I maintain that the best meal I have ever eaten was in a stylish and modern vegetarian restaurant in the half-finished basement of Bangkok’s largest mall. I was alone. I had just finished a month of intense meditation in the Thai countryside, and a very long bus trip into the city. I was in an a very happy place.
A childlike delight overtook me in appreciation of the surroundings, the food, the whole situation.
Smooth wooden panels striped the wall opposite my booth and delicate twigs, flowers and carved patterns created an idyllic haven from the sterile marble and glass-fronted store space.
The friendly Thai waiter and waitress probably didn’t know what to make of this floating-on-air, giggly girl alone with her small rugged suitcase in tow. I could say ‘kop kun kha’ (thank you) to my heart’s content and much bowing and praying of hands ensued. But when I asked what the word for ‘delicious’ was, and rubbed my belly gleefully, all I got from them was ‘Im’, which I happened to already know means ‘full’. Given the amount of food I’d consumed, a fair mistake on their part.
But the food, the food! Such flavours and freshness and blended spices.Such delightful wee sesame balls! Such uplifting curry! The crunch! The waft! The tang! The scald! And the mellow melting unctuous sweet, sweet fried banana.
Dining out alone- This is not eating alone how you would at home when there’s noone to care and you slurp noodles with gherkins and scoff cheese cubes.
Dining alone heightens the senses, it leaves you no room to miss details or swallow without chewing. Dining alone you can be whomever you want to be; a princess, a king, a pauper with his first exquisite restaurant meal.
It doesn’t even have to be an exquisite restaurant. I was in Napier, New Zealand, with the good folks at Sangam Indian Tandoori who were having a usual bustling Wednesday night, with about half the tables full. According to the stressed waitress, this was ‘very busy’. Ah, hospo.
I close my eyes facing the wall at my corner table and try to imagine myself in India. High above me a speaker faintly floats a virile Indian warble on top of a Bee Gees techno beat.
Cockney voices impose on my reverie, “… it’s a vurry niew zeelund thing you know, ‘eight-thirty for nine’, what time to come over for dinner, oh eight-thirty for nine”. Australian too, ” They advertaise it as a beeutiful beach walk, but you cayn’t go at high tide, two hours to go round the coast, they say it’s a beeutiful beach walk, two hours from low tide”.
Ah, tourists. Inane chatter. I am pleased that for this evening I take no part in it.
The walls, indeed the entire room, is decorated with various designs of paper serviettes arranged geometrically and hand glued as ‘wall paper’. You can see where the glue has dried and pulled the delicate paper taught. Some are red, ‘authentic’ patterns, others have pohutukawa or generic flower designs on plain yellowing tissue. All have those little embossed dots that serviettes have around their edges. One wall is entirely covered in red napkins, gently puffed out, only glued on their edges. I hope noone leans against that wall with a wet coat.
Who knows if objectively it was divine, but dining alone brings a sense of wonder, and every ginger piece tickles my tongue, every paneer cube is a golden ball of manna. But the food! The cumin, coriander, hint of coconut and… yes that’s sweet tomato underlying. The peas… they were a little bland and tough, I’ll be honest.
I eat with my hands, Indian style, bizarrely slightly worried it may be seen as somehow offensive, but it just feels right. It brings the flavour to your fingers, (literally – they smell like curry after three washings), gives you time to enjoy each tiny scoop. Rip that roti, chew that tandoori flavour. Rattle the last drops of mango lassi through a straw, lick the froth, and savour each dripping piece of heavenly sugary gulab jamun. This is it. Eat with full appreciation. Dining out alone – no distractions.
About the author:
Helena-Grace is a Kiwi (New Zealander) who, some years ago, found herself studying Sustainable Living at Maharishi University of Management in Iowa, USA. Since graduating she has been, among other things, an unemployed actress, a self-employed caterer, an aspiring social entrepreneur, and is currently ‘working in finance’. Her solo adventures include West Coast USA, East Coast NZ, Thailand, and most recently three months round-the-world through North America, Europe, and a weekend in Shanghai. Her life’s work is to inspire and educate people to live in harmony with Earth’s systems, and her guru is Planet Earth.