Beers and tapas: on food and why we eat
I often get asked why food is so important for my folks. By my folks they mean “the Spaniards”. And by them I mean the British. When they ask me, they do so with a mixture of curiosity and envy, since food for them is often a bare necessity, something that is not necessarily to be enjoyed, certainly not every day, and most certainly not if you have to go through the burden of preparing it yourself.
“See, that is where you get it all wrong”, I tell them. “It starts with your attitude towards food and the fact that you view the entire process, including the eating part, as a nuisance.”
See, for us food is so much more that just the means of obtaining nourishment. First and foremost food, or I should say “the act of eating”, is primarily a social event. That is why you will rarely see any of us eating by ourselves. We eat in groups, food being the convenient excuse for a get-together, be it for an informal chat or more serious lobbing and influencing. The most important business agreements are typically signed over food and certainly all political matters discussed at the table.
Interestingly we also eat, so we can drink, without getting drunk. This is the (hidden) purpose of a tapa; a small snack served with every beverage ordered at a bar or restaurant. In some places you still get these for free, so you can drink to your hearts contempt and without knowing it, you´ve had dinner on the side.
We often eat, to have an excuse to get a break from work, or to leave the house for a few hours. Sunday lunch is the reason why we repeatedly put up with the in-laws and extended family, Christmas dinner the vehicle that brings us together with people we only see once a year.
Socialising is a most important act in Spain; we are intrinsic social beings, strongly driven by our interactions with others, for better or worse. This is why we make time for food and for eating. And we try to do so every day, even if we are, like everybody else, stuck in a 9-5. This is why food should not, cannot be rushed.
In the Basque Region there are entire Food Societies, where the men shut themselves down for days on end , only with the aim of producing an outstanding array of dishes to be served to friends and family. The amount of time, energy and alcohol that goes into the preparation of these feasts is phenomenal, and equally so the time is takes to review and discuss the outcome.
The aftermath of a meal, the “sobremesa” should not be hurried, either. We ferociously cherish the time spent chatting after a meal, so much, that no restaurant would dare to suggest you leaving because it is late, or because they have another group waiting.
Food is a means for enjoyment and sharing. It is almost irrelevant what you are eating, as long as it satisfies our longing for connection.