The Comfort of Restaurants 

Posted Monday, 08 November 2021

I saw a comic strip once when I was younger, where someone said a sweater is something you wear when your mother is cold. I found it odd then, but now I understand. People want to trust in their mothers. So much of what my kids perceive has been shaped by me. This means even when I act foolish, they find some way to believe I am justified in my inane behaviour.

My children are teenagers now. One turned 18 this year, which means she is a legal adult. They are not just little beings who trail after me everywhere, who see me in a nightgown, gasp, and say, “My, what a beautiful dress,” which is something that actually happened. 

Now they say things like, “Why did you put on your nightie and your night cream? Don’t you know it’s 10:00 a.m.?” That is also a true story, unfortunately, and illustrates what happens when you make the mistake of not beating your kids and encouraging them to ask difficult questions.

Our family spent the summer of 2021 in the English countryside. I enjoyed walking to the market and picking out tender cuts of meat and vegetables. For convenience, I cooked quick, uninspired, western-style meals, like roasted vegetables and grilled meats seasoned with salt and pepper. I even began making two-minute instant microwave rice, and with enough butter and salt, my children found it edible.

The complaints began innocently enough. At dinner one night, my eldest said, “We should go to an Indian restaurant.”

“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” I replied. “And we eat Indian food every day at home. Don’t you want something else?”

The next day, my daughter told me that she had found a nearby Indian restaurant. “They deliver,” she said. “They’ve gotten a lot of awards, too.”

“That sounds great,” I said, knowing that if I responded with encouragement, she would expect me to formulate and execute a plan to fulfil her wishes, a plan I had no intention of pursuing, a plan she would soon forget.

Then my middle kid started to make similar demands. “There’s a Nigerian restaurant in London,” she said. “Can we go? It’s two hours away, and I will die without rice and stew.” This other daughter is mistrustful and relentless, so vague promises would not sit well with her. 

“There is no way we’re traveling for two hours,” I told her. “We were in Lagos stuffing ourselves a few weeks ago. You can’t be craving it that much.” 

If I had proposed we cook Indian or Nigerian food in our summer rental, they would have smiled politely and told me not to bother. There is something restaurants provide that their mama, no matter how hard she tries, cannot replicate.

So, all summer my children ate no food from their motherland or fatherland. I didn’t think much of it because I wasn’t longing for those cuisines. I was foolish enough to think my kids couldn’t be cold if their mother didn’t need a sweater. 

My teenage kids were trying to tell me that they are no longer little satellites that orbit me, but their very own planets with their own gravitational pulls. For them, the world is bigger than their mama. They can make a home anywhere they find themselves, whether I am nearby or far away, as they are meant to do. How is it any wonder that in the impermanence of a summer in a random spot in England during a pandemic, they sought comfort in the food of their family? 

When we are somewhere new, restaurants bring us warmth, love and familiarity. That’s one of the many gifts that restaurants give. So, this month, do try some family favourites, as well as some varied cuisines. It’s MasterCard Restaurant Week, once again, and our Lagos businesses are out there with beautifully curated menus, awaiting you.

Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She just wrote her final dissertation for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.


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