Cover Photo: Unsplash / Delightin Dee

While grateful for food deliveries that are keeping us fed and distracted during lockdown, the restaurant dining experience simply cannot be replicated

There was a time when this was the dream—to be able to order from any restaurant within a reasonable distance and have their food delivered to your home. Who would have thought that what was once a thrilling fantasy would eventually become the norm? That what we imagined would be the ultimate indulgence— that of enjoying a restaurant meal in the comforts of our personal space— is probably the only thing at the moment that is connecting us to the life we used to know.

Really, though— is it the same? After you have gone through your list of friends who own restaurants and ordered their food to be sent as ayuda to family that you miss; or perhaps that DIY kit from an establishment who swore to never offer takeout but was really left with no choice but to find a way to get their food out to their customers. Once we have outgrown the newness of it all—do we really want to keep eating out of aluminium trays or biodegradable cassava boxes?

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I realised recently that I have become so used to dried out, reheated food that I started to believe it was an acceptable meal. I am not even talking about food usually meant to be enjoyed a la minute, like a bowl of pasta. Even just your typical delivery food like burgers and pizza that are made to pass through the microwave or oven before consumption, a new practice that has become routine during the pandemic as a safety precaution in many households. It can be seen as a necessary step that makes us feel safer despite the fact that this leaves the cheeseburger or the already dehydrated-from-travel pizza even more dried up. Food becomes a mere shell of its former self, yet I still eat it and convince myself that it is better than not having it at all.

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During one of those GCQs when we got to drive to the beach, a quick stop for lunch at a pizza chain that offered “park and dine” tendered a glimpse of what I have been missing. A freshly cooked pizza right out of the oven, boxed, and walked briskly to our van by a server all within five minutes. With steam still rising from the gooey cheese, I bit into the thin crust crunchy from where the hot stone toasted it. The ham and sausage were still juicy, the green peppers and onions still crisp with life. My seven-year-old daughter (who has not been inside a restaurant since February 2020) exclaims from the backseat after biting into her cheese pizza, “this is the best lunch I have ever had!” My heart bled for her.

All this emotion from eating inside a parked van outside a pizza restaurant. Consider this scenario, then: you are sitting inside the temperature-controlled, dimly lit halls of a fine dining establishment, where the linens are as starched as your server’s pristine white shirt. A distressed leather footstool is quickly whisked to your side so your purse has a place to sit. Your server is witty, attentive, yet aloof— or perhaps he is merely distracted as he opens your bottle of youngish Italian wine knowing it desperately needs to be aerated before the meat course arrives. Oh, and the food— the food that comes beautifully plated, perfectly portioned, and cooked by people who make pate en croute when they are bored at home. That food is served in calculated succession, timed perfectly so you are not feeling rushed yet never waiting. Do you remember what that is like? I miss it because no DIY kit can ever do that for me.

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Please, do not get me wrong—this is not me discouraging people from having food delivered. I will always take delivered food over having to cook yet another meal for myself and the tough, resilient frontliners of the restaurant industry are true heroes worthy of our adulation and unwavering support. I want that food delivery. I need it.

These are merely the musings of a food lover who misses the rituals of dining out. I miss sitting down to a meal and being catered to by strangers who have no other intention in the world at that moment but to feed me. There are too many happy memories attached to it. Eating out was my late father’s love language—when he would catch me looking downcast, he knew the one thing that would snap me out of my funk are the magic words: “Where do you want to eat?”  Restaurants are where many of my relationships were built; sharing meals with friends and lovers. It is where my husband and I went through the different phases of our marriage—celebrating, dreaming, brooding, squabbling, and making up. Most of all, eating out has given me a career that is mostly a joy, and never a chore. Not a lot of people can say that about their jobs, and it is truly a blessing.

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Restaurants have been there for me all my life, and now that this pandemic has rendered it dangerous territory, I long for its familiar comforts. I am holding on to that hope that eating out will again be the norm, that having food delivered will just be something I do when I need arroz caldo after a night out or fried chicken when I am too busy to cook dinner for the family. I look forward to the days when restaurants will once again be the sanctuary they have always been to me.

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