A se­ries on any­thing that’s some­thing to talk about

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Last week, I went to an eatery that uses ‘ so­cial house’ as a suf­fix. I would, nor­mally, not have thought much about it and dis­missed it as be­ing part of a proper noun: name of restau­rant + pi­quant- sound­ing tag = am­bi­ent whole. It was only when one of my friends pointed out ( wav­ing her hands at the packed ta­bles): “Hey, look, ev­ery­one’s so busy so­cial­is­ing!” that I re­alised the strate­gic im­port of the term “so­cial house”. Restau­rants are, clearly, rein­vent­ing them­selves in an ef­fort to go be­yond be­ing spa­ces where you go out for din­ner ( or lunch or brunch or what­ever).

They’re be­com­ing spa­ces where you so­cialise — in an age where tech­nol­ogy has all but taken away the sig­nif­i­cance of old- fash­ioned hu­man con­nec­tions.

Or maybe, things have come to such a pass be­cause no­body is willing to so­cialise un­less there’s a car­rot dan­gled. Food.

I im­me­di­ately re­mem­bered a con­ver­sa­tion I had with my Dad when I was in ( Kolkata) In­dia a few weeks ago, about one of my aunts who per­forms an an­nual New Year’s rit­ual. On Jan­uary 1, ev­ery year ( and for the past 15 years or so), she in­vites a mot­ley crew of rel­a­tives — about 50 of them — over to her place for a buf­fet lunch that she cu­rates very care­fully (“sig­na­ture dishes”, the city’s best cater­ing com­pany, fine china, et al). At­ten­dance is al­ways 100 per cent; at times, some un­in­vited sorts try their best to bull­doze in (“I’ll be in your part of town on Jan­uary 1, can I drop by to see you? We haven’t met in ages, and it’s my New Year’s res­o­lu­tion that you and I re­con­nect!”).

I’ve also heard re­ports of how some peo­ple ac­tu­ally en­sure they are in town to at­tend the do; they’re known to pre­pone/ post­pone travel plans so this sought- after lunch can be fit­ted into their sched­ule.

Cut to the con­ver­sa­tion I had with Dad. He was of the opin­ion it’s this aunt’s “pop­u­lar­ity” that begets such fan­fare. “Some peo­ple are just so, well, you know, so­cia­ble,” he said solemnly. “They make an ef­fort to be in touch with ex­tended fam­ily and are, there­fore, well- loved… un­like you two [ glar­ing at me and my brother], who shy away from meet­ing the clan.”

My brother splut­tered with re­pressed ex­as­per­a­tion; I, on the other hand, main­tained a rather cool sangfroid, and tried to turn ( din­ing) ta­bles by ask­ing Dad: “You re­ally be­lieve ev­ery­one hot­foots across to see her and her fam­ily? No way! They come for the food. When was the last time rel­a­tives de­scended with­out the prom­ise of food be­ing laid out on the ta­ble? Think about it: would ev­ery­one have dropped by if she had just asked them to drop by, no culi­nary strings at­tached?”

“My God,” Dad looked very alarmed. “You’ve be­come so cyn­i­cal!” I don’t think so, I said smugly. “It’s a fact.” Sit­ting at this “so­cial house”, it all fell into per­spec­tive. I was here to cel­e­brate some­one’s birthday. The birthday boy, God bless him, ar­ranged a so­cial hob­nob­bing- cumdin­ner on his big day. Him­self. Sweet and all that. But... I turned to the friend who’d talked of so­cial­is­ing in a so­cial house: “Shouldn’t ev­ery­one be just turn­ing up in any case — with or with­out gourmet grat­i­fi­ca­tion? And prefer­ably with birthday presents?”

“A lot of folks don’t give a present un­less there’s a ‘ treat’ wait­ing to be had,” she of­fered.

As it turned out, even with the prom­ise of gua­camole and braised prawns com­ing to fruition — a whole­some treat, no doubt — presents seemed hard to come by.

The birthday boy, of course, is a far more gen­er­ous per­son than I could ever be, so he wasn’t look­ing for val­i­da­tion. He ap­peared to be gen­uinely happy that ev­ery­one showed up. Even if it was for the food.

sush­mita@ khalee­j­times. com

Food For ro­mance

With Valen­tine’s Day right around the cor­ner, In­die DIFC has come up with a special menu for a special evening. From lip- smack­ing starters such as lime crab and spicy tuna to elab­o­rate mains like salmon with beet­root and leek purée, the menu is par­tic­u­larly en­tic­ing for seafood lovers. With ro­man­tic num­bers play­ing in the back­ground, be as­sured of a mag­i­cal evening. For more in­for­ma­tion, log on to www. in­died­ifc. com

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