Save The Plate


Save The Plate

Illustration: Cleon Dsouza

Restaurants are being plagued by a curious phenomenon: a lack of plates to serve food. We live in a time when you can easily get yourself a square meal, just not in a square or a round plate.

At some point in the last couple of years, plates suddenly became passé. Remember plates? Those handy utensils that neatly helped you organise your meal? Well, they’ve gone now. Instead we now have, to paraphrase Shashi Tharoor, a farrago of distortions and lies masquerading as utensils to serve food. We have shovels, spoons, syringes, slates doing the jobs that plates were meant to do – and annoying alliterations aside, there’s an actual problem here.

It struck me when I was reviewing a classy new restaurant in Bandra and my first dish was papad, the kind usually served with masala. This one, though, had different ambitions. It came on a mini clothesline, held in place by wooden clips. Why would I want to eat something that reminded me of my pile of unwashed laundry at home? How was I to eat it? Why is it being hung? I asked so many questions of my papad that it wilted in front of me.

The second dish – a tamarind and water-filled chocolate ball – came in an oyster shell. Kebabs were placed on slate. The food was delicious but I didn’t care. I was now playing a new game – what contraption would the next course be served in? A shoe?

This no-plate phenomenon is a trend not limited to fine-dine restaurants or those trolling molecular gastronomy. It’s everywhere. It has made eating out an adventure. Will your fries be served in a lantern? Pani puri in a test tube? Pizzas in cones? Gulab jamuns on skewers? Salads on fake wooden blocks? The possibilities are endless. Ask yourself: Would James Bond have looked as hot if he’d sipped his “shaken, not stirred martini” in a pastel mason jar?

We have shovels, spoons, syringes, slates doing the jobs that plates were meant to do – and annoying alliterations aside, there’s an actual problem here.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like my meals in a plate, or in a bowl, with cutlery serving its actual purpose. And, to quote Tracy Chapman, I’m not the only one. Other diners confided their agony about being the subject of experiments. A friend, who tried a dish served in a syringe, confessed to wanting to stab the owner with it. Another expressed dismay at being served beer in a jam jar, which was a travesty indeed. A home chef says he cringes every time he has to eat a salad on a shovel or appetisers in the back of a child’s truck. He confesses to often wanting to shout, “Don’t play with my food!” Someone I know was once served food in a “fashionably” broken plate, which had the potential to lead to some serious lacerations at the dinner table. On a recent trip to Prague, a distinguished pub served us overpriced cocktails in Darth Vader and R2D2 mugs. The force wasn’t strong enough to help us order a second round.

A survey conducted in the UK recently, finds that the British have had their fill of food served in non-plates and on whacky objects like dog bowls. There are Twitter and Instagram accounts called “We Want Plates”, a group that pegs itself as the “global crusade against serving food on bits of wood and roof slates, chips in mugs and jam-jar drinks”. They’ve put up pictures of diners who find themselves horrified at being served in reinforced steel joints, ashtrays, beer mugs, a clipboard, a tin can, and horror of horrors, the shoulder bone of an animal.  

If this is a hipster fad borne of Instagram, a moment of madness in our collective social-media history, then I hope it passes soon. Social media and Instagram cannot be given preference over the stomach. Plates may be old school, but hopefully they will be considered vintage soon, and come back into fashion.

With this secret hope in mind, I’m starting a petition to bring back plates. If you’re hesitant about signing it, ask yourself one question: What exactly are you willing to eat your food off? You have a choice between a sanitary napkin and a plaster mould of the restaurant owner’s mouth.