I make no secret of my love of Chinese buffets.  While in the hinterlands of Wyoming in January, not a week passed that I didn’t want to go into the Dragon Wall restaurant, next door to the Albertsons in which I bought provisions.  On the way to the liquor store at the end of the strip mall, I’d peer in the windows, trying to judge what they might have bubbling in their steam trays.

And just this afternoon, on a trip to ShopRite, I noticed a sign announcing that Hibachi Sushi and Buffet had moved in.  No one can resist the siren’s call of seven meat products (chicken, beef, shrimp, pork, etc.) mixed with seven possible sauces (black pepper, Szechuan, black bean, mysterious goopy red stuff).  Five different colors of Jell-O!  When the heat lamp hits the Jell-O just so, it almost looked like a stained glass window.

I also like the democratic nature of buffets.  More than any other restaurants I’ve been to, you see what seems to be an authentic cross-section of Wilmington:  African-American women still dressed in their church clothes, Hispanic clumps of men, Caucasian families — all of them served by brisk, smiling Chinese waitresses with nametags that read “Tina,” “Layla” or “Cherry.”

All-you-can-eat buffets are Papal dispensations for gluttony; what seems like a ridiculous amount of food at home becomes acceptable — no, a requirement.  When I was younger, my parents would mentally keep track of how much food I’d eaten to make sure that I had at least made back the cover charge.  Otherwise, that would have been a waste of money, somehow a greater sin than a waste of food.  We ate until we had to slouch in the booths and undo the top button of our pants.

When my relatives from Oklahoma came into town, and the whole family piled into a restaurant like a ravenous horde of Vietnamese locusts (my dad sneaking in a bottle of nước mắm), my cousin Truong and I engaged in competitive eating, with a stack of empty plates bearing witness to the endless capabilities of our intestinal capacity, jaw strength, and metabolism.  Though once, as we left the Hans Brinker smorgasbord in Denver, he had to stop on the wooden bridge beneath the windmill to vomit.  I was elated.  That meant I won.

My metabolism isn’t what is used to be.  Must cut down on the coconut shrimp next time.

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto is somewhat of a Asian cinematic buffet.  It has all the elements you could want, all steaming hot:  grand war battles, samurai-on-bandit violence, crafty Japanese women, pursuits through green forests, totally passive Japanese women, wild renegades, wise monks, chastened warriors.  And it’s all on one plate.  Best of all, if you haven’t had enough, you can return for seconds.  Thirds, even.  Go on.  You paid for it.

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