Karuna Ezara Parikh on first dates- how to break down the menu, the meal, his allergies- and other advice on love that may or may not work.
There are two things that really make me sigh- food, and love. When they come together though, it's a combination so heady I fear sometimes that I’ll lose myself. What saves me from getting prematurely swoony, is that while I'm easy with food (one good plate of papdi chaat and I’m beaming), I'm a tough cookie when it comes to love. The good thing however, is that in both matters, (save live monkey brain and Tinder) I will try anything once. Which is where the beauty of the first date comes in.
A first date allows you, in the span of a single evening, to understand pretty much every single thing you need to know about the relationship that will (or will not) follow. Of course there are the in-your-face signs to look out for- did he pick you up, or not? Did he make a reservation? Was he on time? Did he wear a t-shirt? Collars? He wore a collared shirt?! He must really be into you. (Personally I'm a round-neck kinda girl. Give me a modest boy over one who insists on wearing what really should have been left to polo players and baristas, any day of the week.) But I'm not interested in the obvious; I'm interested in breaking down the menu, the meal, and all his allergies, so let's get started.
I like boys who aren't queasy when it comes to food. I love boys who are happy eating with their hands and I’m not talking neat round rotis here- serve him a piping hot dal bhaat to and watch. With food, as with lovemaking, hands are everything. Does he use them? Does he know how to? I also like a man who, like me, will try anything once. A man who doesn't turn his nose up at a certain cuisine, who doesn't say flat out, "I don't eat sushi." Really? What else don't you do, while we're on the subject? Next thing you know, you'll be deep sea diving in Seychelles alone. Which is why, when I sit down with a boy who says, "I don't mind... I eat everything," I am for a moment transported, and think to myself, "This man – I could travel the whole world with this man."
I should make a point here about vegetarians. I find, for people who don’t eat other living things, they can be rather fun. And accommodating. And even, quite shockingly, raw and charming. And I don't for one moment buy those lewd "Oh you know, non-veg boys just like a little more meat, wink wink,” innuendos. Some people like their animals living, some like ‘em on a plate – I don’t judge.
The downside to most first dates is that they tend to be the sacrificial altar where the food, no matter how good it is, ends up playing second fiddle to the complex rituals of human courtship. Which is why a man who cooks, bringing the spotlight back to food, gets an honourable mention. However, unless you’re in Chandni Chowk, a man who knows his way around a frying pan tends to be a rarity- rarer even than finding a man who can hold a conversation. So I suggest choosing a place you really love- one where the food sits in your mouth so unobtrusively that it does not call for attention, but acts as a balm, a gentle aphrodisiac. The sort of meal that perhaps, years later, both of you happily recall, “The food that day was actually really good!” but in the moment, doesn’t interrupt eye contact. The only time food should play a lead role on a first date is if, a) one of you is cooking, b) it’s a terrible date or c) you’ve hired a personal chef to craft a tasting menu for two.
I remember this lunch on a spring day years ago. The boy sat across from me. He let me order, but enquired inquisitively about each dish. (He was a bit of a dish himself, I might add.) He ordered a beer, but didn't insist I have one. He was polite to the waiter. We spoke without a single awkward pause the entire meal- a sort of poetic dance where when I chewed, he spoke, and when he took a bite, I would break in. He barely looked at his food, but polished it off adeptly. Because I didn’t know this was a marvellous talent of his, I asked if the meal was alright; he expressed extreme satisfaction and then went right back to gently prodding about my thoughts on the influence of the stars. We spoke about love and lust, and with every bite we tasted more of each other. We split the bill and walked out. When we paused to cross the busy road to get to the car, he reached gently for my hand. We crossed like that, holding hands. The gesture was even sweeter than the dessert we’d just shared. In fact, it was the silent invite for a coffee back home.
Karuna Ezara Parikh is a gluten-free brownie-baking writer and poet from Delhi, where she spends very little time, preferring to travel constantly instead. You can read more of her writing at inkimageideology.blogspot.in and view her visual poems at instagram.com/karunaezara
If you have any stories on first dates and food, we'd love to hear from you in the comments!
This is the first story in a two-part series on first dates and food. Read the second piece here.