Standing on the buffet line

The appeal of a buffet is rather obvious. It’s that notion of having no limits. No limits, unlimited, all you want—all you can eat. Human beings respond to the notion of no limits very positively.

And yet…about 99% of the buffets I’ve encountered are pretty bad. Food is either dried out horribly (such as chicken, or the surface of sushi rolls), is overcooked (such as…chicken again, or fish), or smothered in an insulating blanket of sauce that effectively chokes out any kind of real flavor.

Foods that fare well on a buffet counter: most desserts if they are prepared well to start with. After all, most of the time a pie or a cake does stand around for a bit and is eaten at room temperature or slightly cooler. Ice cream can stand around for hours at the right temperatures. Soups can be okay too, since soup is generally better the longer it’s cooked. Stew type dishes are the same thing.

But you know the glamor items on a buffet - the “all you can eat” shrimp, the “fresh crab legs”…the sushi. Shrimp that’s been boiled then left to sit for a while on a bed of ice has generally leeched all its flavor into the ice, and as for those “fresh” crab legs, they are so watery as to be despicable unless the mere act of cracking open those hard shells appeals to you. As for sushi…well, I am even sceptical of those conveyor-belt sushis, and usually buffet sushi has been sitting around for a lot longer time than the conveyor-belt variety.

So, what’s a good buffet, if there is such a thing? The really good ones I’ve been to are the great cheap Indian lunch buffets one can encounter in big cities (and similar spicy-saucy cuisine buffets, such as Thai). Breakfast buffets can be okay too, especially the ones offered at many smaller hotels in Europe, with a small but adequate selection of bread, cereals, cold cuts and the like. Of the more general kind, any buffet that has an extremely fast turnover of items can be okay. Such buffets are rare though.

The other issue is—do you really eat that much at a buffet? Food, any food, is the best at first tasting, the first mouthful. After that, only the most extraordinary food gets better. With buffet food, the first mouthful, or the first plateful, maybe okay. After that, it’s a matter of loosening the belt and going determinedly back to the lines with the idea that you have to get your money’s worth. At least, that’s what it seems like to me.

The very concept of the buffet seems very American to me somehow, though I do know that the “all you can eat” smorgasbord originated in Scandinavia (and, a real smorgasbord can be a fun experience indeed, especially if you love smoked fish). Lining up at a stainless steel counter, staring at flourescent-lit food. It’s a rather lonely feeling, especially when you’re on the road on your own. It’s “fressen”, not “essen”. Feeding, not dining.

Don't miss any more recipes and articles! Subscribe to Just Hungry via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).
filed under

15 comments so far...

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Standing on the buffet line

I'm with you on this. I do not find buffet food to my liking, but sometimes, it feels good to eat to the limit (but then again, being too full takes away the sense of eating well).

However, there is this kind of buffet that I love. It is called a Korean grill buffet. Have you tried that? There is usually a gas grill built-in the table, and we cook our own food. The food is fresh (I hope) and there many varieties of side-dishes. I experienced this only once in Toronto, so perhaps it being my first and only time, it was quite good. I hear there aren't any where I live. It's different from convential buffets where we go pick up our food. The waiter brings food to us, and if we need more, we just ask.

Also in Toronto, I went to a hot-pot buffet. The concept is almost the same as the Korean grill buffet. You even get to choose your soup base (it's acceptable). There are no side-dishes.

These buffets where we cook our own food are great for gatherings. Even if the food is not impeccable, it's not so bad, since there are many people to talk to. ^_^

Something that is a sore to my eyes at a buffet is people who pile up food in their plates to save trips. The sauces are all mixed together it seems completely unappealing.

Zelnox | 29 May, 2004 - 22:45

Standing on the buffet line

Hmm, I've never been to a Korean buffet, but I just love Korean barbeque and all the fixings. The ones we have in New York aren't buffets though...you choose the kinds of meat and stuff you want and they set up the grill at the table and you grill away. I love kalbi and tongue :P And I love the cold noodles...not sure what it's called (we always say 'reimen' and they usually understand when takign the order but I'm pretty sure that's not the right name for it.) I love all the side dishes too...especially the spicy spinach and kimchi of course!

There's something similar to the hotpot you describe, Japanese-style.. shabu shabu, where you cook thinly sliced beef or other meat in boiling water at the table. (to end the meal you usually cook some vegetables and udon noodles in the broth and eat that.) Here they have something similar, called fondue chinoise...it is sort of all-you-can-eat but costs like 80 francs (about $65 US) per person!

maki | 29 May, 2004 - 23:53

Standing on the buffet line

For ~ 65USD, they better have dragon meat!

Zelnox | 30 May, 2004 - 21:54

Standing on the buffet line

There's a place here called Oasis, which has a buffet of many items, including sushi. The sushi is indeed dried out from sitting so long on display, and I nearly got sick eating some of the rolls. Needless to say, I'll never go back there.

yoko | 1 June, 2004 - 18:06

Standing on the buffet line

Hi Maki,

Here in Hawaii we have a Korean buffet called Yakiniku Camelia. Basically you select your meat and then grill at your table. There is also a new type Japanese food "buffet" that opened here called Makino-chaya. It's all you can eat, but the food is cooked to order. You can order any 2 items at a given time. I think this is done to help with waste and to give everyone fresh tasting food.

Reid | 3 June, 2004 - 07:44

Standing on the buffet line

For the first time ever in a buffet I came across macaroni and cheese that was inedible. Of all the dishes you'd think it impossible to screw up... But someone at this restaurant has added WAY too much liquid and what was in the tray was more macaroni soup in cheese broth than a good dish of baked mac and cheese.

barrett | 3 June, 2004 - 22:49

Standing on the buffet line

'Always do a buffet line backwards.'

