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Death by small talk about food

Why a party begins to die when food is served

September 27, 2021 / 12:46 PM IST
(Representational image)

(Representational image)

Food keeps us alive. But it kills a party, many times.

A big reason for this is simple chemistry. Food reduces drunkenness. The other reason is music often stops when dinner is served. This further dampens the mood.

Our hands become occupied holding the plate. Our mind stops being free and instead is distracted by the task of shoveling food into our traps.

By this time, there is another detail that comes into play. It delivers the last nail in the coffin of a party. It is small talk about the food.

Small talk in general is annoying beyond a point. But non-food small talk at least has a purpose. It breaks ice. It is like the first few minutes of a sports encounter. These are often unremarkable from the quality point of view. The participants are getting their eye in. Their nerves are settling down. But they are a stepping stone to what will eventually become a hot, engrossing contest.

Food small talk, on the other hand, does not have an important purpose. Its only objective is politeness towards the host, or to fill silence, as pointed out by Uma Thurman's character in Pulp Fiction.

Paying genuine compliments to the host is also understandable. Manners are important, especially in a country like ours where people can be entitled and rude.

But the food small talk continues even after social duties are done. There are profundities such as:

“This is great.”

“It really is.”

“Yummy, na?”


“This is just the right amount of sweet.”

“True. Not too sweet.”

The saving grace is that the grandiloquence that seizes people when writing about food does not infect them when talking about it. People may say, “I’m going to take some more of that yummy chicken.” No one says, “I’m going to take some more of that succulent chicken which is crisp on the outside but has retained its moisture inside.”

Thankfully people also do not use the word ‘cuisine’ while talking.  It’s one of those words that is made to be written or used in TV programs, just like the film industry word ‘kirdaar’. Surely, no actor uses ‘kirdaar’ in real life, But no film promotion interview is complete without stars scratching their chins pretentiously and talking about their ‘kirdaar’ .

The first round of food small talk is often followed by details about the location of the caterer or restaurant (in case the food is from outside). Multiple people will chime in about where to make a right or left to reach the location, or which app offers better discounts when ordering from the place.

After this there will be a discussion about other places that make that particular cuisine (apologies) well.

If there is an older generation Indian involved in the meal, they will at some point ask you to have more “salaad”. On ordinary days they say the word correctly. But when there are guests they say "salaad" because in India of the not-so-distant past this was sophisticated pronunciation.

Very few people at a party are interested in listening to you anyway, unless you are a celebrity, or if it’s an office party and you are the boss of that office. When food is served, they become even less interested in listening to you. They are only nodding their heads while forking down biryani, or catching fragments of your sentences. It’s possible that if you switch to nonsensical lines midway – say, “Did you watch this KKR guy, Venkatesh Iyer, whose fleece is white as snow?” - they might say, “Hmm. It rained the other day in our area.”

In the '90s, Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana of Sri Lanka turned the traditional one-day batting approach upside down by attacking in the first 15-overs. Somewhat similarly I have deduced that the most enjoyable part of a party is right at the start, when you are getting ready for it. You shower, hum a song as you get dressed, wear cologne and plug into music in the Uber. So now, it is while getting ready that I have a nice drink, cold and strong. This way I prolong the buzz a bit, before it dissipates when the food delivery arrives, and everyone gets up, and you find that you are holding forth on something to an audience of zero.

Akshay Sawai
first published: Sep 25, 2021 09:03 pm