Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Enjoy your meal

Last weekend, I was relating to my wife and her friend about my only experience ever in a vegetarian restaurant. The year was 1989, the place Beijing and the restaurant was Gong De Lin (功德林). Established in 1922, the place can boast of some history, and rightfully so. I can't imagine myself ever living the vegetarian way of life (which is why I'll probably never reach Nirvana), but if there is a place that could haul me over, it should be this one. I remember we went there with a group of 6 friends or so and we had one of of the most splendid meals ever a student's purse could afford. I particularly remember the big plate with a fish that seemed like ready to slap it's tail and jump off anytime ... only to find that it was "sculpted" from mashed potatoes mixed with all kinds of other stuff (can you tell from my writing I'm not the one who's doing the cooking at home ?).

My student days are long gone, so the purse holds somewhat more than the the 284 FEC (Foreign Exchange Certficate, or the "foreigners money" at that time) living allowance per month I was entitled to on my scholarship and as a result, I now also dare to venture in restaurants that have something more than pizza or kebab on the menu (on a sidenote again: coming to think of it, after a couple of months in Shanghai at the end of the eighties, sneaking out for a couple of days to Hong Kong and indulging in a REAL pizza at Pizzahut and more-than-REAL ice cream at Häagen Dasz was at that moment like tasting a piece of Heaven also). Anyway, the experience of having a fine meal is for me very well expressed in this line of Michel de Montaigne, a French writer from the Renaissance:

"The art of dining well is no slight art,
the pleasure not a slight pleasure".

So I am dumbstruck with this latest craze that (unfortunately, in my mind) has blown over from the Old Continent of Europe to hit it big time in China:

City diners set to embrace the dark

SOME diners in Shanghai will soon be kept in the dark - and happily pay for the privilege.

According to officials of the Beijing-based Whaleinside Culture Corp, which opened Asia's first dark restaurant in Beijing on December 22, the Shanghai outlet will be set up in one of the busiest commercial centers.

"We will soon decide on the location from four or five venues, and finish the interior decoration within 1 1/2 months," said Chen Long, president of the company.

The trendy youth market, and expatriates seeking something different, are the main targets for the venue, which is expected to cost diners 100 yuan (US$12.50) to 150 yuan per head, Chen said.

After a widely announced opening of the first outlet in Beijing, it is now time for Shanghai food connoisseurs to go and enjoy their meals in a pitch-black environment. Waiters are either blind, or people with normal vision ... wearing night vision goggles. Apparently, as mentionned in the same article on Onemanbandwidth, this kind of restaurant was

actually a fantastic project started by the Blind-Liecht (Swiss German for blind-light) foundation. The foundation works to create employment opportunities for blind and visually impaired people.

So may I politely ask, if that is the goal of what this is all about (and I have no doubt that someone, at the outset, had the best interest of the blind at heart), what those goggle-frogs are doing in that Beijing restaurant, with Shanghai set to follow the same recruitment policy:

Similar to Beijing, and other outlets around the world, Shanghai's dark restaurant will recruit some blind servers in addition to 10 ordinary staff.

Strange they don't mention the number of the blind they will recruit, don't you think ?

Apart from that, however, what happened also to "eating with your eyes" ? Which chef, in a right state of mind and concerned about delivering quality, would ever want to go and work in such a restaurant, where the customers will not get to see even the tiniest bit of the culinary composition you have created on their plate ?
What happened to the famous Chinese food culture, which bestows quite some importance on the right mix of color in the dishes ?

Will you allow me also to wonder how conversations will go (supposed you don't go there on your own), when you have tens of people in the same room, all babbling at even higher pitch than usual -which I believe is what happens when you are in the dark- and no faces to focus on ? What happens to conversation when at least 30% of your message is said to be in your expression and your body language ?

It's just beyond me, but I guess those guys at Whaleinside -"A World Without Heart Distance"- (没有距离的世界) (well, euh ...) must have it all figured out.

"We will soon decide on the location from four or five venues, and finish the interior decoration within 1 1/2 months," said Chen Long, president of the company.

If I may offer a little piece of advice: wouldn't spend too much time and money on that interior decoration.


Sam said...

Don't know about all that eat in the dark business, but Gong De Lin is great. Isn't there still one in Shanghai, too?

Lao Lu said...

Sam, thanks for dropping by. Indeed there used to be one in Shanghai also, but I'm not sure if that one is still there. I still vaguely remember the place where it used to be, it had that somewhat fin-de-siecle and so somewhat dilapidated look.
For one of the finest restaurants in Shanghai I've seen (not vegetarian, but OK), go to the 11th floor of the old Jinjiang Hotel. Amazing setting with a distinguished 30 - 40's look, music from that period and excellent food.