Food is best enjoyed in good company. This mantra has been integral to the business of gastronomy across history. Cultures the world over have eating together as a fundamental aspect of community and society building, not to mention the benefits for well-being, social development and self-esteem.
Whether you’re networking or closing a deal, celebrating a birthday or simply spending quality time over new tastes, it’s a common assumption that food tastes better when you’ve got people to share it with.
And it does make good sense. But company doesn’t have to mean other people. It can just mean yourself.
The rise of Korean loner culture (honbap for eating and honsul for drinking alone) has spawned trends that valorise the concept of eating by yourself. Eating videos, known as mukbang, involve interaction with online visitors and your web camera.
But, it’s still essentially an individual eating food alone in a room. Whether it’s the novelty of the concept or the ASMR-related stimulus it provides, something is compelling about having food by yourself.
Perhaps it’s the different sensations and experiences that come with eating solo that is making it a rising trend. Throwing yourself into the situation of eating alone, in public, brings your mind into a different space.
Same path, a new journey
Mukbang videos are a direct visual and aural observation of indulgence. Restaurants are picking up on the idea, and more now have solo dining experiences that centre all attention upon the food. As you sip on your aperitif, you become conscious of every part of the meal. This time is a gift to yourself, embarking on a taste journey sans distraction.
A Chance to treat yourself
One reason why solo dining is so invigorating is because of how daunting it can seem. Eating alone in a restaurant, surrounded by tables full of groups, might make you appear weird, strange, or less than yourself. Especially to the host clarifying that you’re a party of one.
And then, once you swallow your self-consciousness and take your seat, new doubts and paranoid hypotheticals flood your mind again. But it’s all part of the experience. Solo dining is a chance to have a meal with yourself, and if you don’t like your company, who will?
Escape in plain sight
Solo dining is becoming less socially stigmatised and suspicious of a dining option. More now turn to solo dining as a means of escaping the crowd. It’s become a form of self-care that used to seem like a shameful act.
When the stresses of life overwhelm, eating alone is an immediate and quick retreat into a personal space, letting your mind wander without worrying about others for a while. Here’s your chance to eat at that rooftop restaurant, and really enjoy the view without the distractions of company.
Having tasted a few solo dining experiences, your perspective shifts over time, as your fear turns to curiosity. No longer paralysed by possible external judgement, you begin to observe. You notice how self-absorbed people are, too concerned about themselves to be looking at you. Just like you were the first time you ventured to dine alone.
If you want to try solo dining for yourself, pretty much any restaurant will do. But certain dining styles and establishments help to ease you into things less awkwardly and uncomfortably.
Eat at the bar
Bar counters are one great way to ease into your solo dining experience. Start with a cocktail and a smile, order some sliders, charcuterie or tapas. As you get used to the environment, you’ll be more adventurous in how much you order, and how much time you spend.
With the success of teppanyaki-style layouts, more restaurants are also incorporating countertop style dining experiences. At places like Burnt Ends in Singapore, you enjoy a full meal prepared in front of you.
This seating style also makes it less awkward than sitting at a table by yourself. There’s nothing wrong with keeping to yourself at a bar counter. But, if you do feel up to conversation, converse with the people around you if you like. Dining solo invokes a sense of control that we sometimes forget we have.
We spend countless hours at a Starbucks or cafe chain slogging away at projects and research on laptops. It’s a sight we’re all familiar with, but library cafes encourage you to cast your gaze on relaxing.
The art of reading is disappearing, as our time and attention spans are gradually snatched from our control. Library cafes offer you relative peace, ambience and a wealth of literature, to accompany you during your meal. Some even have cats, like the beloved Apropo in Belgrade.
This style is also appropriate for solo dining, where customers watch the chef prepare omakase courses before their eyes. The main attraction here is the food, so don’t worry about making conversation, or even having to. Let the food do the talking.
Chances are, you’ll be in the presence of solo diners as well, so you can enjoy your meal in reassurance. Osaka’s Takano and Yoshino Restaurants are excellent establishments for a casual yet luxurious meal, while Iroha and Momen Restaurants are more expensive and exclusive. But you can find such restaurants in most global cities. It just takes a little searching.
The solo booth
Ichiran Ramen, the Japanese chain that is finding its way across the globe, is an iconic example of this dining experience. Without waiters to take your order, no words need to be uttered. Within a flavour concentration booth (a term coined by Ichiran), a steaming bowl of tonkotsu ramen emerges from behind the small curtains. No distractions here, you can give your undivided attention to a good meal.
Shedding its unfavourable, even stigmatised perception, solo dining is becoming an exciting activity. It offers a different way to enjoy the ritual of gastronomy. It’s about being alone rather than being lonely. And that can be an invaluable pleasure of itself. From picking a restaurant to ordering what you want without worry, treat yourself and discover the delights of the solo culinary experience.