If you’re the kind of person who, like me, exists only to eat food, the closure of restaurants everywhere likely has your inner monologue sounding something like this:
WHAT IS EATING? OR MORE, WHY IS EATING? EATING IS A THING THAT YOU DO AND IS FUN. OH YES, SOOOO GOOD. REAL NICE. BUT WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE’S NO FOOD? WHAT IF THE ROBOTS TAKE IT? WELL, WELCOME TO TERMINATOR 6: FOOD JUDGEMENT DAY.
This constant hum of snack-related despair has continued in spite of several of your favourite places delivering. Some of them, like Leigh Street Wine room, offer a Providores Box (for a super reasonable $95) where you can have the best of all you have longed to stuff into your face while surrounded by strangers. Even better, it won’t arrive cold because it’s down to you to get in the kitchen and whip it up. You sit down in your week old trackies with a bowl of hot, silky ricotta dumplings you’ve borderline sexually fetishized. Tiger King is playing. You are out of glassware so you’re considering drinking wine from your cupped hands. You sigh and wait for the sweet release of the sexy ricotta balls. It never arrives. Instead, the beginning of Terminator 6: Food Judgement Day starts rolling in your brain again. The thing that you’re missing isn’t food, it’s dining.
Dining shouldn’t be an exercise in pretence. You definitely don’t have to be at a restaurant to dine out. The majority of peoples formative dining memories are made at home before they’re made at restaurants. Restaurants take the home experience and champion the highlights while removing the portion that contain the unfortunate realities of existence. Maybe your fondest memory is long Christmas lunches but you can’t stand that one racist uncle and the 6 hours of washing up. At a restaurant, you get to have that dining experience with no racist uncle (generally) and someone else to do the dishes. It is distilling that one point of happiness sparked by engagement, consideration, and ritual; they are the cornerstone of what it means to dine.
There is an element of romanticism in having someone bring a beautiful dish out to you. Subconsciously, you know that you have a person who is dedicated to brining you a few hours of uninterrupted delight. A person whose sole job is to take all the best parts of you and amplify them in themselves; hold up a mirror to you and point out that you’re great. You have someone who genuinely wants to know about you in curated 30 second snippets where you get to be your best and brightest. There is no tension, no unease, no wondering when you’re going to set Nana off on another rant about immigration. There is an exchange of warmth between you and your server in a microcosm of idyllic human connection. Being engaged in comforting familiarity without the hassle of being familiar is a surprising sensation to miss, but it’s there. It’s there nagging at the back of your brain when you have nobody to say thank you to you, or to say thank you to while snaffling your favourite titbits at home. Good news is that you can serve yourself. Service isn’t the physical act of carrying plates or churning out quips. It’s understanding that you belong to a system larger than yourself and wanting to encourage someone else to comfortably participate in that too. So, lap your napkin (especially if it’s paper), give yourself some attention, and gently remind yourself that you are here because something crazy is going on outside and that you are ok. You can do it with a bowl of home-made comforting lentil soup or with an at-home pack from Attica depending on your budget. Ultimately, the product you’re consuming doesn’t take front-and-centre; what does is your ability to extend kindness and warmth to yourself and, if you’re not eating alone, reflecting the best parts of your isolation compatriot back to them...for as long as you can tolerate the sound of their chewing.
When you’re cooking your Providore Box or perhaps just unboxing your favourite take away, take the time to consider how you’re going to inhale your treats. Dining is fluid and seamless because every little thing that happens to you is considered at some stage; whether it’s placating you because a chef overcooked your steak, or the way your mum wraps dumplings just so. Be deliberate in your decisions. Set out a table with things that please you; they don’t have to be expensive or bespoke. If you have a mug that fits your mood, you can absolutely drink wine out of it. Your home isn’t a restaurant so don’t try to make it one. Trust me, restaurants spend all their time trying to feel like your second home so lean into the comfort of the space you have and revel in it. Enjoy the things that make you feel welcomed, calm, and taken care of. It doesn’t need to be fancy but it should elevate whatever you’re doing. Think that eating ricotta dumplings (trust me, they deserve to be mentioned as much as I’m mentioning them) out of a bowl that makes you cheerful, after you’ve chucked on pants that make your butt look great, and picked a drink you like to drink out of a glass that you love doesn’t make everything more delicious? Try it out.
The memory many have of their best dining experiences involve ritual. Whether it was your family coming together for meal time or your once-a-week date night or your treat-yourself bowl of ice-cream, there was an established rhythm. Food facilitated highlights in your life and enabled some kind of expression, even if it was only a small gesture. There is so much to be said for the routine of dining together. You can eat a meal with someone in silence and feel better than if you’d spent an hour on a therapist’s couch. Nourishing yourself with someone else is so common that it seems odd to ascribe such high value to it; it’s only now that we can’t engage with it that we feel its absence so acutely. One of the biggest Instagram booms in terms of viewed and shared content since isolation has been baking related posts and accounts. When everything frays at the seams, we return to the
most fundamental ritual; sharing food. Even if it isn’t how anyone figured we’d be sharing meals in the 21st century, the point is that we’re still doing it. Empires have been brought together and fallen apart based on our ability to sit down to a meal together and communicate an experience. Dining is a concept that’s existed since we have and we should do it however we can to keep us sane.
In all this, it should be said that sometimes you just need to eat. Sometimes, you just need to lay slack-jawed on your couch and let your spoon meander up to your mouth before gently chinking against whatever bowl you’re scooping it out of. This diatribe isn’t to shame you. It’s to remind you that everyone has those days, but you also deserve to eat something you love, out of a vessel you love, with someone you love; especially if that someone is yourself. Right now, we can’t break bread together physically and we’ve all seen how it’s devastated the hospitality industry and devastated our sense of being connected as humans. You don’t need a restaurant to dine, you need people. So at this weird juncture in history, get a box of something delicious and consume it in a way that engages you, makes you feel like you are thought of, and plays a real part in how you live day-to-day.
Without you to love it and care for yourself and others, it’s just a box of delicious snacks.
Written By: Nikki Friedli @fandangledriedli
Artwork By: Jessica Purcell