Blog 3: Material Culture and the Restaurant – Peter Bowen 113302456

The modern idea of the restaurant was supposedly first invented in Paris in the mid-Eighteenth century. Indian restaurants in the UK, for example, have been present ever since the colonisation of India. It now exists as a cornerstone of commerce in the city, a space where people can experience both local and foreign cuisine on a whim. The restaurant is simultaneously a tool of convenience, a social space and a cultural melting pot. Ethnic restaurants can often behave as a sort of portal to another part of the globe, one expects a Chinese restaurant to possess the corresponding theme, to give the patron an atmosphere that helps escape the city around them. Similarly, an Irish pub in Australia would be expected to resemble the local back home.

The restaurant has always been a cultural frontier, where new and exotic flavours are brought within reach, allowing the most rooted people to travel afar, even if it is just a drunk buying a kebab. The restaurant increasingly manages to shrink the world, the need to travel to experience iconic tastes has diminished since their inception. The restaurant has become an embassy of taste.

Even when a restaurant possesses no clear cultural affinity to one place, the decorations will include photos, paintings or ornaments of different locations, or different times. Some have generic photos of a sunny shore somewhere, or a photo of the building back on the date of its grand opening. In a sense, restaurants have always striven towards geographically or temporally distancing themselves from the street outside their door. Below are three examples of cultural icons from different nations, all sat outside a hilltop restaurant in the city of Austin, where despite only having a brief visit, I was compelled to photograph the pieces present.

Description: A bird-of-prey statue of unknown Oriental origin, assumed Chinese. (No plaque nor translation present). Location: Oasis, Austin TX. Date: October 2013. Source: Personal album.

Description: A bird-of-prey statue. Unknown origin, assumed Chinese. (No plaque nor translation present).
Location: Oasis restaurant, Austin TX.
Date: 29th of October 2013.
Source: Personal album.

Description: Statues depicting the Japanese maxim 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.' Location: Oasis, Austin TX. Date: October 2013. Source: Personal album.

Description: Statues depicting the Japanese maxim ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.’
Location: Oasis restaurant, Austin TX.
Date: 29th of October 2013.
Source: Personal album.

Description: Bas-relief of medieval knights sallying forth. Unknown origin. Location: Oasis, Austin TX. Date: October 2013. Source: Personal album.

Description: Bas-relief of medieval knights sallying forth. Unknown origin.
Location: Oasis restaurant, Austin TX.
Date: 29th of October 2013.
Source: Personal album.

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