/ so.βɾeˈmé.sa /
(noun): time spent being present at the table, lingering over a meal in conversation well after the food is gone.
Sobremesa—the ubiquitous ritual of post-meal gab and relaxation—has long been considered a cornerstone of Latin and Hispanic culture. Around the table is where chatter and laughter, memories of past loves and heroic tales of grandeur are served up as final, soulful nourishment. There’s an unspoken obligation to remain seated until the last drops of conversation percolate over the table. In Argentina, it's even thought to be necessary for proper digestion.
Remarkably, it has no English equivalent. Yet. The attempts at translations—the literal: “over the table,” the subjective: “the post-meal equivalent of pillow talk,” the succinct: “table talk,” among others)—describe it, barely.
Sobremesa was how I learned to make sense of the world—the good, lo malo, the beautiful, lo feo, the unexpected, lo esperado. With the exception of the choripán (chorizo in a bun, the perfect answer to street food) and the occasional frozen chicken a l'orange Lean Cuisine, our childhood home was not a grab-and-go sort of place. With parents who spoke between tongues, indiscriminately switching on and off between their native, River Plate Castellano, their learned English with heavy accents and their assault on both—Spanglish, which often surfaced in the same conversation—our family decidedly did not blend in. My parents made sure we never did. That we never would. Instead, day after day, year after year, we pledged allegiance to sobremesa, the lesser known ingredient of our Deep South, Argentine cuisine.
Sobremesa set the table for a future I never saw coming, like the legions of ghosts and ancestors past who frequented my family’s dining room. They’d come in, pull up a chair and make themselves at home among rumpled napkins splotched with wine, Tang or coffee, glasses harboring the last dregs of a plump Malbec and torn sugar and Sweet-n-Low packets. Some, from a distant past, were unknown to us. Others we loved and missed with every breath.
Our ghosts had always been there, whether or not we chose to recognize them. They still are. Their spirits hung on the edge of multiple conversations until the last drops percolated over the table, offering up crumbs of information here and there. Morsel by morsel, I savored each moment, until they became imprinted on my taste buds.
I’ve since come to understand that our mystical visitors, always at the ready to be conjured back to mind through taste and smell, were guiding me down los caminos de la vida—the path that ultimately upended my world and led me back to the home I never knew on the bank of el Río de la Plata, where the open fires of the Argentine asado, dulce de leche, Andean Malbec and fútbol are national obsessions.
The passion and lure of sobremesa, which so richly infused my Argentine-American upbringing, has stayed in my veins, eventually inspiring the slow-food, culinary memoir Sobremesa: A Memoir of Food and Love in Thirteen Courses that takes readers with me through a devastating heartbreak that caused me to, reluctantly, return to my mother tongue in my early 20s; a forbidden, transcontinental love affair that finally got me to trill my double “rr’s” like a true Argentine; and life-changing losses that inspired a second act in my early 40s after leaving a C-level job to make dulce de leche—all interspersed by mystical encounters with ancestors in the spirit world.