My travels, whether France, Spain or Italy, always give me something profound that is an integral part of our European neighbors’ lives, the European long lunch – il pranzo lungo. That tradition may seem more foreign to us here in the U.S. than any imported meats, but it is part of the culture, the lifestyle in Europe. And so they hold this carved out time, whether in the home or in business. Here, we tend toward a hurried, haphazard lunch or glorify the working lunch.
How could something so mundane as lunch find significance in my day? It is a moment to recognize the present, to recollect thoughts and strike the second half of my day with as much vigor and productivity as after my first cappuccino.
The European long lunch is slow and easy. It is something you feel as soon as you commit to regrouping amidst the hustle and flow of the morning. It allows time for the heartrate to slow. You are among friends, family or colleagues and focus intently on each other. This tradition plays a role in business too, allowing for introspection on where the day has landed and where it should end. Time is not counted; watches and phones are not checked.
Time is used to indulge in culinary delights as a mode by which you create space for yourself. Every course is intentional. In Italy, that means delighting in the courses – antipasto (appetizer), primo (first course which is typically pasta), secondo (the second or main dish), insalata (salad which is never first) and dolce (dessert that includes cheese and sweets). Every moment and bite are savored.
A Favorite European Lunch Abroad
One of my favorite lunches abroad was at Luiano Winery in Tuscany’s Chianti Classico area. The afternoon moved at a snail’s pace including the three-plus-hour lunch. The Palombo family, who owns the estate, had no other care in the world but us. At least that is what we felt. We indulged in the Tuscan staples: Pecorino Toscana cheese, Crostini Toscana (chicken liver pate on a piece of toasted bread), Fagioli con Salsiccia (beans with sausage) and Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the most renowned T-bone steak from a local cow of the Chianina breed. They served it to us with rosemary and sage, and always enjoyed rare. Not fancy, the lunch was simple and a favorite because of the food, conversation and people.
Enjoying The Long Lunch Locally
My most recent long lunch was with my 80-year-old father, Robert, at one of our favorite local places in Rhode Island, Vanda Cucina, close to our homes. We sat, talked and ordered slowly, one course at a time. We shared and savored our wine that was the Borgogno Barbera. We allowed the 2-3 hours to rollout as they wanted. We listened to and heard each other. We did not watch the clock. It was a simple, ordinary day, yet impeccably special.
We embrace the long lunch. It is the here and now. We take in and smell the aromas of the food and wine, take in the emotions and the beauty of the conversations. This is one of the intentions that I have made in my life, to bring il pranzo lungo into my weekly routine. It’s a conscious decision. I enjoy it as a step back from the conveyor belt of life. There will always be more activities at home, work and lists of to-dos. The long lunch allows me to experience more, to experience life. I hope you can too.