The ‘sobremesa’ in Spain or how a lunch can last hours

No one would tell you otherwise: in Spain, our favourite thing to do is eat. Our gastronomy is one of our beloved heritages. And that is why this tradition of spending hours around the table after having lunch has so much sense. In fact, everyone envy how we combine long lunchs with endless ‘sobremesas’. Whether the conversation is about how the week went, the last gossip of the neighbour of the town, or the most feared conversation about politics, the ‘sobremesa’ is part of the Spanish intangible heritage.

The true origin of this Spanish tradition

spanish cards

Playing Spanish cards games is one of the most common things to do. | Shutterstock

We have to travel back in time to discover the origin of this tradition. The Romans brought the after-dinner meal to its maximum splendor. Emperors and guests ate delicacies brought from different parts of the world and drank wines from the Iberian Peninsula. Then, after their abundant dinners, they would enjoy artistic spectacles with acrobats, dancers, actors and poets. Later, in medieval times, troubadours entertained at the end of the banquets with concerts and battles of knights. The tradition of spending time before lunch appeared as well influencing the tradition of having tapas in Spain.

With the Renaissance and the growth of the power of the bourgeois class, a finer cuisine appeared and great families such as the Medici and the Sforza started a competition on who would serve the most spectacular banquet. It was during these banquets, Leonardo Da Vinci himself showed his models of machines to the dinners before the incredulous gaze of his contemporaries. Later, at the time of the French Revolution and with the luxurious lifestyle of the Napoleonic Empire, this time after the meal took on vital importance.

All these factors have influenced in some way this very Spanish tradition. Nowadays, although there is less and less time to enjoy the ‘sobremesa’, especially during the week, when work schedules leave no space for relaxing, it is a deeply-rooted tradition in many Spanish families.

From enjoying a gin tonic to playing ‘chinchón’, everyone lives the ‘sobremesa’


Some friends toasting during a summer’s sobremesa. | Shutterstock

Especially during the summer months, Spanish families could spend more than three hours if no one bothers them. But any lunch is perfect to have the excuse to stay seated surrounded by friends or family, catch up, laugh, and enjoy a drink or two before the sometimes mandatory nap.

Playing card games with the Spanish deck  is one of the funniest and most practiced things during the ‘sobremesa’. The ‘burro’, the ‘mentiroso’ or the ‘chinchón’ are some of the most popular card games and probably the time where everyone starts shouting and laughing.

Also, it is almost a must to take out some liquors like Baileys, herbal liquors, cocktails like gin tonics, just coffee, or maybe a limoncello shot. One thing is for sure, you have to be careful not to spend so much time that suddenly ‘merienda‘ or dinner time arrives. It has happened more than once, we know well.

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