How to Embrace Sobremesa, the Mexican Art of Lingering at the Table

Order another round of drinks and settle in — there's something beautiful about putting leisure back on the table.

<p>Maren Caruso / Getty Images</p>

Maren Caruso / Getty Images

I’ve always been a slow eater. I take my time savoring each bite or sipping the accompanying drink, sometimes interrupting myself by recounting a long-winded tale or having an intense conversation with a dining companion.

Dining in New York, I’m often rushed to complete my meal, downing the last swig of my cocktail or spooning the last mouthful of dessert upon the looming eyes of a waiter or subtle drop of the check.

But having spent the last year living in Mexico City, I’ve come to experience a new way of capping a meal, eagerly awaiting this tradition after indulging in the last bite of a memorable feast. This rhythmic ritual is sobremesa, a tidy Spanish term that describes the relaxing art of the post-meal linger.

Sobremesa’s origins are largely believed to hail from Spain, and the direct translation, “upon the table,” is an inadequate description of the cultural phenomenon that makes meals in the Latin diaspora so memorable.

“It’s about an interchange of experiences, knowledge, and laughs. It encourages you to be present, not worrying about your troubles, and appreciate the simple moments in life,” says chef Lorea Olavarri, owner and partner in Er Rre and Nero in Mexico City.

During sobremesa, plates are cleared, sweet treats are set, drinks are replenished, and digestifs are brought out serving as fuel for conversations, ranging from lighthearted to deep and emotional. The chatter often lasts longer than the meal and eases into the next activity or   preludes bedtime, depending on the dining time.

Related: How to Make Lunch Last All Day Long

Feelings of joy, conviviality, pleasure, and affection emanate across the table, turning the necessity of eating into something much more enjoyable.

”It’s a time when the formalities of dining dissolve into a more relaxed experience”, says Gabriela Cámara, the chef behind Contramar, one of Mexico City’s most celebrated seafood restaurants.

Some would say that sobremesa is best experienced at a friend’s home as a reward for sitting down to lunch, one of the most important meals in Mexican culture.

Take in any restaurant on weekdays and you’ll observe businessfolk discussing deals over mezcal shots and sparkling shots, and friends catching up over the agua del día. On a weekend, witness an intergenerational family catching up over Sunday lunch with a bevy of drinks that could make your head spin as you try and count.

"Algo más de tomar (something more to drink)?” a waiter might say, sensing the next phase of the meal, eager to offer another digestif or cocktail, liquid encouragement to fuel more table talk.

Before I even had a sense of the concept, I experienced sobremesa after a memorable meal at Pujol, an exquisite restaurant that blends Oaxacan techniques and fine dining. After months of trying to nab a reservation, I was ready to savor this experience as a solo diner.

<p>Flashpop / Getty Images</p>

Flashpop / Getty Images

Shortly after the taco omakase lunch, my seatmates and I were ushered as a group into the terrace to enjoy desserts, agua frescas, and shots of mezcal. What started as small talk between strangers eased into meaningful conversations about art, careers, and life advice. I expected an outstanding two-hour tasting menu but left even more fulfilled four hours later with new friendships and an appreciation for intentional conversation.

“As a cook, I am convinced that restaurants are spaces that encourage sociability,” says chef Elena Reygadas, who owns of Rosetta, a quaint restaurant in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood. “We never rush diners to leave their table, and we love seeing guests chatting hours after eating.”

For chef Enrique Olivera, encouraging guests to participate in sobremesa involves considerations about “service, furniture, interior design, music volume, and even temperature. This ensures that people have a great time and want to extend the experience in the restaurants,” he says.

"“It’s about an interchange of experiences, knowledge, and laughs. It encourages you to be present, not worrying about your troubles, and appreciate the simple moments in life.""

For me, nothing hits the spot for sobremesa quite like a Carajillo, a frothy, creamy, subtly sweet drink that keeps me energized in conversation, but not too hyper. As the last slurry of crushed ice, watered-down coffee, and sticky sweet Licor 43 hits my lips, I’ll notice that hours have passed. It’s my cue to give my table up to the next customer who is ready to participate in the same leisurely ritual with their companions.

In a world that often dilutes tradition in favor of efficiency, it’s refreshing to know that there are spaces that encourage us to take a beat and savor the last sip. Restaurant culture is centered around exclusivity and limited dining windows which “can be tempting [for restaurant] owners to limit reservations,” says Olavarri, “but we can’t take sobremesa for granted. We have to remember the importance of socializing and appreciating the simplest moments.”

So the next time you find yourself with a generous pour in your glass, consider taking a beat, get into the depths of a good conversation, and embrace the art of sobremesa.

For more Food & Wine news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Food & Wine.