What you envision while you order may not be what you get

When you choose a bottle of wine in a restaurant, it is presented to you in great style. You can examine the bottle before it is opened. After opening the bottle, you test drive the wine by sipping the first offering. At this point, you can sent the bottle back if you do not like it. Although I have never rejected a bottle, I am sure there are many people who have had this experience. Have you wondered what happens when we order food in a restaurant? We are in the restaurant primarily for the food and not for the wine. 

Let's examine the same scene with respect to food. We take a long time to examine and understand the menu. Thankfully, some of the menus have a brief description about the dish. We may consult the waiter for a clearer explanation on how a certain dish is made. Then we make a decision and wait for the food. The food, when it arrives, in most cases is laid out artistically on the plate. The waiter retires after serving the food who will come back a few minutes later to check if you are enjoying the meal. 

Can you tell me the fundamental difference here as compared to our experience with the wine? There is no way for me to send the food back. Of course, I can send it back to cook the dish for a little more time. So if a steak is rare, then I can make it medium rare. But there is no guarantee that you are getting what you thought you are getting after reading the menu and consulting the waiter. Aren't we taking a bigger risk when we order food? In the case of wine, we can see the bottle of wine which essentially gives us an additional checkpoint to reverse our initial decision. Is this why ordering food in a restaurant is considered as an adventure? Is this why foodies are called adventurers? 

We have no clue what we are getting when we order food. Some of the restaurants display a professionally taken picture of food on their menu. What looks good on the picture might not be taste as well on your palate. Of course, the picture helps. A couple of weeks back, I was at a restaurant which features food from various parts of Asia. There was a picture of the food. But it tasted a whole lot of tamarind when it arrived. There was no way of finding this from the picture. Finally, I switched dishes with my friend because I am okay with tamarind while my friend was not. Don't look at me like that. I like "different" things.

Call me less adventurous. This is exactly why I liked concept I found in a "military" hotel concept in the Nugambakkam area in Chennai. I was in the area a decade back. "Military" hotel means a restaurant which serves meat in the local lingo. They place the various offerings in small bowls on a large tray. There is no traditional menu but a big black board on the wall displaying all the items available. In addition, they take the tray to the table in order for their clientele to have a first look at what they are getting. After this point, there is very little that can go wrong.

Tags: Musings,Food,Restaurant,Adventure


  1. Interesting. For me the bigger risk is still the wine. It is in a dark sealed bottle - who knows if it is good until it is opened? And we should only send it back if it is bad, i.e. corked or otherwise spoiled, not because we do not like it.
    On the other hand I make it a practice to avoid restaurants displaying photos of the food, except in Shanghai where I otherwise have no idea what is being described. Typically restaurants with photos are very touristy. And yes being surprised is part of the adventure, but my experience of being surprised by what was on my plate in China was less pleasant!

    1. Spoken like a true adventurer. Personally, I prefer menu which contains a description. This helps me in imagining how the dish would be. My tolerance levels are high. But I have also wished for pictures when I tend to be in a large group (not quite the "Shelly" group kind). If the group has a lot of parameters to look for like no-beef, only-chicken, well-cooked, spicy etc, the picture helps.

  2. True.....I often face such dilemma ( the picture looks alluring but the name unknown) and I prefer asking the steward about the ingredients and the taste. Most of the time this helps ...

    1. In normal circumstances, it helps. For this particular scenarios, we knew our friend took tamarind laced dish. But we didn't expect it to be so loaded with tamarind. :)


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