“Do you think you will able to dine out on this experience with your friends in Brisbane?” I asked Jane who was visiting from Australia. She sat next to me, but I couldn’t see her as the room was pitch black, of the “can’t see your hand in front of your face” variety.
“Absolutely,” she replied.
Dine in the Dark is an innovative restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that creates the experience of what it is like to eat a meal as a blind person. Phones, watches and any other things that might produce light have to be surrendered into a locked box in the lobby. The meal choices are western, Khmer and vegetarian. Grant, Jane and I ordered Khmer. Nick – who is Khmer – opted for western. Then Joe, our waiter/guide, introduced himself. We later learned he went blind three years ago from chicken pox.
The manager had me put my hand on Joe’s shoulder and the others lined up behind me. No problem slowly making our way up the stairs behind Joe. Then we went through a heavy curtain. As it draped closed behind us we were in total darkness. My initial reaction was a touch of claustrophobia, but a few steps into the room the feeling subsided.
Joe escorted us to our table. “Sit down here,” he instructed me. I grouped around and couldn’t figure it out. Was it a bar stool I was feeling? No, it was the back of the chair. Once seated I felt around the table. A napkin with a spoon and knife on the right. The fork was to the left. “There is a water glass and one for wine,” Joe commented as he filled them both.
“There are actually two small tables put together,” I announced, pleased I was becoming more comfortable with the environment. “That makes sense as that way they can arrange them for different sized groups.”
Grant suggested we clink glasses in the middle of the table for cheers. Jane was a touch apprehensive at first, but Nick and I managed to connect. There is something about a toast that gives you a sense of accomplishment.
The first of the three courses of the set $18 menu arrived. Another part of the experience is that you don’t know what you are eating until the end of the meal when they show the photos on a tablet. Great salad. I insisted it was mango, as it is popular in the Kingdom of Wonder, as Cambodia is known. Wrong. It was actually milk fruit. Surprisingly I managed it without dropping it all over myself, Khmer style with a spoon and fork.
Next up was the main course. “Chicken, it has to be chicken.” That guess only got a mark of 50 percent as it was actually a small serving of chicken on rice and another one of beef on rice.
“It is interesting,” commented Grant, a retired doctor, “that it is totally dark, but I still see little flecks of white floating around.” The rest of us murmured out agreement. No point in nodding as nobody could see anyway.
Dessert was a bowl of fruit. “There is also more food on the plate,” said Grant. As I felt around I managed to get my fingers covered in syrup. I licked them as I couldn’t think of anything else to do, although I suppose I could have stuck them in my water glass.
Meal over we lined up behind Joe and were escorted us back into the world of the sighted. The sojourn into the world of the blind was an interesting experience, but you wouldn’t want to live there.