L'art de la table

1:10 PM

What does meal time looks like at your place? In all honesty, there has been way too many rushed meals in our home. Meals dumped on a plate straight from the stove and hastily taken to one corner of a cluttered dinning table surrounded by phones, papers and computers.
Fess up! It has been like that in your home too, we all do it in our fast paced city life. Often feeling too exhausted to give meal time any respect or time.

I myself shudder at it, because truth be told, my parents and grand parents taught me better. You see in Europe meal time is pretty much sacred and we take the time to sit down at a neatly set table, eat together as a family and food has to be served nicely on the plate. The French call it "L'art de la table", which translates roughly as "The art of the table" but is more of a way of life and philosophy about food, and the meal time experience. A belief that one doesn't just eat and taste with their mouth, but that every single senses have to be involved in the process for one to feel satiated.

Plate up your meals, even the simple ones

I grew up with these rules, rules of a probably less hectic, less chaotic time. Rules and guidelines I found myself disregarding due to just laziness. But science is on the side of the art of the table concept. We eat better, in lesser (or actually just right) quantity when we take the time to eat and take care about presentation and focus on the meal time. Here are these golden rules I grew up with :

1) Presentation counts, always. No matter how simple the meal or snack is. My grand ma always said that eating straight from a pack of cookies was bad manners, and that if you are eating a small pot of fruit yogurt, the least you could do was to put it on a quarter plate and take it to the dinning table. Taking a small serving plate and arranging a few cookies on it doesn't take much time, but make them look more satisfying according to her. Guess what? She is right.

2) If you don't have time to sit down at a table or pretty picnic spot don't bother eating. Both my parents and grand parents went by that belief. Meal time is important, this is the time you get to absorb nutrients and replenish yourself. It deserve to be taken seriously enough to sit down and make it count. The few times I are a sandwich in no hurry while riding the public transports were the few times I never felt satiated and compensated with loads of crap in an effort to feel full, eating twice as much as I should ever had calories wise.

3) Eat away from the TV. Growing up, our everyday dinning table was in the kitchen, Swiss homes are still built with kitchens big enough to have a dinning corner. My parents believed food is better enjoyed in the company of family and friends and is the place to have lively discussion instead of absorbing nonsense from the TV (at a time we had only 4 channels on the TV...)

4) Serve cooked food in serving dishes, not straight from the pan. This might seem silly but the science behind that idea is that food will continue cooking in a hot pan, even when taken off the stove, and could end up overcooked and it's taste spoilt. Then of course it also looks prettier on the table.

5) Set the table nicely. I grew up being taught how to do it, this was the kids job in many houses, still is. The fork goes on the left, the knife on the right, the water glass above the knife. But that set asside, it meant that the dinning table had to be free of homeworks, papers, and non meal time related clutter. The serving dish coasters went in the middle and everything was put on the table at the same time. No standing up 4-5 times to fetch a napkin, a dish, the salt the pepper or the water while eating, it spoils the experience. Meals were to have without petty interruptions.

6) Once a week, cook something fancier, just because...The idea being that life is too short as it is and one should not wait for a super special occasion to have something else than just the good old steamed veggie, protein, starch trilogy on their plate (convert to dal sabzi roti in an Indian context). Growing up, we dedicated Sunday's dinner time to that, first because we had time, and then because it is a nice way to end up the weekend.

7) Special occasions aren't about showing off your culinary skills. Guest are coming to celebrate an event in your company, and not see you trapped sweating away in the kitchen putting up a Michelin star quality feast together. Everybody in my family went by it, they were fancier than usual dishes, but not to the extent of being exhausting and time consuming to prepare.

8) Go the extra mile with the decorations when throwing a party. While the food was to not keep my mom enslaved to the kitchen, the table had to look extra nice. There was always a freshly pressed elegant table cloth and napkin set involved, along with candles for Christmas as a center piece, or fresh flowers on other occasions. The table was set with our better looking china plates and the silverware went out. Little girls are gifted silver spoons and forks and knives their whole childhood long in Switzerland, one piece a time for their birthday and Christmas. That set becomes part of their bridal trousseau, or at the least a kit for their passage from childhood to adulthood at age 18. It is meant for that use.

