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Why do Spaniards find it embarrassing to eat the last bite?

You may have noticed that your Spanish friends refer to the last bite of food on a shared plate of tapas as 'la de la vergüenza' (the one to be ashamed of or embarrassed about). 

Why do Spaniards find it embarrassing to eat the last bite?
The last piece of a serving of 'pulpo a la gallega' (octopus with paprika and olive oil), one of Galicia's most delicious treats. Photo: Noel Feans/Wikipedia

Eating in Spain is more often than not about sharing, so much so that restaurants all over the world refer to their group finger food platters as being ‘tapas’ even though the food isn’t actually Spanish.

With eating being such a social affair here, you may have picked up on the fact that whenever the plate of food is down to its last piece, friends and families will put down their forks and just let that last bocado (mouthful) sit, sometimes even until the waiter takes it away. 

On other occasions some jostling and jeering will ensue as each person eggs on the other to eat la de la vergüenza, ‘the shameful last piece’. 

Just to be clear, this is all done in a comical tone, and eating the last piece won’t bring great shame on you and your loved ones for being such a ‘greedy’ eater. 

It’s simply customary for nobody to want the last bite, or at least to pretend not to initially. 

Where does the tradition come from?

According to some sources the tradition started in Spain’s rainy northwestern region of Galicia, where instead of la vergüenza it’s referred to as a vergoña , in Galician. 

The tradition is meant as a courtesy for those who are feeling hungrier.

But in antiquity a Galician host would want his or her guests to eat until they burst.

It was a matter of honour back then, and the discreet way out of it for the guest was to leave a single piece on the plate to show they were completely stuffed and could eat no more (Galicians still have a reputation for eating a lot, by the way).

Nowadays the tradition of leaving the last piece of food on the plate is customary all over Spain. 

It’s a way of showing respect and good manners to the people you are dining with, as well as a good way of feeling like a local. 

And if you forget about it and gobble up the last piece – don’t worry – there will always be another ‘one of shame’ to have a friendly debate over.

READ ALSO: The many ways Spaniards refer to your face if you’re being cheeky

Member comments

  1. How customs differ in different countries.
    I’ve always considered that the greatest compliment you can offer the cook is to eat every crumb, and accept more if it is offered.

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‘We’re going to hell’: Supermarket’s readymade fried eggs offend Spaniards

Spain's most popular supermarket Mercadona has shocked shoppers by selling pre-cooked fried eggs in plastic packaging, sparking a huge uproar among environmentalists and food lovers.

'We're going to hell': Supermarket's readymade fried eggs offend Spaniards

In a country where food is sacrosanct, gastronomic scandals that blow up on social media are not rare (we’re looking at you Jaime Oliver, and your chorizo paella).

Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona has written the latest chapter in Spain’s long list of food faux pas by selling two vacuum sealed fried eggs for €1.80.

That’s around the same price as buying a dozen uncooked eggs in Spain, but it’s not the price which has upset most Spaniards, rather the fact that something as simple and quick as cooking a couple of huevos in the frying pan is deemed too laborious and time consuming for some shoppers, according to Mercadona at least. 

The label on the packaging states “put in the microwave for 45 seconds”.

One tweet that has gone viral typifies the response of many Spaniards to this bizarre supermarket offering. “We are going to hell”, wrote Dr Elena Casado Pineda along with a photo of the packaged eggs.

Another user who posted a video of himself petrified under his bed covers, said “Mercadona selling fried eggs is the beginning of the end”’.

Several others have taken to TikTok to review Mercadona’s divisive eggs. “It tastes like an egg, even though one made at home is much better, obviously,” concluded one young influencer.

Eggs are after all a staple food product in the Spanish diet and essential for classic dishes such as the tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelette) and revueltos (scrambled eggs with other food mixed in).

Numerous Spanish media outlets have also covered ‘egg-gate’. La Sexta TV interviewed a nutritionist to get an expert opinion on Mercadona’s fried eggs and evaluate their pros and cons.

Others have highlighted the repulsion of a large part of the Spanish population, some stressing that Mercadona aren’t the first to engage in such lazy and wasteful food offerings as Carrefour sells pre-peeled and dissected tangerines.

In the case of public broadcaster RTVE, the focus was primarily on what it represented in terms of plastic waste and the country’s new laws to reduce it.

“An average person in Spain throws away 34 kilos of single-use plastic packaging a year,” Blanca Rubial of environmentalist group Amigos de la Tierra told RTVE.

Spain’s new plastic waste law will ban plastic packaging of fresh fruit and vegetables if they weigh under 1.5kg, something that won’t affect pre-cooked food such as the controversial eggs.

Others have also pointed out that for people with reduced mobility (of their hands in particular) as well as blind people, having access to pre-cooked eggs can be useful, although previous attempts to market these products to such groups haven’t proven very successful.

Mercadona has responded by saying that their packaged fried eggs are only being sold in some of its supermarkets during a trial period.

Food delivery services have increased by 80 percent in Spain over the last three years, and takeaways by 68 percent between 2019 and 2021, with the pandemic no doubt largely influencing this.

It’s a booming business and whether Spaniards would like to admit it or not, their increasingly frenetic rhythm of life means that having time to cook isn’t always their top priority, even though they are by and large food lovers and proud of their gastronomy.

That said, who can’t spare the three minutes it takes to fry an egg?