The Evanescent Joy of Fine Dining

SaltnPepper

Dining at fine restaurants anywhere in the world is considered a privilege. Many people who are well-traveled boast of having dined at the best eateries of the world, having had gourmet creations of the best chefs presented to them personally by courteous staff. There are rooftop restaurants, revolving restaurants, and one of my recent discoveries, in-the-sea restaurants – no, I don’t mean those on ships – but those that serve guests their meals whilst the latter actually sit inside the ocean waters! It’s even called "water dining". Take that concept a few steps further (or should I say, a few "feet under"), and you’ll have an underwater restaurant offering "live" entertainment in the form of coral reefs, sting-rays and other underwater animals.

I admit that dining is one of my weaknesses. Most women can not resist splurging on clothes, shoes, handbags and makeup. I, on the other hand, couldn’t be more indifferent to these things, but one thing I do like to spend on, is a good dining experience. It’s not just about eating the food I like or having it at places where it’s quality is painstakingly maintained over time, but also about the ambience of the restaurant and the overall feeling of pleasure that such an experiences provides, that keeps me wondering where I’ll dine out next.

The country has been hit hard by the current price hike, with it becoming more and more difficult for the poor, illiterate working class to put food on the table (Table? What table? They eat on the bare floor). Paradoxically, more and more high-priced restaurants have sprouted up in the posh areas of late; and not just that, they do bustling business. The multinational food franchises keep opening up new branches, and people flock to overpriced eateries as if the food was being ladled out for free!

The English Daily that I read has now created special food sections where writers review restaurants as well as some delicious legendary food items sold in ancient parts of the local cities since decades. You’d think the local culture of dining out would have received the most fatal blow from the global food crisis? Nay, it has not even suffered a minute glitch!

For the reasons I’ve cited above, such as our poor country folk not having enough to eat even their daily fill, my inclination towards dining out too often has been greatly diminished. However, human tendencies and desires can not be curbed completely now, can they? For example, when one is hungry and tired, has enough money in one’s pocket – alhamdulillah – and wishes for a relaxing dining “experience” at one of the local spots by the sea; one that combines a good view of the crashing waves and great diversity of the palate offering a variety of local cuisine, one tends to give in to temptation, to just go live in the moment.

That is what I did recently. How can I describe eating at one of the most expensive places in the city? Rewarding? Enjoyable? Fulfilling? Well, it was good, yes, but when one looks at how much one spent compared to the transience of the joy and satisfaction obtained, one wonders if it really was worth it? I made some mental notes of my experience, classified below:

Reservations: Yes, when we asked to be seated where we could see the sea, we were told that all such spots were reserved already. That was disappointment number one. That is just one drawback of dining out at restaurants – the unexpected shortfalls can always happen. As for a view of the beautiful sea, for the enjoyment of which the restaurant has glass walls on one side, we lost out to those who had pre-planned their experience!

Limitations of Human Appetite: You’re attracted to all-you-can-eat buffets for the fact that there is an exhaustive variety of food as compared to a la carte menus, and one can eat as much as one wants…..or so one thinks. This is just a base desire of the human self,  because health, happiness and a good post-meal feeling lies in eating a bit less than one’s desire. That is, when you feel like having just a bit more, you stop eating. However, marketers would be bankrupt today if it wasn’t for the desires of the human self – the wish-list that keeps cropping up in our hearts for things we’d like to have, just because we imagine them to be very fulfilling and pleasurable. When we do acquire them, however, the satisfaction or happiness is fleeting and short-lived. Once a few hours or days pass, we start wishing for something else, and enthusiastically commence our pursuit of it. This cycle repeats itself throughout our lives.

So yes, the food was great, but I could only have 3 or 4 items on the menu to my heart’s desire. After that, much as I wished that my stomach would allow it, I just did not want to eat anymore. So, the remaining dishes were left to the enjoyment of my imagination – i.e thinking how good they would have tasted had I been able to consume them!

Money-based Prestige and Honor: What people love about dining at five-star elite restaurants is the honorable welcome and “high-class” service they receive from the staff there. The smiling, formally-dressed, hospitable manager asking you to take your seats; the uniformed waiters running at your beck and call; their mutual enthusiasm for your satisfaction as a customer. Why do they honor us when we enter their doorstep? Is it because they respect us for who we are? No – it’s only the dough in our pockets that “buys” us this ‘honorable’ treatment. Imagine telling the waiter when he seats us at the table and hands us the menu-card, “I really love your restaurant, service and food. However, I do not have money on me right now with which I could pay for it. Now, could I have the………..?” Can you imagine what would happen to the smile on your host’s face? Would you still be served food, or allowed to sit there for even a minute longer, for that matter?

SaltnPepperVillage_eating-small Anyway, after it was all over; that is – I had eaten to my “heart’s content” and had the wonderful dining experience that I had pursued, I sighed about the short-lived and transient nature of joy in the life of this world. I realized that very few people in my city and country could afford what I had just bought – a dining experience worth its weight in gold (for them, that is). And yet, was it what I had imagined it to be when I started out on my urge to eat out?

I closed my eyes and imagined a place Allah has promised for the Believers, the ones He is pleased with. A place where the criterion for honor and prestige is not money, but the approval and rida of the Creator; where joy and pleasure is not fleeting, but permanent, resounding, and untainted with human reservations; where the desires can be fulfilled to the heart and soul’s content, leaving no doubts, complains, or dearth for more. Where the joy never ends, and regret or pain never starts.

And because they were patient and constant, He will reward them with a Garden and (garments of) silk.
Reclining in the (Garden) on raised thrones, they will see there neither the sun’s (excessive heat) nor (the moon’s) excessive cold.
And the shades of the (Garden) will come low over them, and the bunches (of fruit) there, will hang low in humility.
And amongst them will be passed round vessels of silver and goblets of crystal,-
Crystal-clear, made of silver: they will determine the measure thereof (according to their wishes).
And they will be given to drink there of a Cup (of Wine) mixed with Zanjabil,-
A fountain there, called Salsabil.
And round about them will (serve) youths of perpetual (freshness): If you looked at them, you would think them scattered Pearls.
And when you look, it is there you’ll see a Bliss and a Realm Magnificent.
Upon them will be green Garments of fine silk and heavy brocade, and they will be adorned with Bracelets of silver; and their Lord will give to them to drink of a Wine Pure and Holy.
"Verily this is a Reward for you, and your Endeavour is accepted and recognized."
[Surah Al-Insan: 11 – 22]

And We shall bestow on them, of fruit and meat, anything they shall desire.
They shall there exchange, one with another, a (loving) cup free of frivolity, free of all taint of ill.
Round about them will serve, (devoted) to them, young male servants (handsome) as Pearls well-guarded.

[Surah Al-Tur: 22 – 24]

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