Friday, March 5, 2010

All You Can Eat

A "buzz" update from SMA yesterday regarding buffet meals triggered memories of a childhood spent at Old Country Buffet, whose motto is "Whadja get?" as in, "what items did you select from the gluttonous trays of food soaked in saturated fat, food colorings, and other delightfuls?"  Classy establishment, I know.  In fact, when I went home last Christmas, I found a diary entry from 1989, when I was 6 years old (you do the math).  It read:  "Dear Diary, today was a horble [sic] day.  We went to Old Country Buffet and had to stand in line.  I got really hot and wanted to take my sweater off but my mom said no and then I cried when we got to the table and my dad told me to be quiet. [drawing of an un-smiley face]"  Poor me.  I remember that sweater too.  It was very itchy.

Now, buffets in the UK are limited to cheap lunch time specials and usually avoided at all costs by anyone with any inkling of social standards.  They're also tagged with the phrase, "Eat as much as you'd like" versus the American, "All you can eat."  Again, you can make your own deductions from those two very different phrases (there's a great scene in Peep Show where Jeremy takes Toni on a date and she watches him in disgust as he wolfs down chicken wings and says, "It's eat as much as you'd like, Jeremy, not eat as much as you can."  Ha ha ha.).  But dining at buffet-style restaurants in America doesn't say much about your social class and buffets are available at most hotels, university dining halls, weddings, funerals and other fine establishments. 

I really hate them.  My opinion of buffets hasn't really changed from my unimpressed 6-year-old self's observations of a "horble" place where you have to stand in line and wait for ages to be seated, then pig out on piles of disgusting, synthetically flavored sustenance that tries to pass itself off as "food."  My parents are big fans of the buffet, however.  Every time I go home, my mom tries to suggest Asian Gardens buffet as a dinner location.  Her love of the buffet actually extends to using it as an analogy for child-rearing:  "I think of your upbringing as a buffet," she told me this morning on Skype as I was getting ready for work.  "I gave you and your brother alllllll the opportunities I possibly could and let you choose and try whatever you liked:  ballet, symphony, art classes, piano, etc. You tried as many dishes as you wanted, but your brother ate one plate and said he was full!"  This was then followed by a heavy sigh (as imagined, since she was typing, not speaking). 

I hate, hate, Asian Gardens.  It's not even Chinese food.  I don't know why my parents insist that it is.  "Jaime, the chow mein is actually not bad," my dad countered, when I argued with him about the nature of this "restuarant".  "Dad, just because the owner speaks Cantonese doesn't mean it's good.  It's GROSS."  My parents eat methodically, both piling their plates high with peelable prawns and dungeoness crab legs.  Crack, crack (and the occasional squirt of crab juice in my direction - disgusting, right?), dip into the soy sauce, eat.  I watch, mesmerized and completely disgusted until a plump piece of crab flesh bounces on my plate, coated in soy sauce. "Eat it," my mother commands, jabbing her finger at my plate.  "No," I whine.  "I don't want it," I say, while simultaneously putting it in my mouth as I know she'll force feed it to me if necessary.  At the end of evening, I've finished two plates.  "Two?" my mother asks in a disapproving tone.  "I spent $13.95 on you for TWO plates?"  I get up and reluctantly make an ice-cream cone from the soft-serve machine.  "I want a swirl," my mom says when I return.  "A what?" I ask.  "You know, a swirl cone," she says impatiently. "You mean chocolate and vanilla?" I ask.  "What-EVER!  SWIRL!  Two flavors together!" she responds.  I dutifully rise from my seat and dodge children on my way to the soft-serve machine again.

I've never seen anything like Asian Gardens or Old Country Buffet in England and I'm not even sure they exist.  But I think the country is better off because of this.

Photo source


  1. Believe it or not, I used to work at Old Country Buffet back in VA! Both my sister and me. I was always mad b/c my sister got to be one of the 'cool' waiters. Her job was to bring customers their drinks, as every thing else was taken care of! You know she got tips for that! I was a LINE SERVER. I had to keep the buffet full, handle the hot pans, and refill the salad bar by scooping salad leaves out of a big trash bin full of water.

  2. That is so funny, Lauren. We have like, parallel lives - what, with your NYC toilet, OCB, etc. I'm gonna ask you for more OCB stories next time I see you.

  3. I remember when I was in the UK there were lines out the doors of every Pizza Hut lunch buffet... not sure if the queues were filled with American tourists after the only food they knew, but I always thought, "Really? It's Pizza Hut. Gross." I then proceeded into the closest chip joint to stuff my face with fish and chips. :-/


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