I’ve had what can be best described as one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life !I just dined in the dark & it opened my eyes … Albeit temporarily to a world where you can’t see anything.
So what is dining in the dark ? Dark dining takes place in a dark restaurant where the customers do not see the food they are eating. The basic concept is that the removal of vision enhances the other senses and increases gastronomic pleasure. Since 1999 such restaurants have opened in many parts of the world. The concept of purposefully eating in complete pitch-black dark originated with Jorge Spielmann, a blind clergyman from Zurich. When guests ate dinner at the Spielmann house some would wear blindfolds during their meal to show solidarity with their host and to better understand his world. What Spielmann’s sighted guests found was that the blindfolds heightened their sense of taste and smell and made their dining experience more enjoyable. The notion that a meal can be more enjoyable without sight is typically described as “the theory that flavors are intensified when people can’t see what they’re eating”. A counter-argument has been put that “most of us eat with our eyes, enjoying a plate before we’ve tasted it. So the trade-off might not be even.”
This unique dining concept opened as a restaurant in Switzerland called Blindekuh (Blind Cow) and has expanded to restaurants in Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Prague, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York & many other cities around the world. A similar concept exists in India under the name of Dialogue in the Dark, in Hyderabad, Bangalore & Chennai.We were in Bangkok staying at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit & one of the restaurants on its property is DID or Dine in the Dark.
I had a vague idea that I’d be eating in darkness & served by blind waiters but beyond that nothing at all. So you reach the restaurant at your designated time & the hostess meets you outside to explain the concept & ask your food preferences, allergies etc. Once that’s done you put on your apron & are greeted outside the dining room by your visually impaired server, in our case it was the warm & friendly New 🙂 From that point onwards you are in his hands literally. You’ve got to put your hands on his shoulder & enter the dining room which is pitch dark. You do get a little stressed as to how you’re going to do this but don’t panic & trust me it will turn out to be an experience of a lifetime!!! At the same time there have been instances of customers exiting because they found it claustrophobic even as they just entered or diners leaving after couple of minutes inside because they couldn’t handle the dark. You can’t see a thing & as you walk “blindly” you kind of understand what it might mean to be blind… But more about that later … Let me begin with the dining experience. Once we were seated New told us to find our fork to the left & the bread basket just over it, the spoon & knife to our right with the water glass just above it. So as you touch & feel getting an idea of the space in front of you the appetiser arrives. Looking down you realise that you are only going to eat with your sense of touch, taste & smell. There is no visual that will accompany this meal. So we touched, smelled & savoured our food while trying to guess what we were eating. The guess work about the meal will get over when you go out because the hostess comes with an iPad that has photos of the food you just ate & it’s rather funny to figure that the thing you thought was some sort of seafood was actually a mushroom. Or that you correctly identified your dessert as a creme brûlée.
By the time the soup came we were comfortable enough to chat with New who stayed close to our table so that we could call out to him whenever we needed anything. He told us how he enjoyed his job because he met new people everyday & learned something new from each of them. I was just amazed at his positivity & enthusiasm for the job. He told us about how he has an iPhone because it has features that help the visually impaired & we discussed about how Facebook has a new feature which describes the photo as well as reads out the accompanying comments.
When the entree arrived we tried to give each other a bite of our food which is not exactly the easiest task to perform in complete darkness. So as we laughed & struggled trying to identify the meat on my plate which didn’t taste like chicken. New helped us a little saying it wasn’t chicken for sure but was another bird & bingo I realised I was eating a delicious roast duck. As we ate we could hear the murmurs of our fellow diners but not see them which is indeed a strange experience in a restaurant. Normally you’d be checking out the people seated around you, maybe even checking out what was being served at the other table. Instead all you have to do here is focus on yourself, your companion & your food. Which means no #foodporn pictures for Instagram or surreptitiously checking your messages while eating because you are asked to switch off your phones & remove any luminous watches when you enter DID. At a neighbouring table somebody was celebrating a birthday & the mandatory cake was cut but without candles while all of us joined in singing Happy Birthday for that stranger in the dark.
Dine in the Dark turns out to be the kind of experience you want to make it … I was apprehensive when it began but was determined to experience it so got comfortable with the whole thing soon enough & started enjoying it. But I have to admit that when it was over & we came out into the light again I was overwhelmed by what I had just experienced. We stood outside in the brightness taking pictures with New, thanking him for taking care of us so well & as I saw him step back into the dark room I turned to see my 13 year old daughter in tears. I sat down next to her with my eyes brimming knowing exactly how she was feeling. She turned to me & said ” Mumma we were in the darkness for an hour maybe but that’s his life & he’ll never know what it’s like otherwise” I merely nodded in agreement not wanting to give her any life lessons about how we should count our blessings or thinking how glad I was that she was such an empathetic soul … It all seemed rather irrelevant when we were having a moment that was going to stay in our minds for a long time to come.
So I urge you to go Dine in the Dark. Not only because it’s something “different” to try out in a hedonistic world where we are constantly seeking newness & excitement but because you’ll be part of an experience where you’ll witness the dignity with which a visually impaired person is earning a living for himself.
It will impact you in a profound manner.