I’d heard of the concept of dining in the dark before, but had never experienced it. So when we found one in Phnom Penh, discovered that the menu was designed by a Michelin-starred chef, and confirmed that they had a table available that night, we were all set.
We arrived to find a seating area dimly lit with blue and purple lights. We were offered a choice of three set menus – international, local and chef’s selection. We chose the Chef’s Selection but we had no idea what would be served – part of the fun would be trying to figure it out before seeing pictures of our meal at the end of the experience.
Our waitress, a blind lady, came to usher us to our table, telling us to call her ‘Honey’. We formed a line, hands on the shoulders of the one in front, and with Honey leading, climbed up the steep stairs that seem to grace every establishment in Cambodia, went through two heavy curtains, and found ourselves in pitch blackness.
The darkness was oppressive. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic. Sitting across from each other, we held hands in the dark and tried to guess how many other diners were in the restaurant.
Finally, the food arrived, taking my mind off the darkness. Cautiously exploring with my fork and spoon, I managed to spear a cherry tomato, some spinach and cheese, some bacon. The food was delicious, made even more so, perhaps, because I had to rely more on my sense of smell and taste rather than sight.
By the end of the meal, I was reasonably sure that I’d cleaned the plates for all three of my courses. I wonder how much food gets left behind simply because it can’t be seen? Honey led us back downstairs, and the relief at seeing some light again was palpable. It was only then that I realised why they used dim purple and blue lighting – to give diners’ eyes some time to adjust!
We did an inventory – we each had a few small blotches on our shirts where we’d inadvertently dropped some food without even knowing it. Make sure you wear something dark!
We were shown pictures of our three courses. We’d managed to guess all the foods we’d eaten, but were surprised that what we thought was beef was actually duck breast. After collecting our mobile phones (these are locked up and stored safely while you eat), we ventured forth into the street, feeling grateful for our sight.
Dining in the Dark, Cambodia, is a social enterprise that hires students and graduates of the Krousar Thmey School for the deaf and blind.
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Freelance writer moonlighting as a management consultant. Lived in five countries; worked in ten. Love to travel and am a bit of a foodie.