By Chris Dong
It's no secret to those who know me: Food is a major source of personal happiness.
And there's nothing quite as euphoric as enjoying the intricacies of a well-made dish in its motherland, like savouring a forkful of fresh pasta at an osteria in Italy or devouring a cut of meat at a parrilla in Argentina. But because social conventions have taught us that dining out by yourself is not the norm, these moments are rarely experienced alone.
The next time you're with a dining companion, consider what might be different if you were a party of one. While breaking bread together has its benefits, only dining with others means you're missing out on one of the greatest joys of travel - eating alone at a restaurant.
Dining alone allows you to go on a culinary journey, one that is often missed when engrossed in conversation.
This is especially true while travelling, when it is easy to get immersed in a semi-predictable dialogue at the dinner table. There's the rehashing of the day's events, discussing details of tomorrow's itinerary and lamenting how sore your feet are from walking on cobblestones.
This isn't a diss to your companion(s). It's just the realities of travelling with someone else.
Eating by yourself provides an opportunity to hone in on details as they happen - all in real time. You will be more likely to notice the intricate font on the menu or the server's delicate placement of the bread basket on the table.
All of the senses truly come to life. I'm imagining it right now, at one of my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong. My nostrils inhale the aroma of onions slowly caramelizing, and my ears eavesdrop on the juicy conversation at the next table over.
And finally, there's the dish itself taking centre stage, more than ever before. You'll notice a dish's perfect presentation, like the single sprig of fresh rosemary atop a New Zealand rack of lamb. Or you taste the nuanced, layered flavours of a steaming bowl of pho at a street stall in Hanoi.
For many would-be solo travellers, there's an intense fear of dining by yourself. And I get it. At some restaurants, I've tried making reservations for one only to be told that "we don't do that." And if you do get a table, your phone may end up being your companion.
If there's one thing that eating alone at a restaurant has done, it is strengthening my will and desire to be more independent. I use those moments to observe everything and make my own decisions. And that same feeling can be so empowering for the rest of, well, life.
All I ask is that if you do eat alone on your travels, put the phone down and look around. Talk to the waiter. Ask questions about the food and how the establishment came to be. Or, if you're feeling bold, comment on the dish at the table next to you.
Go ahead: Eat yourself happy on your next trip. And if you're doing it alone, all the better.