’!
Many people use this anglicism (an English word used in another language) to refer to a light meal between breakfast and lunch, a snack, a lunch break, or the time of day when kids eat a sandwich and play in the schoolyard.
En la escuela
Caro – ¿Quieres uno de mis molletes*, Gus?
Gustavo – ¡Sí, gracias! Tu mamá prepara los mejores lonches.
At the school
Caro – Would you like one of my molletes, Gus?
Gustavo – Yeah, thank you! Your mom makes the best lunches.
*Erika’s note – A ‘mollete’ is a traditional Mexican sandwich, and one of the many different types of sandwich you can find in Latin America.
5 Vianda – Snack / Box lunch
‘Vianda’ is a very common term for a ‘box lunch’ in Latin America.
Sofía se sentaba diario con el mismo grupo de amigos a comer viandas y platicar de lo que fuera.
Sofía sat with the same group of friends every day to eat their boxed lunches and chat about anything and everything.
6 Refrigerio – Snack / Box lunch
Depending on the country and region, a ‘refrigerio’ can refer to a ‘snack’ (which you can eat at any time of the day) OR a ‘box lunch’.
A fun fact about ‘refrigerio’, ‘vianda’ and ‘lonche’ is that international or foreign TV series often get dubbed in a specific country´s variation of Spanish (at least in Latin America).
This means that sometimes certain words and expressions don’t reflect those used by a portion of the viewing public (i.e., those from a different Latin American country).
For example, Mexican children might hear the word ‘refrigerio’ in their favorite cartoon, while never really using such a term themselves.
Niño – Mamá, ¿por qué a Santi le empacan dulces en el refrigerio?
Madre – No sé, hijo, será porque a sus papás no les preocupan las caries.
Kid – Mom, why is Santi getting candy in his box lunch?
Mother – I don’t know, son, maybe his parents don’t care about cavities.
En un paseo guiado
Guía – Al mediodía haremos una pausa para el refrigerio.
On a guided tour
Guide – At noon we’ll take a lunch break.
7 Tentempié – Snack / Light meal
When talking about a ‘light meal’ or ‘snack’, ‘tentempié’ is more common than ‘refrigerio’ in countries like Spain and the northern regions of Mexico.
En una excursión en el bosque
Luz – ¿Podemos parar para un tentempié?
Martín – Claro; empaqué unas tortas en la mochila.
On a hike in the woods
Luz – Can we stop for a snack?
Martín – Sure, I packed some sandwiches in my backpack.
8 Piscolabis – Snack
A rather old-fashioned synonym of ‘refrigerio’ is ‘piscolabis’.
It originated in Spain, but even the Royal Academy of the Spanish language considers its etymology somewhat of a mystery.
Although it’s a fun word to pronounce, ‘piscolabis’ is often associated with older generations across the Spanish-speaking world.
En el pizarrón de bienvenida a una conferencia
Para su disfrute, disponemos de café y piscolabis durante todo el evento.
On the welcome board at a conference
For your enjoyment, we have coffee and snacks available throughout the event.
And there you have it, plenty of ways to say ‘lunch’ in Spanish!
Remember: ‘comida’ should be your go-to in Spain and Mexico, while ‘almuerzo’ is the safest bet in the rest of Latin America.
Hopefully you’ll try out a couple of other words on the list too!
Heading out for lunch in a Spanish-speaking country? Then I suggest you take a quick look at our article on all the different ways to say ‘steak’ in Spanish first. It´s sure to get you salivating!
¡Hasta la próxima!