He saw the abundance of the Old Country Buffet as a symbol of his success, proof that he had transcended his old identity as a poor immigrant.
Going to dinner on the old country buffet menu in Seattle meant a huge evening out for my father and me. By his very own admission, he’s not a very good cook. He can only prepare two dishes, both memories of his childhood in Jakarta, where his family lived before they immigrated to the United States by means of Holland: babi kecap, a garlicky pork dish simmered in ketjap medja (an Southeast Asian variation on soy sauce also referred to as kecap manis) and gado-gado, a salad of cucumber and tofu topped with peanut sauce. He never insisted i eat Indonesian food, though, only occasionally preparing babi kecap for dinner. In the end, he had arrived at America to live like an American. That meant indulging in a certain quantity of gluttony, a virtue in his mind if it got to eating.
His look at food was, yet still is, admirably uncomplicated: Protein reigns supreme, therefore healthy bodies should take in a nightly serving of protein-rich red meat or fish. He obsessed on the food groups in the dinner table. There should be three different but complementary sections of food on your own plate: a small pile of vegetables (frozen corn or Brussel sprouts, that he dumped into a bowl, and microwaved with at least three pats of butter before serving), a carbohydrate like French fries or rice, as well as a slab of meat. And nowhere was this philosophy made quite so literal than at the Old Country Buffet.
Once you walked inside the door, all you had to do was pay the host in the front counter something such as $11 to get granted an all-access pass to stations piled high with thoroughly American food: Main courses included roast beef, fish like halibut and salmon, baked chicken, pork chops, and steak in the event you got lucky. Greasy heaps of mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and green beans and corn who had a suspiciously similar texture for the bagged stuff Dad nuked at home may be available at a nearby station. The platter of hot dinner rolls, still stuck together in a neat square, had a glossy sheen. Globs of congealed sauce stuck towards the meat, dried out from hours under a heat lamp. I might only have been eight or nine at the time, but even so I suspected that this food could not often be as healthy as my father insisted it was.
We filled plastic tumblers with water or soda and sat together in a booth; there have been no waiters, but we sometimes stayed seated up until the crowds across the trays thinned a bit. While we waited, I wasn’t permitted to drink my beverage, lest I ruin my appetite. After we served ourselves, I stubbornly picked at my food in silence, upset which i had no say in where or whatever we reached eat. Growing up in American, I looked down on the is old country buffet open today as location for people in need of charity, when he saw such bountiful vcubkg at this type of affordable price as being a luxury. Though I never said it out loud, I felt like my father was forcing us to enjoy there while he was cheap, which he was intentionally depriving of us in the experiences of normal families, who ate at regular restaurants with waitresses.
In all honesty, my father could be cheap, and quite often in terms of dining out. Provided that We have been alive, they have refused to tip waiters, an insufferable trait which has occasionally called for a clandestine pursuit to an ATM so that I really could sneak the staff their due while he used the bathroom. Once, when my mother is at the ultimate trimester of her pregnancy with me, she took him to a nice restaurant. He opened the menu, then abruptly got up and left. “I couldn’t stomach spending $70 on one meal. That seemed a little extravagant,” he told me.