When Did We Stop Eating Food and Start Eating Ambience for Dinner?

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When Did We Stop Eating Food and Start Eating Ambience for Dinner?

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

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’m a Shagun kinda guy. You know Shagun, or Sharanya, or Aashirwaad, or Vaishali, those local hole-in-the-wall restaurants that served everything from idli-dosa to veg club sandwich, from paneer-capsicum pizza to hakka noodles, and then slapped the bill on your table? Those places where the set-up would be all aluminium and ply, and waiters would always be rude? The one thing they were particular about was lip-smacking food. They’d figured that the only way to be a good restaurant was to serve good food. That good food earned them a reputation in the neighbourhood and these eateries minted money for decades based on word-of-mouth recommendations.  

The whole eating experience got complicated when we grew up, started making money, and found places to spend that money. It started with fine dining, where you discovered that meals come in courses – appetizers, soup, salad, deserts – and everyone wasn’t just having “main course” all the time.   And then it wasn’t enough that the meal was divided into five or six parts; it suddenly mattered how innovative each and every part could be. This was the stage we began to eat pani puri with the paani and chutney served in test tubes while sitting under vintage lamps on high stools that broke your back. After that, there was no turning back. Taste went for toss and we began to eat ambience for dinner.

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