Europeans have a way of making meals feel both effortlessly thrown together and totally elegant at the same time. Whether it’s an alfresco lunch in the South of France, a Sicilian soiree, or a tapas tasting, these get-togethers always seem to assemble at the last minute—unlike this side of the pond, where invitations are often sent formally, weeks in advance, and the hours before the party fly by in a panic-induced blur. It’s about time we took a cue from our friends on the other side of the Atlantic.
“You want your home to have an open-door policy, for your friends and family to feel they can come over anytime,” says Francesca de la Fuente, cofounder of dinnerware brand Pomelo Casa. “You should always be ready to throw something together for them so they never want to leave.” The southern Spain native, who’s been living in Los Angeles for more than five years, was an interior designer before joining forces with stylist Maria Estrada to import the ceramics she dearly missed from her childhood.
“I was introduced to Francesca at the beach last summer,” recalls Estrada. “She had just gotten back from Spain and was telling me about this new idea she had—it turned out we had grown up in the same town! I knew the ceramics she was describing; everything clicked into place and Pomelo Casa was born!” Of course, pretty dinnerware isn’t much if there isn’t anyone present to stare at it. Together, the pair schooled us on the art of the Spanish tapas party.
Keep Your Kitchen Stocked
Spanish dinner parties are often last-minute affairs, so being well prepared is essential. “Always have your fridge stocked with cheese, cold meats, and olives, and keep your pantry filled with canned appetizers, tuna, sardines, and nuts,” says de la Fuente. “Make use of fresh things from your garden. When it comes from your own home, it always tastes better—lemons from the fruit trees, fresh herbs.” If you live in an apartment building, don’t fret: A sprig from your countertop rosemary bush will do.
Have Fun With Color
White dinnerware is the norm Stateside, but Spaniards prefer color and texture. “We love the colorful aspect of our ceramics and having fun mixing and matching colors to create a different vibe every time,” says de la Fuente. “Having mismatched cutlery, textiles, and glassware is great; it makes things less formal, more thrown together, and relaxed.”
For a final touch, she recommends fresh flowers (not an arranged centerpiece) and votive candles for a warm glow. “We are launching pitchers that double as vases soon,” she points out—just another element to make things feel casual and carefree.
Keep Dishes Seasonal
In the summertime, the cofounders recommend an array of refreshing tastes: gazpacho, followed by a variety of dishes served family-style, such as tortillas with red peppers, Spanish jamón with melon, croquetas, tomato and tuna salad, ensaladilla rusa (Spanish potato salad), boquerones en vinagre (anchovies), and lots of sangria!
Start Late, End Later
Spaniards are known to eat dinner late; 10 p.m. is the norm, not the exception. “There is an overly relaxed sense of timing in Spain,” says de la Fuente. “We say ‘Just come over from 8 onward’ and people turn up at all different times, usually about an hour later.”
“We both remember our parents’ dinner parties, which used to go on for hours,” adds the designer. “When I was a little girl, I always got out of bed to watch what was going on in the dining room or outside in the garden—my parents having so much fun drinking, laughing, and listening to music…I recall being mesmerized by it.”
Make Aperitivos and Digestivos as Important as the Main Meal
It’s customary in Spain to have a small glass of sherry with some nuts and olives as an aperitivo while you wait for friends to arrive. This snack can, after all, last a couple of hours. After dinner, don’t forget the digestivo ritual. “Once you finish dinner, there’s always coffee and something sweet,” explains Estrada. “And then after-dinner cocktails start. We love gin and tonics! Guests tend to stay a lot later, even if they have to get up early the next morning. No one rushes home before enjoying the long evening.” So see you at 8 p.m.?
Set the Table: