On Eating Alone: Hello, Table For One, Please?

This was the first-ever meal I had alone: a snacky platter of momos, something fancy whose name I don’t remember, and french fries. 

I had just moved out of home (quite literally), landed in a different city, and the first place I went was a cafe. I had an unbearable pang of hunger and nowhere to be until late evening. 

I remember it distinctly because it seemed so unusual to my 17-year old self. The social stigma with “oh God, no one should have to eat alone, that’s so sad” was too big in my head for some reason. I was too self-conscious: Are people staring at me? Do people think I’m weird? Should I have ordered a takeaway instead? 

That was the first of many, many meals I would have alone in the next 3 years. 

But the first time is the hardest (and a few times after that also, to be honest). Despite that uncomfortableness of the stigma that was in my own head, I enjoyed the experience of eating alone a lot. The other side of my head marveled at how beautiful the platter looked and how tempting the dishes are – it’s all for me to relish! How soothing if all these people stopped judging me, I thought. 

The next couple of times, as a coping mechanism, I would bring a book to the table. But I never dared to open it – what if the sauce falls on the beautiful cover? I switched to earphones and pretended to watch FRIENDS or listen to music or some cool podcast to appear aloof, and, uhm “normal.” 

I never read a page. I never listened to a podcast episode. All I did was try to hide the fact that I am eating alone from myself. 

Inside my home, with no culture to guard me, I ate alone in pure bliss. I cooked for myself a meal only I would be able to digest (not a great cook, y’all, but it’s still edible). I would sometimes blast a TV show and other days I would just….eat.

Once solitude grew on me, so did eating alone. I came to look forward to it. I began to discard the culturally-unacceptable-reality I had built in my own head. Turns out I did watch FRIENDS and like Rachel, I’d be willing to turn down dates because I have a “date with myself.”

Don’t get me wrong, some of my best memories with food involve the passing of plates and a mouthful of conversations, but sometimes, I need a break. I like being alone and I like eating. It made sense to combine the two activities. 

It had practical benefits too: I could eat in crowded restaurants because it’s easier to get a single seat. I can try a new dish that no one else might be willing to try. And best of all, I can eat without sharing (I’ll give you my heart but spare my food, please).

The dance of eating alone is mostly similar. Often, the first staffer is surprised when he/she/they hear no one else will be coming. I see the waiter’s faces change from confusion to pity as they serve a single plate. I imagine solo diners still look as weird to others as they did to me at 17. 

I rarely enjoy anything as more as placing my full attention on food, on this moment, on the diner, hardly remembering I’m the only one without a companion. 

Look at me, so well-fed, in belly and soul. 

12 thoughts on “On Eating Alone: Hello, Table For One, Please?”

  1. Wow, that’s scrumptious! 😋 The main joy of eating alone is you get to decide the entire menu and the schedule, and get to bear no unsolicited judgements about how you enjoy your food (or life, for that matter)! Since I mostly cook my meals at home, I can get quite crafty without thinking of the consequences too! 😂

    The social stigma you’ve mentioned, I think it has been forced upon too many Indians especially women. Eating alone, taking long trips and roaming the streets alone is a privilege only few enjoy proudly but should be experienced by everyone! 🙂 Though it hasn’t been much of a choice but a routine in my case. (I’ve been living alone since the last ice age.) It does get to me once in a while, making me feel lonely. But on those rare days I could binge on street food, and the noise of humanity. (Or eat with a friend or simply go visit my parents.)

  2. I started cooking by myself and eating alone only recently. In fact I was waiting for opportunity.
    There is great deal to it.
    For a guy like me (who likes participation more than consuming the end product) it is a realisation of sorts.
    It is much like taking a gramophone record and placing it carefully on the turntable and playing ( I never did this before) while what we do mostly is to click on a button and the song plays.

    Cooking and eating alone – I now value much more how I was served all these days, I get excited about how I can cook for someone and how their liking of the dish means a lot (it’s different), it is the most direct feedback when I cook and eat myself; as if the food I cooked is talking to me.

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