Thursday, June 01, 2006

All you can eat, too good to be true

Do you ever suffer from diner’s remorse? Yorkie Pittstop contemplates where he might be going wrong at the buffet

Buffets are a strange animal. People sidle up to me and whisper “the buffet at [such and such] a restaurant is the bees and knees”… and then tap their nose, as if I am now the proud owner of some kind of secret weapon, or as if up until that moment I hadn't been living life to the full. So I go, and I eat, and I eat, and I eat, and I eat until I can eat no more. And after I throw in the face towel and admit defeat, I feel absolutely terrible.

It’s hardly the healthiest of concepts, I mean, running around shoving as much raw fish, hot meat and alcohol into your stomach over a two-hour period. It sounds like an endurance contest you might see on Japanese TV. Of which, the winner is the last one to vomit.

But that’s what buffets seem to be like, at least to me. Though I’m sure the accountants of hotels and restaurants see nothing but healthy profits, despite that the fact that’s it’s created to seem like absolute fiscal madness – all you can eat, free flow drinks… “how could we possibly be profiting from this gargantuan generosity?”

At first it seems like some heavenly vision, a sea of food surrounds you. You feel like you’ve snuck into a royal palace banquet while the King’s away. Yet, two hours later, I invariably end up with post-binge blues. How could so much food make me feel so bad?

Perhaps you, dear reader, are smarter than I am. I know, for starters, my filling-the-plate-tactics are all wrong. I always end up with an incongruous and bizarre mix, like, sushi, blue cheese, curry slop, Parma ham, a couple of dodgy looking oysters and a prawn cocktail on the same plate.

I also rush into “unknown” dishes. In my gluttony to fill my plate with several of the hot dishes, I slap everything on, but on returning to my place at the table, I discover the chicken is suffering from severe dehydration or the beef is leathery, and am I the only who suddenly feels guilty? I can’t “not” eat it, what with that surly waitress hovering around, eyeing up the unfinished plates with a mean eye, looking like she might tell.

So scared I’ll be given the red card by the buffet manager, I eat what I don’t want to eat. (Ok, maybe that’s just me, but I suspect not.) To compound my agony, my dear partner inevitably makes several rash decisions herself over the hot plates. Her solution is to shove it all on my plate, meaning I get to eat two plates of unwanted food. Now leftovers aren’t what I paid for, are they?

There’s also the stand up sit-down conundrum, as myself and my partner eat at different speeds, it seems whenever I return she’s getting up, or vice versa. We can miss each other for a whole hour and only meet over coffee feeling sickly-full. I glance over at the mountain of desserts, which I’d eyed on my way in – muttering “all mine, all mine” – but at that stage a wafer-thin mint might very well be the death of me.

As ever when it comes to eating, large Vietnamese groups have the right tactics. Large groups mean delegation. The sons are sent to grab piles of crab and oysters, while the daughters grab plates of rice and meats, while dad hits the carvery and mum grabs the vegetables and salads. Everything is placed in the middle and everyone sits down to a convivial and civil dining experience – no rushing about and no indigestion.

I also suspect the people who most enjoy buffets are actually the sort of people who normally eat the least. Patient, relaxed, they happily graze and while away the hours, and come out feeling happily replete.

Of course, perhaps with practice (at the same buffet) I could hone my skills, and end up figuring out a system – stick to the old cuts, lamb and the desserts, take 15 plates at once and sit down for an hour – and feel like I’m coming out on top, but then again, that all takes time and (cha-ching say the accountants) money.

Wouldn’t I have been better off eating somewhere I liked all along? There is, after all, no shortage of places in Vietnam where for $12 or $15 or $18 (or less) you can eat like a king. Plus, there’s no plus-plus.

1 comment:

elliott said...

In Japan, all-you-can-and-drink deals usually cost around US$40, although you can sometimes be lucky and find one for US$30. Same rules apply though and while the grub is pretty tasty, one always walks away feeling bloated with food they didn't really want. Like going to TGI Fridays. You think you're lucky McDonalds hasn't come to Vietnam yet? You should thank your lucky stars American chain restaurants haven't crossed the ditch yet either. A single dish at those kind of joints is a buffet meal in itself – and it costs about the same! I know I'm rambling but that's just what buffets make you do...