A few weeks ago, inspired by our outing to The Breakfast Club, we decided to have another staff lunch, only this time, we went for an Indian. Based on some strong recommendations from some well informed friends, we decided to check out Tayyabs, an Indian restaurant a short walk from our office here in London. It was especially recommended for it's authentic Indian Cuisine, and considered a favourite by all my Indian friends.
Upon arriving at the restaurant, even though it was only 12:30pm, and we'd passed many empty Indian restaurants along the way, this place was already packed. In true Indian style, we were squeezed into a corner, behind a table of what must have been a party of 20 or 30, presumably there to celebrate a wedding, since everyone seemed to be dressed in fine clothes, and clearly it was an extended family of some sort, with grandparents, and younger children too
As we looked at the menu, all my colleagues looked to me for help in translating the traditional Indian names and understanding what all the various dishes were. Once we'd ordered a few starters, and some drinks, and chosen our main courses each, we started to talk about the differences in Asian and Western dining culture, especially when eating out.
Typically in the West, we'll each order one dish, and eat what's on our plates. Perhaps sharing a starter at the most. With Asians, it's more normal to order a variety of dishes, and then share a bit of everything with everyone. Nobody eats only one thing, and everyone gets to taste a bit of everything. I even noticed this difference when I was living and working in South Korea. Whilst the English Teachers who were native to South Korea would order a number of different dishes, and then have a small bowl into which they would put a little bit of everything in, the English teachers from the UK and the US would order one dish each, and just eat the dish they ordered.
Louise further expanded on how when she eats out with the Chinese half of her family, it's customary to always order 1 extra dish, to take into account any unexpected or last minute guests, a Chinese tradition I believe. I guess that's very similar to our Indian family tradition, of always making sure that there's still food on the table when the guests have finished eating. The idea being that if all the food that was served has been eaten, then the guests hunger hasn't been satiated and so there should have been more food served up on the table. Particularly in Asian cultures, it's fairly common to strive to make sure your guests are always well fed, and taken care of, even if you have to go hungry, or eat less, since it's considered inhospitable to have your guests leave a meal hungry, or wanting to eat more.
As our respective dishes arrived, we decided to very deliberately share all the dishes, to make sure everyone got to taste a bit of everything. Fortunately the food really was that delicious that we were left licking our lips by the end of it! I even managed to convince my colleagues to tear their Nan bread into small scoops and then to create small bite sized scoops of the various curries, getting them into the real 'Indian' way of eating such dishes with their hands. I guess having been brought up to always use the Nan breads and Roti's as tools to scoop up the curry, I always find it amusing to see friends eating Indian food with forks, biting off pieces of the Nan or Roti as if it was a breadstick!
All in all, we had a thoroughly wonderful meal, and enjoyed once again learning a little bit more about each others different eating habits. I think it was also perhaps the first time that some of my colleagues had ever eaten an 'authentic' Indian meal. When I say 'authentic' - I mean the kind of meal that I might have with my family in a restaurant, and enjoy eating, because it's real Indian food, and not something that's been tailored to a British palette, as so many Indian restaurants are.
Can't wait to see where our next lunch outing takes us! In the meantime, we'd love to hear about how you share meals with your families when you eat out? Do you go for the one dish each approach? Or do you prefer to try a bit off of everyone's plate? Also, when you have large family reunions, does everyone cook a dish? Or do you get one family cooking everything? Would love to hear your stories!