Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD REFERENCE (www.oxfordreference.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single entry from a reference work in OR for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 29 February 2024


The Oxford Companion to Food

Alan Davidson

, Tom JaineTom Jaine

merenda (also merienda) 

an Italian and a Spanish word with similar but not identical meanings. The Latin root is merenda, a collation—possibly a lunch, perhaps something later. The future emperor Marcus Aurelius describes a merenda during vintage-time in a letter to his tutor Marcus Cornelius Fronto. All he had was a scrap of bread (he was a Stoic), but his fellow-workers tucked in to beans, onions, and herring. (In medieval English word lists, the usual translation of the Latin merenda is noonmeat.) It is one of those inbetween meals such as elevenses and afternoon tea (but not high tea). The word appears in several versions round the Mediterranean and in countries where Spanish influence has been significant. The Croats have marenda (often a mid-morning snack), the Catalans (especially on Majorca) bereneta or berenada, the Portuguese say merenda, the Argentines and Uruguyans merienda, and in the Philippines, merienda also.

Patience Gray (1986) would describe the Italian version as comprising ‘food in its simplest form—good bread and a plate of local mortadella or salame’, while in Spain, the term may have somewhat wider meaning; not just (afternoon) snack, but also outdoor meal, picnic. While Patience Gray promotes the classic ideal, in Italy nowadays it often bears the familiar outlines of an afternoon tea or goûter: a hot milky drink with sweet foods that might refresh children on their return from school.

The Catalans have another word, refrigeris (meaning refreshment), which corresponds more narrowly to the Italian merenda. A standard refrigeris is pa amb tomàquet. Whatever the terminology, and whatever particular foods are favoured, the pattern is similar, although in the Philippines merienda cena is eaten later, heavier than the usual merienda, and counts as a full meal (what we would call supper).