Thursday, February 09, 2006

Admit it - sharing is caring

When it comes to eating out with a group of friends, Westerners, or at least Teddy de Burca Jnr.’s family, could learn a lot from Asian style dining

When I go back to sunny, cosmopolitan Ireland and eat out with my family or friends, or when one ventures east to visit me here, while we collectively peruse the menu in a restaurant I often hear the line “I’m having the veal” or whatever dish tickles their fancy.

It always jars slightly; every year a little more. In fact, I’d go as far as to say after over half a decade in Vietnam, where sharing is indeed caring at the dinner table, it sounds downright selfish.

Sure, I know the norm back home is for everyone to choose their own starter and a main course. If someone makes too much noise about how good the dish is you can always ask for some, but all people do is cut off a little corner of the tasty morsel and pass it over on a side plate.

The attitude seems to be why share a dinner when you have exactly what you want in front of you? Get your own steak. After all, you’re the idiot that ordered the green bean salad.

Even at home plates are served individually with seconds left in the pot. It is every man and woman for themselves. The quicker you eat, the more seconds you get to shovel on your plate. The biggest pig gets the most swill, would say my uncle, who is a man that I should add outgrew his bed thanks to this belief. Every single one of us would eat with a protective arm curled around the plate lest someone try to pinch your last spud.

So what a relief it has become, and a way of life too, in Asia with everything in the middle and everyone sharing. Now, no matter what kind of restaurant I go to – Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, Indian or Thai (Ok, I’ll admit this philosophy doesn’t wash with sandwiches, hamburgers or kebabs) everyone just orders a few dishes and everything is plonked in the middle to be tasted and shared.

Furthermore, new research by dieticians claims that sharing food means you eat less helping you stay trim and healthy, even though you might feel like you’re eating more. You naturally adjust your consumption to those who are eating with you.

Of course, there’s no persuading some people. Recently my old friend from county Fingal, just north of Dublin, came out to see what the fuss was all about in Southeast Asia and we went out with a group of folk to an Italian joint. People did the usual and ordered salads, bruschetta, pizza, pasta and a couple of carafes of wine to be shared around, but my dear visitor was having none of it. Slapping the menu shut and staring the waitress dead in the eye, he said: “I’ll have the beef steak and a beer” and the unsaid subtext was there for all to see: he wasn’t planning on sharing it. It was, I believe, his loss.


elliott said...

Eyes off that last bit of dau, mate! Or it will be chopsticks at three paces...

Venitha said...

I love this about Asia, too, and I think it's going to be hard to return to eating out in the US where I only get to try one thing. How boring!

teddy said...

Aye! I'll admit that the last piece of a tasty dish can cause a ripple of tension around the dining table. And if i'm being honest, I also adhere to the biggest pig gets the most swill philosophy in that situation (which is invariably me!).