Spanish Manners: Sobremesa

When is the last time where you sat down at a meal and really enjoyed a nice, long conversation afterwards? Where did you last sit for what seemed like minutes but was actually hours? Where did the hospitality and wine flow but never made you drunk?

The Spanish “Sobremesa” is a term used to describe what happens when this occurs. It literally means “over the table” and it is when you are having you desert, coffee, digestifs that have you spinning for hours in conversation. Now, it’s not possible every week, but on special occasions and Sundays, even Saturdays too, it’s a phenomenon that happens when we sit down to make time.

As an American family with a toddler this almost never happens unless we have guests. Somehow, when we have guests, we are able to slow down a little bit more and relax. We are able to bring out our best, and in turn, able to slow down and focus on the other.

This is the strange lesson of hospitality, it’s a lot harder to enjoy yourself if you are not able to serve others.

Now, part of the Spanish meal structure makes this possible. Below is the fullest description of a Spanish Sunday lunch that I have found, and the term for this is a “completo” or complete meal.

Soup: This is just a little soup to warm you up in the winter or cool you off in the summer (Gazpacho).

Aperitivos: These can be cheese, nuts, pintxos (tapas), little bits of food the tide you over until the meal begins.

Primeros: Can be warm or cold, but we wait for everyone in order to begin with the primeros. These can be a salad, a soup, stew, or the like but usually emphasize vegetables more than meat.

Segundos: These are meat or fish dishes that usually compliment the segundos. Unlike the primeros, people begin eating the segundos as soon as they are served so that they do not get cold. We always stress this fact so no one feels uncomfortable to begin eating.

<Here  is where the “sobremesa begins”>

Postres: This is of course, dessert. But this dessert might consist of something significantly more healthy than we typically think of, meaning fruit, yogurts or cheese. It can also include more decadent delicious things.

Coffee: Coffee is never served until after the dessert in Spain. I have actually come to agree with the Spanish on this point except in some cases with chocolate cakes and such.

Chupito: A digestif that helps with digestion and finishes the meal.

Cigars/Pipes: This is no longer done typically, but if someone smokes, they smoke here.

The “sobremesa” ends only when people are ready to end the meal, and there is never any rush.

It’s a long process, but compared with the any number of different options that one might have to work, organize or television shows to watch, this investment in people seems a lot more worthwhile than any other.