As I write this, there’s a palpable flutter of excitement in me. I’m expecting a delivery. Of dinner plates. A pair of white ceramic ones, with a slightly raised design around their round edges. And a pair of curly-green-leaves-splashed-on-distressed-ivory ones, with uneven edges. In my mind’s eye, I am trying to visualise myself sitting at the dining table — by myself, or maybe with a special someone or an accidental tourist across me — and tucking into a breakfast omelette, with crisp, buttered toast on the side (both sets of plates are large enough to accommodate mains and sides). Maybe the normally commonplace eggs-and-bread will take on a life of their own when they’re laid to rest on my new plates. Then, I imagined having a sit-down dinner, and even if I’m only serving biryani and a half-baked salad, no one will dare complain about the measliness of the meal when it’s being served on a platter that’s big on aesthetics.
These days, I’m obsessed with plates. It probably started when there was a dinner discussion on how terribly important plates have become — and how judgements are drawn when the host (or hostess) serves you supper, or dinner, on dour-faced crockery. “It shows a lack of effort,” one person whose opinion matters a great deal to me pointed out.
I think I’ve come a long way from the time when I first moved to Dubai, and I’d walked across to a supermarket, where everything seemed super cheap (mugs for Dh2.50, quarter plates for Dh3 etc.) to stock up on plates. It was a deliberate decision — this wanting to settle for supermarket tableware instead of visiting a proper ‘home store’ — because I was determined to not waste money on plates… what’s their purpose anyway, they are meant to be eaten out of — so, as long as the food is good, nothing else should matter.
I remember buying three monotone melamine dinner plates. And I still remember the colours: a ghastly green, a nice-ish dark blue, and a weird blue (I think it’s called ‘police strobe’). “Why are you buying three?” my friend who was accompanying me asked. “You only need one.”
“No, I want to buy three — just in case I need a pop of variety in my life,” I philosophised. Those three plates — each for Dh7 — served me well for the next decade (I bought more plates later — mostly mindlessly, not really caring about look or feel — but those three remained my mainstay). Once, I kept the dark blue one on the stove by mistake, and it sustained a burn on one side, but I couldn’t be bothered.
After the aforementioned dinner banter, however, I’ve started believing in the efficacy of the statement: that your plates show you up for who you are.
The other piece of gem I picked up is that it’s uncool these days to stick to the protocol of sameness when laying out plates. Unless it’s a formal, stuffy dinner, the way forward is for a plethora of options in the looks department of plates. Let people pick up whatever they like best. Apparently, it works to get the best out of them. If you are a messy eater, you will gravitate towards intricately-designed ones where the debris on your plate will get camouflaged. If you are a clean eater, you are likely to be drawn towards neat lines with minimal distractions. And so on.
Who’d have guessed plates on your table can occupy so much mindspace?
My house in the wintry fantasy republic, made of potato MDF and covered in perfumed mash potato veneer, would be home to a canvas print of Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters
...that spooked an American family who moved to the suburbs from the city — into their ‘dream home’