Aka: Grope a Spoon; Clutch a Fork
By  Jody Hanson

“Is it really true,” asked Julia (her English name) that you paid to eat in the dark?”

“Yes, Dine in the Dark is a restaurant over on Street 19.” I assured her.

Nick – whose Khmer name is Bun Nit – broke into smiles, “See, auntie, I told you it was true.” He turned to me, “Nobody in my family would believe that I went there with you and Grant and Jane. They didn’t think anyone would pay that much to eat without light because it is a little bit expensive.”

Blind dining is a challenge for the sighted and promotes empathy with the visually impaired. My friend Jeannie – who was 62 at the time and whom I’ve known since I was four – went blind within a year when her optical nerve degenerated. I figured eating in the dark would help me better understand her reality.

Downstairs you deposit your phone, watch, and anything else that might generate light into a locked box. Then you order your meal. There are three options – Khmer, western, or vegetarian – and all the three course meals are $18.

As Nick pointed out, it is expensive by local standards in Phnom Penh where the wages for workers runs at about $100 a month. You don’t know what you are going to be eating until after the meal when they show you photos on a tablet. Don’t worry, there isn’t anything scary like fried tarantulas, steamed pig guts, or sautéed insects.

We lined up hand-on-shoulder to hand-on-shoulder behind Joe, our waiter and food guide for the evening. Up the stairs and to the right. When the heavy black curtain swung closed behind us, our world turned pitch-black.

Joe led us to the table and we felt around to find the chairs. Once settled in, we did a reconnaissance mission to locate the glasses, napkins and cutlery. “There is a wine glass and one for water,” instructed Joe, whom we later learned had gone blind from adult chickenpox.

I groped the spoon in my right hand and clutched the fork in the left, Khmer style. The salad was amazing and I swore it was green mango. Wrong, as I later learned, milk fruit.

The main course, of course, was chicken, it had to be. That guess only got a 50 percent mark as there were two piles: one was chicken and rice, the other beef and rice. I was proud that I’d managed to negotiate most of the food into my mouth.

Then dessert arrived. It was a fruit concoction with sauce that I managed to get all over my fingers. I licked them clean as nobody could see me anyway.

Pioneered by a Zurich restaurateur in 1999, blind dining is taking off. The Dans le Noir chain now has restaurants in London, Paris, St Petersburg, Barcelona, St Petersburg, and New York. So check them out if they are closer to home.

My summary is that Dine in the Dark is an insightful place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

How to get there: Dine in the Dark is upstairs inside the Botanic Cafe at #126, Street 19 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The restaurant is open daily from 18:00 to 22:30. Reservations are advised and can be made at 077-589-458. Get ready for an experience.

Jody Hanson is an insufferable travel junkie who has visit 107 countries – 67 on her own – lived in nine and holds passports in three. She has visited all the countries in North, Central and South America except for Venezuela, Guyana, Surname and French Guinea. She wrote this article on behalf of Tucan Travel who offer adventure travel to Cambodia and all over Southeast Asia.

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