9) At least one meal a day should be a family meal. The Swiss lunch break was long enough that people took the time to go back home, so in my family it was a two meals a day thing, but the idea is that eating is a social activity best enjoyed in the company of others.

These were the rules, at least the ones I can remember. And I am not ashamed to say I have broken every single ones in the course of adulthood. Only to realise that a lot of them made too much sense to follow. I have gone back to it, and believe it or not, it makes a huge difference, in how one eat and how much they eat.

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  1. No decoration is done at all in Kashmiri food.
    I found that rather surprising since Kashmiri food is so heavily influenced by the Mughals.
    My husband & I enjoy having dinner parties & since I'm usually the 'chef' & he is the maitre'd I insist on placing the food in a proper serving dish, as well as decoratively & neatly garnishing the dish. I might even go all 'posh' & individually plate a fancy dessert with fresh flowers. Oh yes, & we serve upon a pretty tablecloth too. (Sometimes we do serve our larger dinner parties on the living room floor because our dining table will not seat more than 8 people- but we still use a tablecloth!!!)
    At first my husband was a bit skeptical about all this swankiness, but upon seeing how much our guests like it he INSISTS on it now.

    1. I would have thought the same thing about Kashmiri cuisine being more ornate, quite surprising it is not.
      I haven't yet taken the plunge with table cloth over here, but I really find the table looking naked without a table runner, and when I have guests over, it has to be on it.
      Those tiny details were lost on my husband too, but he admit it is nice to have the table look nice for our daily meals too. One thing I really miss over here is the low dangling pendant lamp over the table. This is something we do a lot in Switzerland to bring extra light directly on the table and it makes the setting look more inviting and convivial. In all the flats we lived in over here it would not even be an option due to the ceiling fan coming in the way, even if said pendant lights existed in the first place at an affordable cost. I keep telling DH that if I find a pendant mounted on a floor stand I would consider a purchase

  2. Anonymous3:13 PM

    That is too much work. I'll save that for a party only or festivals. Both of us work full time 9 to 7 to be precise and we barely get the time to even clean up the table. Serving in separate dishes means more dishes dirty. Plus I don't trust my maid with our fine China. In this fast paced life its impossible to go for all that trouble. For most working couples it is definitely not worth their time and that includes me as well.
    Yes we do eat dinner as a family away from the TV slowly enjoying it and catching up with each other. Also we plate our desserts and spend some more time after dinner. That is all some of us can manage.

    1. Both my parents were working full time when Is was growing up, and we had no maid. While my parents had a dishwasher, we still had to wash the pots and pan by hand and this was my sister and I job, my grand am never owned a dishwasher, and she would do all the dishes herself on top of her job when she was working, and on party occasion, the family guest pitched in

  3. In my family we don't pull out the fine china but there is no plastic either. Holiday meals may have 40 people. Men and women switch and take turns on who does dishes. Yes... Every other holidays the men do the dishes.

    1. I use some plastic serving dishes for daily meals, our plates are stoneware, I I wash them myself. But yep back in Switzerland, party functions meant everybody, pitched in and people took turns to help with the dishes in the kitchen. We also used to spend the winter break and New year break at a community cottage, wheee we would have one or two community meals during the course of the stay, everybody pitched in for the cooking, the serving and dishes washing. Those meals were often for 40+ people.

  4. Oh yeah, things at my house have been at some pretty low levels in regards to meal time. There have been a lot of cheap, crappy pizza's served with fries lately lol. I don't even have the time to look at them before eating them somedays its so busy around here.

  5. In my family we do all these things - food on serving dishes, setting the table, sitting together and eating....really great post. I need to do it more often!

  6. This is exactly one of my new year's resolutions now. :) Not talking about special events, but everyday meals. To pay attention a bit more, just to serve nicely to enjoy also with eyes. To make time for eating even a simple dish with appreciation, not just consume while switching on a computer with the other hand or chatting on a phone.

    1. I found that just taking time to sit at the dinning table to eat lunch, on proper plate and a nice presentation makes a BIG difference. I feel fuller, less stressed, and yes I have a new found appreciation for the food that nourishes me.
      Being all alone at home for lunch, the temptation to eat at the computer desk is huge, but fighting it has been the best thing I ever did.


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