Dining Out During the Pandemic

For the first month or two of the pandemic we had nothing but food from home. Restaurants were open for take-out and delivery but even then we thought it best to stay home. I struggled with this idea. On the one hand I hated the idea that I got to sit at home and work, safe and sound in my home while cooks, cashiers, grocery store staff and delivery people took care of my food needs, possibly at great personal risk. How was that fair? On the other hand, if I don’t support local restaurants, those same people may lose their jobs and livelihoods.

In the end we started eating take-out occasionally, ordering online or by phone and dashing out to pick it up. We did this much less than we did before the pandemic, though. We might have dinner out several days a week a year ago, now it’s probably around 1-2 times per month.

A side effect of this has been that our family’s appetite for delicious food from around the world hasn’t changed so we’re cooking more at home. Of course there’s been lots of Indian food:

I cook a bit of Chinese food as well. This is a Sichuan dish called Ma Po Tofu – a spicy tofu dish with ground meat and also flavoured with Sichuan Pepper which gives a numbing sensation that layers on top of the heat from the chillies. I saw this plant growing when I was near Ganpatipule in Maharashtra in 2018. There it is called Teppal or Tirphal in Marathi and in Hindi it’s apparently known as Mulliam or Tilfda. It’s one of my favourites.

A couple of days ago I was craving Ethiopian food so I rode my bike to an Ethiopian market and picked up some berbere spice. Last night I made a spicy chicken stew called Doro Wat. It’s seasoned with lots of berbere. Ethiopian food has a very unique flavour. This dish was amazing – incredibly flavourful, spicy and super rich.

The recipe (you can find it here) starts with heating lots of ghee (and in this case olive oil also) and then adding onions, cooking them slowly for 45 minutes and then adding ginger/garlic paste and butter then after cooking even longer, adding the berbere and cooking even longer. Interesting to see just how similar the ingredients are to Indian masalas – Coriander Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Green Cardamom Seeds, Dried Red Chili Peppers, Whole Allspice Berries, Whole Cloves, Fenugreek Seeds, and Black Peppercorns – and yet it tastes so different from any food I’ve had from any state. After adding chicken broth, white wine and honey it gets cooked until the chicken pieces are extremely tender. It gets served with bread or injera – a flatbread made from fermented dough. In some ways it makes me think of the softness of roti (but thicker) but with the fermentation used in dosa. I can buy injera at the store but this dish, to me, is better with bread – and this homemade version was so delicious and rich. I’ll definitely be making it again.

This culinary cross-pollination fascinates me. In just a little bit of reading I learned how trade routes and politics affected what spices arrived in which countries when. And then, once they’ve arrived it’s amazing to see what’s done with them and how they’re integrated in to the culture. Just looking at cumin alone is crazy. In Indian food it is used one way, often with whole seeds to add a delicious element to curries and other dishes. In Western China it’s used to season lamb skewers and other meats. In Mexican food the proportions are different. For example, often I see cumin/coriander used in Indian food on a ratio of 1:3. In my Mexican refried beans dish, though, it’s used in a ratio of 3:1 and that changes the flavour profile entirely. And of course when it is in Ethiopian food it tastes totally different.

It’s one thing to explore other cuisines in a restaurant or if one’s lucky, by actually traveling. But to explore them from within the kitchen, and the history books adds a whole new dimension. Whatever happens related to the pandemic, I think I’ll be doing much more cooking at home.

14 thoughts on “Dining Out During the Pandemic

  1. I am in awe, Todd. Your culinary knowledge is remarkable.
    The veg thali and pav bhaji looks fantastic. The way you use tirphal is unbelievable. Most of my Indian friends who are not from western Maharashtra didn’t know about tirphal as they do no tuse it.

    1. Thanks! I’ve only used tirphal in Chinese cooking, though. I think I’ll have to try some recipes where it is used in Indian cooking. It’s funny that the food that my son and I loved best in all of India was had near Ratnagiri and yet I’ve never tried to make anything from there.

      I’m curious to know if any other cuisines use it. It’s a really interesting spice!

  2. Hello Todd, was chicken the only meat you added. Indian food are unique and different this dish looks so amazing. When thinking of Indian dishes naan bread is my baby and of course goat curry. Todd please continue to post your pictures they are great.

    1. In this case it was only chicken in the doro wat. I’ve been told you can make it with beef as well. I also love naan – one of these days I will try to make that too. I’ve made chapati, though. And goat and lamb curries are a favourite of mine – and my son’s as well.

  3. I love that you have an International table!
    And that you cook some of it yourself! I am mighty impressed. If we want Indian, it is usually take out for us.

    We, too, struggled with whether we wanted to support take out in this season. Like you, we decided that we wanted to support our favourite restaurants so we set up a rota to give them some custom.

    1. In the end we settled on doing it less frequently but still doing it – but not by delivery. I know delivery people still need support but we wanted to minimize that and so we walk or I will bike to get takeout. Now things are slowly opening so I have been out for a couple of meals and have my first business meal scheduled for two weeks from now even. Fingers crossed things continue to improve. Hope you and yours are safe and happy.

      1. My husband doesn’t trust food delivery – so we order on the phone or online & then pick up ourselves.

        Dining out is permitted now with safe distancing in Singapore – we have chosen to eat at home still as we are cautious due to immuno-compromised family members.

        But we are coping well and mostly happily going about what we need to do.

        Good week ahead!

      2. While I trust the delivery I also feel like limiting the number of people risking exposure to bring me my dinner is a good idea so like you guys I do pickup.

        I did go out a couple of nights ago for dinner with a friend. It was nice – we were the only people in the restaurant and most of the time staff weren’t even in the room. It seemed relatively safe.

        On the other hand, I went for a bike ride the other night in a part of the city with lots of 20-something people and that was totally different. People were not wearing masks, not socially distancing. Bars were open, patios were packed. They are talking about a potential second wave worse than the first – I’m hoping there isn’t but if there is, that is likely part of how it could start…

      3. There is such a stark difference in behaviour depending where you go – I guess the challenge is to identify the less frequented places where people behave more responsibly.

        Be safe and well.

    1. It truly is. And I’m getting more fussy as well. A year ago I loved the convenience of a restaurant. Now I’m finding the quality of homemade food more attractive.

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