Rosalyn D'Mello: A table for one
Exploring the joy and thrill of dining alone, when the spotlight is solely on the food and its power to restore and nurture you
With my brain functioning at a sub-optimal level, thanks to an unprecedented case of dysmenorrhea, I opted for an early dinner so I could wolf down a painkiller. I’d barely survived the flight from Delhi to Goa with my back threatening to cave in any moment, my lower abdomen ingloriously aching. The salty sea air was already beginning to relax me. But by 7 pm I was starving, and despite how roomy and comfortable my hotel was, the menu assured me that a meal here was outside my budget. I didn’t mind at all. I walked a few hundred meters to Amigos, an old haunt of mine, a little family-run affair flanked by the river, near the mouth of the Nerul bridge.
I was feasting on my solitude.... I’m least self-conscious when there’s no one across the table from me. Representation pic/Thinkstock
The restaurant showed every sign of being open; the tables had been clothed, the fans were running, the hanging lanterns had been lit, except there wasn’t a soul around. I called the restaurant. A woman picked up, presumably the owner. I asked if they were open. She confirmed that they were. “Well, I’m waiting outside for someone to take my order!” I said, in a surprisingly soft-spoken tone of voice, given the increasing intensity of my hunger. Half an hour later, the kitchen door opened and a hip 20-something popped out, definitely a family member, who seemed unperturbed by the ravenous look in my eyes. I promptly ordered a butter garlic squid and a plate of reshad-stuffed bangda. It being the beginning of April, the good Goan in me naturally asked for Urak, but they hadn’t procured any, and I didn’t at all mind making do with some cashew.
I sat at my favorite table, from where I could watch the twilight set in, the water thus darkening, the ripples over the surface melding into night, a boat or two bobbing along indifferently, anchored to the banks. My peg of cashew was soon propped in front of me, along with wedges of lime and a soda, just as I’d requested. I made myself the perfect mix and sipped it for the welcome drink it was. I felt my soul returning to my body. I felt the comforting tug of my Goan roots. I pulled up the link to a gorgeous poem my friend had sent me, ‘How to Take Off a Sari’ by Pakistani poet Momima Mela, published by a prestigious magazine and read it off my phone.
Around then, the butter garlic squid arrived, bordered on one side by a plump arc of jungli salad. The gentleman waiter was concerned with civility. He brought in a quarter plate so I could help myself. I soon abandoned it and instead put the whole platter of butter garlic squid in front of me, at vantage point, so I could tear into it like a famished savage. I savored each tender, buttery ring, chewed on the scraps of smashed garlic, stopping now and then to nurse my appetite with draughts of feni.
My hunger half satiated, I took a small break and was drawn to two stimulating essays, one on the French poet Mallarmé, the other on Rimbaud, both of which I eventually read back to back as I tucked into the mackerel. Like a respectable Goan, the cook had stuffed both sides of the fatty fish with a rather delectably thick and well-vinagered reshad. The skin was perfectly charred, and the squeeze of lime over the surface was the only finishing touch it demanded.
I was ecstatic. Every now and then, I leaned over skillfully to monitor the couple sitting on the table diagonally across. Collectively, we were the only clients at that early evening hour. I was hoping to overhear their conversation, a habit I’m notoriously good at and enjoy. But more often than not, they would each sink into their individual phones, avoiding conversation. When they decided to pick into what was placed before them, they each did so perfunctorily, with little or no enthusiasm for the act of eating.
I, on the other hand, was thoroughly feasting on my solitude. Unlike a vast majority of women, I enjoy eating alone (Like they say, you can never be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with). I’m least self-conscious when there’s no one across the table from me. I chew on my food like I do when I eat alone at home, rhythmically, to keep time with the song that’s playing in my head. I start with a fork and knife but eventually cede control to my fingers. I surrender to my desire to touch my food, to participate in its textural eccentricities, which is what I did with the banana pancake before it made its foray into my mouth. Then I gleamed. I was restored.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org