Sharing is not caring: Just say no to small plates

“We don’t share,” my friend Ali said. Our server’s eyebrows arched into tight half moons as she surveyed the five of us seated around the communal table at the hot, tapas-style seafood restaurant. She glanced back at Ali as though she was waiting for the punch line, for Ali to laugh and say, “Gotcha! Bring us five forks and one of everything, please!” But she said nothing, her face poised in a hardened expression. A few uncomfortable beats later, our server tried again.

“We recommend sharing because of the timing. Since the dishes are small plates they will come out at different times from the kitchen.” But Ali held strong.

“We’re all good friends and we don’t need to be polite anymore,” she explained with a firm smile. “We don’t like sharing.”

I gulped, waiting for our poor server to lose her decorum, for her face to contort into a horrified scream like Janet Leigh in the shower scene in PSYCHO. I imagined her back in the kitchen, announcing to the chefs, busboys and all who would listen, “They aren’t sharing! They refuse to share their small plates!” But instead she nodded and dutifully took down our order, not even pausing to protest when four of us each ordered the seared scallops for part of our own, independent meals.

“She hates us,” I hissed to my girl friends when she’d gone, feeling momentarily guilty for terrorizing the poor woman with our unusual request. The guilt lasted only a second – despite my seemingly liberal attitude towards sharing when in mixed company, I hate splitting small plates. I hate the anxiety I feel whenever a dish arrives at the table with no direct owner. “Who’s going to reach for it first?” I think, barely able to restrain myself from shoveling the bite-sized contents into my mouth before anyone else can stake their claim. Or even worse, if the server sets the plate on the other side of the table; my stomach practically winds itself into knots as the dish slowly makes its rounds, each person scooping up a tablespoon-sized portion until it gets to my hungry hands.

I hate pretending that I enjoy tasting a single bite of ten different plates that have already been demolished by other people’s forks and their saliva. I want to have the two or three plates I actually want all to myself.

When the servers began bringing out our non-shared dishes that night, I could scarcely believe it was actually happening – that we were actually going to eat our own food. It was like we were breaking some kind sacred small plates rule. I kept waiting for someone to declare partial ownership of my tuna poke or to ask for a bite of my fried oyster slider with kimchi. But nobody said anything. They attended to their tuna poke, dove into their dish of scallops, dripped saliva into their shrimp bruschetta. And instead of talking about the food – about who hadn’t had an oyster yet and whether it was permissible to take another teaspoon of the lobster mac and cheese – we enjoyed each other’s company. We experienced the very essence of communal dining without having to endure mind-numbing hunger. At the end of the night, we went home with ribs sore from laughing and stomachs full from eating exactly what we wanted, without rationing out spoonfuls. We shared ourselves – not our communicable diseases.

Photo from The Glorified Tomato