On the power of food


A couple of weeks ago my friends and I decided to go out for a meal. Inspired by the recent events and political changes in the region, we thought we should perhaps try Afghan cuisine as none of us had ever tried it before. Since the fall of communism hundreds of restaurants serving foreign and exotic food have opened in Prague and one can easily find delicacies from the remotest parts of the world. There are at least three Afghan restaurants in the city and we chose one in the historic centre of Prague, five minutes away from the Old Town Square. It was a cosy Oriental enclave surrounded by the Baroque and Gothic architecture of Prague.

The food we ordered was very nice but that's not the main point in this story. When we finished we started looking around at the guests. There was a large and noisy group of Czechs around a famous TV reporter. No doubt a programme about Afghanistan will be on television soon. A handful of patrons were sitting with the manager at a table near the counter. Two Muslim families were eating their dinner. And as if nothing was going on outside that restaurant - three tables were occupied by... Americans.

Maybe there is nothing extraordinary in that, why should we be surprised, we thought. Then a waiter came to us asking for more orders and we realised his foreign accent in Czech was... Russian. Also his looks gave him away - the young man beyond any doubt came from Russia. That combination of circumstances, we thought, was already worth commenting on. Members of three nations in one room, each of them waging a war - hot or cold - with another at some point in more or less distant history and now everybody munching on their food or minding their business as if nothing had ever happened.

As if the rest of the world and history and past and present animosity outside that place ceased to exist and all that mattered was food. After all, food is not to blame and accepting rather than rejecting somebody else's culture including cuisine makes everyone richer. After centuries of wars Western Europe has hopefully realised that and former age-old enemies are trying to live peacefully side by side and share the best each of Europe's countries has to add to the common pool, cuisine included. Judging from that recent experience from the Afghan restaurant, one might say food has an especially uniting power. Maybe there is more to the old saying that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach and who knows what results might be achieved if it were applied to international politics.