I hate Chinese buffets for several reasons:
- The food is not really Chinese;
- Most of the food is cold;
- The food tastes Nasty;
- A ton of food is thrown away;
- They are expensive, in order to make up for all the thrown away food.
This past weekend my family traveled a few hours out of town to visit some extended family. Upon arriving, it is customary for the entire family to go out to a restaurant to eat dinner. All in all there were eight adults and five children this time around and to be honest, it makes things a lot easier for a group this size to eat at a buffet. No time needs to be spent with menus and no time wasted to start eating either – just get up and load up.
And you know what? I’m normally pretty excited when I see the array of food I’m about to indulge in. I mean, out of the 75 or so selections, I’m bound to find a couple that I like. Right? Right??? Well, disappointingly, no. Let me work through my list above real quick.
First of all, if these restaurants actually served authentic Chinese cuisine, no one would come. Oyster sauces, black bean sauces, bird’s nest soup (replete with excrement), carp, shark fin, squirrel, and chicken feet are just a few of the things that American’s just don’t have an appetite for. I know, I know – I am exaggerating here a bit, and China offers many types of cuisine based on the region. One thing is for sure, however: you won’t find General Joe’s chicken on the streets of China.
Second, since the food is served buffet-style, none of the food is fresh (made to order) and must be kept hot on the steam tables. However, the steam tables usually don’t seem to work as well as they should. Nevertheless, the steam sure burns my hands as I use the tongs to fumble a crab rangoon onto my plate (hmm, no crab, but plenty of cream cheese), and the fried wonton is soggy from the steam and lukewarm. Same goes for everything else on the buffet line. My daughter must be on to something by sticking to the iced-down peel and eat shrimp.
Thirdly, the food is Nasty (with a capital N). On this particular trip I had Pepper Steak, a Spring Roll, a Crab Rangoon, Skewered Shrimp, Butterflied Shrimp (with some kind of nasty filling), General Joe’s chicken, Hibachi Chicken, BBQ chicken, Pork Potstickers, Sweet and Spicy chicken, some other kind of chicken, Fried Squid, Squid in vinaigrette, Chinese donuts, and vanilla pudding. I probably had a few other things I just can’t recall (or trying to suppress). About 15 items in all.
How did I fit all of this, you might ask? Well, I’ve done this enough times to know better than to load up, even on things that I think I might like. I serve myself about 2-3 bites worth of everything I’d like to try and then go back for seconds on what I actually like. Needless to say, the only thing I went back for were the donuts (mmmm, donuts). Again, all of the food was lukewarm. The meats were breaded and deep fried, which leads to a soggy exterior after sitting on the steam table for even a couple of minutes. In addition, it is drowned with a syrupy sauce that reminds me more of the KFC honey popcorn chicken that gets stuck in my teeth. The cooked shrimp were dry and the squid was like chewing on a rubber band. I found everything inedible. Not surprisingly, the same can be said for pretty much every Chinese buffet I have been to except for one that included more flavorful and authentic Vietnamese, Thai, and Phillipino cuisines. I couldn’t stomach a thing here, however. And from the looks of the plates stacking up in the middle of the table, neither could my companions.
Which leads to my fourth point, that the amount of food thrown away at these buffets by the diners is incomprehensible. Most people load up the plates, and end up leaving a lot uneaten. I leave much less because I serve much less. It is borderline sinful to see so much waste (kind of like not eating your pizza crust at a pizza buffet, but I’ll get on your case about that in a future post). As for the food on the steam tables that does not get eaten, I’ve always wondered if it gets re-served the next day.
Lastly, to be profitable in a business with so much waste, you have to charge more. Average cost of a Chinese buffet in San Antonio is about $8-$10, not counting the drink or tip. For my family of five with drinks and tip, I’ll drop at least $40. For that price I can go to a much better restaurant and not feel like I’ve just been ripped off.
For those of you that actually enjoy these buffets, you must be going for the crab legs. Eat to your heart’s content. For the rest of you, however, if I could just poke you with a chopstick for a moment: please serve yourself less so that when you gag on the Mu Shu Pork, you don’t throw away what could feed the entire Chinese army.