On the one hand, it was very exciting to be suddenly ‘on my own’ in terms of nutrition. On the other hand, I was also aware that, although I can cook very well, I’m still just a layman. My mezze and Pad Thai never taste like they do in a restaurant – no matter how meticulously I am about buying authentic ingredients.
Restaurants – the saviours in so many situations
The fact is, the taste of a meal is not just a combination of ingredients. It’s the smell that surrounds you while you’re eating it. It’s the people who are with you. It’s the clinking of glasses and the rattling of cutlery at the neighbouring table. It’s the waiter commenting on your choice from the menu – or selecting something for you if you are flummoxed. It’s the steaming and sizzling from the kitchen that you hear when your table is positioned just right. It’s the little triumphant curse that the chef utters when he succeeds at something particularly well. It’s the love he puts into every single dish.
If you are missing people you love and remembering a dish you ate together in a place where it was loud and warm and beautiful, the remedy is a colourful selection of little treats from the Greek place a couple of blocks away. A dish doesn’t have to be complicated to justify ordering it from a restaurant. A simple grilled aubergine tastes like a morsel of pure happiness when it’s made right.
Restaurants bring us together – even at a distanceSuccesses and defeats – the best answer to everything is good food that tastes exactly as you need it at that moment. The French writer Honoré de Balzac wrote: ‘Bread and water satisfy people's hunger, but our culture invented gastronomy’. Incidentally, ‘culture’ is also the way star chef Massimo Bottura refers to his Refettorios, which are kitchens in which top chefs around the world use food donations and leftovers to prepare dishes for the homeless or refugees. He doesn’t consider them cafeterias, but rather places that bring people together. This is probably the most important task of the hospitality industry. In every price category.
MPULSE column: A Matter of Taste
Our columnist Maria is from a city that is not very big but she has been living in a big city for a while now – amongst greengrocers, refreshment kiosks and international restaurants. She loves culinary and cultural diversity, is happy to try new things but also likes a bit of tradition. She feels that independent business owners give each place its unique character. On MPULSE, she writes about her observations and thoughts and sometimes asks experts about theirs.
Bringing people together physically is precisely what the hospitality industry cannot do at the moment – and yet it connects them. Everyone who reaches for their mobile phone to order their favourite dish from a restaurant – or something completely new at a new place – is doing their small part to ensure that the industry survives in all its many facets. And if there is one thing Covid-19 has taught me, it is the fact that ‘I’m not cooking today’ has in fact always been #supportyourlocal.
People and the hospitality industry belong together. Without each other, both are lost. Even in light of this revelation, I still cook. But when I don’t, it tastes all the better, because I know that my yearning for that one particular flavour – and the same yearning shared by all the other people who are waiting for their pizza with me in the glow of the streetlight at the traffic-calmed intersection – brings a smile to the face of an independent restaurateur. After all, hospitality is what we as guests, together with all the people who have made it their lives’ work, make of it. With a mask, with distance, with love.