Every second Thursday, my friends and I get together for dinner. We call it Connect and Chill. On the alternate Thursdays, we meet to study the bible and to pray. These nights are called Connect and Grow. Chill nights are held in various locations around Darwin; a different restaurant or pub each time. The suburb of Parap was chosen on the most recent occasion, but it was a toss up between Parap Tavern and Oka Japanese. We took a vote which ended up a tie.
Parap Tavern on Thursday nights has a special: two chicken parmigianas and a jug of beer for $30, but it's not special food. It's pub food. Whichever pub we go to, the menu is pretty much the same. You can get a steak, a parmy, a burger, or barramundi (fish). All of which come with salad and chips (thick cut french fries).The menu varies little, and neither does the quality. It's ordinary food. Safe food, Good food.
The first time I went to Oka for dinner, I saw octopus balls on the menu and knew I had to try them. They could have been testicles or just ball shaped pieces of octopus for all I knew. Either way, I had to try them because I love octopus, and every time I pick up a menu, I look for something I haven't eaten before. Japanese restaurants have standard menus too. Sure, they're more exotic than pub menus but Japanese cuisine is not new to Australia. A set of standard dishes, like chicken teriyaki, will be offered to mostly non Japanese customers.
Not everyone likes Japanese food. Others don't particularly like the uninspiring offerings of hotels like Parap Tavern. The thing is, going out to dinner is never about the food. Not for me anyway. The food I eat is only a side dish accompanying the people I'm eating it with. For that reason I never say no to any restaurant suggestion. I expect to find something I can eat, and probably enjoy-maybe even my next favourite meal, but even if I can't, I didn't go for the food, so I'm never disappointed.
Food and eating brings us together. Most cultures do this exceptionally well. Gathering together with family and friends to enjoy a meal. My wife finds the idea of a pot luck dinner weird, but she comes from a culture in which if you ask someone out to a meal, you are expected to pay. The person you ask can invite someone else along and you will be expected to pay for them too. The concept of ordering individual dishes is also strange to her, as it is to people from many other countries.
Australian's have learned how to share when we eat at Asian restaurants. We've learned to appreciate the finest flavours from across the globe. It is an indisputable benefit of the controversial multiculturalism doctrine that our palettes have been broadened. In culinary terms, our lives have been enriched, but for me, it is still not about the food; it's about the people.
Food should add value to our relationships, regardless of similarities or differences in our tastes and appetites. Food is not just fuel for our bodies, it is lubricant for families, friends and society on the whole.
Oka lost the vote last time, but we are going to eat there next time. Mark the date: November 14, and join me for some octopus balls. Don't worry about what they are. Just try them, and let's enjoy the experience together. Remember, it's not all about the food.