Sobremesa + Lessons Through Food


Warning: There are no food pictures included in this blog (sorry). 

Sobremesa (soh-breh-meh-sah): hecho de permanecer sentado a la mesa después de comer, generalmente conversando con otros comensales—the act of remaining seated at the table after eating, generally conversing with other fellow diners (Lexico)

I learned this word in my class Bilingüismo: La Mente y Su Contexto this week. It was an example of a word in Spanish that couldn’t be translated directly into English. While this was the first time I had heard the word sobremesa, I had experienced it a couple days earlier. 

Last weekend, my school went on a trip to Tarragona. We saw ancient Roman ruins, biked along rice paddies, and kayaked down the Ebro to a beach (I was surprised by the Mediterranean’s salinity).

View of Tarragona.
Kayaking down the Ebro.

Every day on this trip, we would have lunch and dinner together. For each meal, we would sit down and have some olives and wine. Then we would have tapas like pa amb tomàquet, which is a Catalan dish made of bread and tomatoes. This would be followed by a main course and then dessert. After dinner, there was coffee for anyone who wanted.

All this time, there was never a moment of silence. Conversation occurred throughout the meal. It continued after the dishes were cleared when people were leaning back into their chairs, their cheeks a little rosy from the wine. This was sobremesa. When I got up to leave, I checked my phone and realized lunch lasted three hours. 

I’m not used to this form of eating. If you had told me before the program that meals consisted of talking for hours to people I wasn’t close to, I probably would have gotten a little anxious. It actually turned out to be no big deal. I got to know people I wouldn’t normally talk to and reached a level of conversation that transcended the empty, everyday small talk. 

View of Barcelona from the Santa María del Mar.

This slowness of eating and eating as a social event are so different from what we do in the states. In the US, we eat just to alleviate our cravings and we often try to do it as quickly as possible. I’m guilty of quickly stuffing a granola bar down or doing homework while eating dinner.

My history professor here told us that in Spain, doing work while eating is rude. He talked about how lunch meetings that occur in the US do not happen in Spain. Eating a meal together is something sacred and to be respected. He told us it’s unusual to eat alone. I’ve noticed that very few restaurants have the option of para llevar or “to go.” 

The lack of an English word for this phenomenon just shows what we value as a culture. In the US, it’s so much about individualism and productivity, the disregard for basic human needs for something we deem more important and refined: work. In Spain, the culture stresses community and balance.

In Spain, I’m learning how to not feel like I have to be running from one place to the next. I’m learning to enjoy things in moderation and not indulge (which was very difficult this week with midterms. All I wanted was a large iced coffee, but the largest size here was equivalent to a Starbucks tall). 

I know I said no pictures of food, but my professor managed to get a picture of this giant paella.

Sobremesa is something I want to continue when I get back to the states. It makes me more present in what I’m doing. Food is filling itself but sharing it with others is even more fulfilling. It’s so much better than eating alone. Until then, stay tuned for my blog posts!