Tanushree Mainrai walks us through a dining in the dark experience in Goa, which heightens the sense of taste.
DINING IN THE DARK IN GOA
I have generally equated spirituality with fairy dust and genie dreams. Most experiences bounce off my skin, some leave behind a tickle. The circular roster of commute- work- housework is best addressed with duck-back sponginess, I tell myself.
When I still could, I took this jaded me to Goa. Goa, where my bohemian soul always finds its home. To me, the Goan sun shines a little brighter, the jade tint in trees more bejewelled. I shed my first layer of defence.
Stretching breakfast to lunch at my resort cafe, I chanced upon what was advertised as ‘dine in the dark’. An atavistic concept, which promises to journey us through a culinary adventure, sans light, in the belief that it would heighten other faculties.
Time to fill, we sign up for this dinner with the sense of sight shut off. Turning up at the appointed hour, we instantly perceive a shift in pace. Mellow glow from traditional oil lamps replaces electric lighting at the entrance. The little voices in our heads tell us that now would be a good time to flick our mobiles to mute – we comply. A genteel usher leads us down a very long, dim pathway, to our table.
This being a moonlit night, we have some relief streaming in through the large windows. But my gait is already slow and hesitant. How exactly do the staff pirouette around here with laden salvers?
This place is quiet! Yes, I can hear the breeze in the patio and water gushing somewhere but aren’t there other guests here? Or, like us, they have also taken to whispering and tentatively giggling to the dark forms that were their date for the evening.
A little shift to our daily rhythm and vulnerability kicks in. Trying to fill in for what I cannot see, I am very aware of the texture of the tabletop, the cold cutlery and am mentally mapping the wafting aromas of familiar spices to the faint silhouettes that move around the space.
The actual meal is a task for explorers and discoverers. We know nothing of the menu, except that it is curated from across the span of the country.
And so, it begins…
I run my hands over the perimeter of the thali. Okay! I’ve defined my territory. Spoons are cast aside – I can’t afford to block off one more sense. I can feel the soft round bread and am confident of what I have here. The dry knob – not so much. So, I sink my teeth in it- prawns!
Our minds insist on slotting each crumb received to its accurate cubbyhole. Without the visual aid though, it isn’t up to the task. We banter over the specifics of we are eating, disagree, and then, to maintain the magic of the moment, agree that we have been served different menus!
Wading your way through so much food is serious business. We travel through the sharp twang of mustard curries, tamarind soured fish, crunchy vadas and some pieces of heaven we couldn’t define but were glad to have savoured.
Chipping away at my thali, I am awake to the firmness of every bite, hear each morsel crunch and feel the aroma seep in. I am aware that I haven’t eaten with this awareness – ever. Once we cut the ‘noise’ from our lives, every simple experience becomes sensational.
Somewhere, I decide to chomp through whatever I put in my mouth – whole cardamom, curry leaves, cloves. No picking out the tomato skin! Here, I experience this meal, in its entirety. Eventually, I am not judging the food by its profile but just savouring the continuous play of flavours across my palate.
So absorbed are we in editing each moment to fit our existing notions of perfection, we do not allow chance to guide us to a space finer than our imagination. I walk away from here, with a little less swagger, a little more open to bungle…