Follow the Aunties: How to Eat Out Without Paying a Month’s Rent for a Salad

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Follow the Aunties: How to Eat Out Without Paying a Month’s Rent for a Salad

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Deciding which restaurant to eat at, is one of life’s biggest problems. It occurs almost weekly, and has the potential to blow up WhatsApp groups and ruin relationships. Sure, it’s not the most pressing issue of our decade, considering the potential for World War III, global warming, and more Akshay Kumar movies. But I can’t help any of those issues. What I can do is offer a simple solution when picking a restaurant: Simply, go where the aunties go (I use “aunty” with utmost respect).

Why, you ask? Allow me to tell you.

One Thursday afternoon, I found myself at a run-of-the-mill south Indian restaurant, you know the ones where the average paper dosa is larger than the average waiter. My girlfriend and I had just finished ordering our meals, when I noticed the energy and decibel level go up a few notches. A group of 10 women, all in their late 40s/early 50s, walked in together, and demanded that three tables be placed together so they could continue their engaging conversation about Sharmaji ka beta or whatever.

Afraid that my quiet lunch would turn into an overhearing party, I started to get out of my seat, but my starving girlfriend protested and made me sit back down. This turned out to be a very good idea.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised — everything I hated about this restaurant is exactly what had kept the aunties away as well.

Minutes later, our food arrived. The prompt service should have been my first indication that I would fall in love with this establishment. The ghee dosa actually melted in my mouth, the coffee wasn’t drowning in sugar and the bill didn’t make me wish one of the Ambanis would adopt me already. I walked out of that restaurant so amazed by the service and food, I forgot all about the reason I wanted to leave in the first place — the aunties.

The following week, after another tough decision, I found myself in an overpriced restaurant, where they serve you very little food in very large steel thalis. As we waited for the waiter to finish scoffing at our pronunciations, I couldn’t help but remember those aunties. This place was almost devoid of the chatter of a ladies’ gathering, and to my surprise, I was actually starting to miss it.

You see, the more I thought about it, the more I realised — everything I hated about this restaurant is exactly what had kept the aunties away as well. There was no water on the table unless you asked, the tax charged was as high as the total bill from my previous week’s Udipi meal, and the menu was about four pages too long.

It didn’t take me long to notice a pattern here: Everytime I entered a restaurant full of aunties, I would walk out happier. Until this realisation hit, I had thought my luck with restaurants was a straight 50/50. But once I had it all figured out, I realised I could simply play the odds in my favour by just looking around.

It didn’t take me long to notice a pattern here: Everytime I entered a restaurant full of aunties, I would walk out happier.

Now I know you’re wondering: Why is it that aunties have the nose for the best restaurants in the city? What can they see that we can’t? What filter on food apps do they have, that we don’t?

I asked my mom what she thought, and she had a pretty clear response — aunties are creatures of habit. She and her friends always visit the same restaurants too. My mother, who has lived in one suburb for five decades, also refuses to be fazed by fads. She loves her comfort food, and if she loves a restaurant, you can be sure that restaurant is going to have half that suburb over on the weekend.

Each time an aunty steps out of her house, she demands a good dining experience. Notice that I didn’t use the word “fine” — if a restaurant is too experimental or too fancy, chances are the aunties won’t return. They aren’t looking to try the newest open shawarma place, or wait in line for a hole-in-the-wall sushi bar, they’re — much like me — looking to get a wholesome meal that they don’t have to prepare themselves.

The funny thing is, the first time they walked into that south Indian restaurant, I didn’t quite warm up to them. I couldn’t help it. All my life, I’ve encountered these women in their capacity as the Knights of my Colony. At weddings, they’re offered younger children as potential pageboys. At bus stops, they ask, with no restraint, about how I plan to have a sustainable future as a freelancer at 30.

But once I started following their lead, and into restaurants, my heart has softened, and I trade their curious glances with big smiles. So this 2020, if there’s one piece of advice I could pass on to you, it’s this — don’t break your head over where to eat. If you pass by a restaurant that has a table full of elderly ladies, step in. If you can get past the outdated opinions and talk of potential marriages in their families, I guarantee you a meal that will fill your soul.

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