The buffet. It is a relic of the past that reeks of Old Spice splash-on cologne and Paco Robanne musk. A fixture in my family calendar, usually weekends, when my father would take us to grand halls adorned with majestic chandeliers, mirrored walls, and fine Persian or oriental rugs. It was, in my family, the ultimate symbol of dining in style.
Smorgasbord. That was what we used to call it, even though the food items weren't Scandinavian. They were mostly Chinese food. Bird's-nest soup with quail eggs, house special fried rice, fried whole chicken, sweet and sour fish, beef with broccoli, steamed fish, braised beef, cold-cuts of meat, stir-fried noodles and lots more. The point was to to consume as much as you can without looking like a monster. Gorge in style.
I grew up on this and it's the exact reason why, even though all-you-can-eat places aren't my thing anymore, the occasional pull of stuffing your face until it explodes surfaces and tugs my sentimental heart. So this weekend, to satisfy my craving, we went to an-all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ in New Jersey.
It is really fascinating to observe human behavior in a buffet. I am as addicted to watching these peculiarly human quirks as I am to their unlimited sirloin.
The moment you come in, you can immediately feel the receptionists sizing-you up. They will look into your eyes, smile, but then throw side glances at your belly, hips, and thighs to check for potential threats to their supplies. Vegans aren't spared since they can endanger their tofu reservoir as well. So yes, you get screened the moment you enter.
"How much beef can this mid-sized girl eat?"
"Hmm, this man looks like he can swallow a whole goat!"
"Wait, I have a feeling this kid can wipe out our entire supply of steamed rice."
"She looks like she can make fried chicken extinct."
"This man will put us out of business."
These are just a few of the many thoughts that probably run through their heads. And based on these fears and worries, they will implement their shrewd strategies.
At the beginning of the meal, when you all head over to the raw or cooked food bar to get your first batch of items either to cook or eat, their servers are in best form. They anticipate your needs for beverages, sauces, refills, etc. They provide exceptional service.
But by your 11th trip to the food bar, they are often absent, inattentive, disengaged. You see the law of diminishing returns in full force.
And this was the case last Sunday. Our group meant business. We were determined to put a dent to their supplies of short ribs, skirt steak, and Kimchi. And the restaurant knew first hand the moment we showed up.
"This is trouble," they must have thought.
This is also perhaps why we were seated at a section where the overhead lamps had what looked like police car sirens. I thought they would raise the alarm and probably call 911 when they see that their food bar is about to flip over. This is also why they told us that they established a new rule for diners. Now, they have a time limit. 80 minutes to eat all you can.
We took that as a challenge.
Disappearing servers, a time limit, an emergency siren, dagger looks from the proprietors, we had our work cut out for us. But proceeded and endured, we did. It was a battle of wills never-before seen in this particular buffet. One side was determined to put an end to our meal while another wanted to eat everything on display.
Then they started their salt & water tactic, which was like their last stand. It's the buffet version of the Battle of Thermopylae. Essentially, by our 15th round, they began serving us with special salty sauces and jugs and jugs of water. Their hope was for us to get dehydrated from the salt and start chugging lots of H2O to fill our stomachs quickly.
It worked. By our 22nd round of grilling, we were stuffed. I couldn't even move my toes. So we waived the flag of surrender and asked for the check. It was a battle that I thought we were winning until they surprised us with the water tactic. Did we inflict enough damage to their stockpile? We were all full but mostly with water so we have no information on how much we actually consumed but in a fierce conflict like this, who knows? Perhaps these things are best left with historians to decide.