That's been my motto for about 2 years now. All the good stuff is at the end. The overcooked prime rib, the tasteless crab legs, the questionable oysters. Plus you get the added bonus of having middle america redfaced, angry and fustrated as you stroll in front of them and load up your plate with the aforemention items while they stare helplessly at the small patch of plate left after slopping on the potatoes, rice, beets and whatever other salty stuff they peddle to the tourists.

One time as I was filling my plate with the last of the king crab legs, a woman cleared her throat significantly. I swiveled and stared her down until she slunk away.

As a veteran of many buffets I can attest that, yes, most of them stink. As mentioned the Korean buffets aren't bad, but I stick primary with the short ribs, after your obligitory feeding on the kimchi and pickled garlic cloves. Indian buffets are always good, I go with the one piece on naan, alot of chicken tikka masala, alot of the saag paneer, and a couple pieces of the tandoori chicken. The Mongolian buffet is a nice change of pace as well. This is the one where you fill your bowl with frozen meats and vegetables and proceed to season it with the assorted sauces they leave out. The cook then accepts your mixture and throws it on the large round grill and proceeds to cook it using a stick to prod and turn it, while precessing around the grill at a solemn monk-like pace. When his revolution is complete, your food is done. A neat trick to play on your more sensitive friends is make sure you are in front of him in line and just load up on the spices. I'm talking spoonful after spoonful of red angry chili sauce. The residue on the grill after your food will be enough to watch him suffer. The fact that you made your bathroom trips for the next 2 days hell is worth it.

You will get the odd really good Sunday brunch buffet as well, for instance the Four Season's in Philly is memorable.

Buffet Tip #2. When in Vegas or Reno, there are two sweet spots during a buffet. This happens during the transistion period between the meals. If you start eating breakfast at around 11:30 pm for instance, you can sit until they start lunch. This has two advantages: first, you get to enjoy the variety of the breakfast foods (go for the omelettes, they have to make it in front of you) and lunch foods (ask for the slice of roast beef that's in the middle, it's still probably juicy) and second, you've payed a lower rate.

I've gotten kicked out of a couple 'all-you-can-eat' buffets because I've tried to eat all I can.

I tried shabu shabu for the first time a couple nights ago. They had the wise foresight to also make it all you can drink sake as well. I went through 3 plates of meat before the sake weariness did me in. Also my dining companion was getting antsy. I've once disgusted my college friends by eating so many crawdaddies that the stack of carcasses reached the size of my head. They all abandoned me to my shame. Hot pot is also fun, most of the time we'll just do the hot pot at home though.

Buffet Fun Fact: Sonya the Black Widow (http://www.sonyatheblackwidow.com/) only eats at buffets because it's too expensive for her otherwise.

lipitor | 4 June, 2004 - 21:19

Standing on the buffet line

I'm definitely with you. I don't see the point of buffet really. Most of them are mediocre at best. Also, gorging yourself just to get your money's worth seems quite pointless to me as well.

pim | 11 June, 2004 - 06:49

Standing on the buffet line

My husband and I are fairly snobby when it comes to food. We joke about buffet places as we really think they are bottom of the barrel on the restaraunt food chain. Blech!

Except...

My boss told me about one to go to when we went on our honeymoon in Vegas and he is NOT the type of person you would ever picture at a buffet so we decided we had to check it out.

Oh my. The Paris hotel's Le Village Buffet http://www.caesars.com/Paris/LasVegas/Dining/CasualDining/LeVillageBuffe...

is the most amazing breakfast buffet on the planet. Food is fresh, cooked in front of you if it's hot, incredible fruits, cheeses and pastries. Three types of bacon! Crepes, waffles, pancakes, and more! Ohhhh the potatoes, hashbrowns, home fries! I honestly couldn't believe it. We ended up going there three times and my husband is usually a stickler for mixing things up when we are on vacation, but dang...we just knew we would never find a better buffet or breakfast anywhere else.

It was strange to see people ordering pitchers of beer with breakfast though!!

We only went for breakfast, so no clue what the rest of the meals are like there, but if you are ever in Vegas, it's a MUST go to. Absolute MUST.

Crystal | 11 June, 2004 - 21:47

Standing on the buffet line

I agree buffets are generally bad, but only if you are expecting everything at the buffet to be great. Not everything will be, but some things usually are. It's a case of being selective.

There's one buffet I visit here in Saigon:

http://noodlepie.typepad.com/blog/2004/05/sunday_stuffing.html

I ignore 90% of what's on offer and get repeats of what is good i.e. all the live stuff and the best of the salad.

And as someone else mentioned (if you're a dessert/cheese person) do a reverse-style-buffet. Wilting chocolate cakes and splodge-cheese looks and tastes bad late on.

pieman | 15 June, 2004 - 05:22

Standing on the buffet line

I agree buffets are generally bad, but only if you are expecting everything at the buffet to be great. Not everything will be, but some things usually are. It's a case of being selective.

There's one buffet I visit here in Saigon:

http://noodlepie.typepad.com/blog/2004/05/sunday_stuffing.html

I ignore 90% of what's on offer and get repeats of what is good i.e. all the live stuff and the best of the salad.

And as someone else mentioned (if you're a dessert/cheese person) do a reverse-style-buffet. Wilting chocolate cakes and splodge-cheese looks and tastes bad late on.

pieman | 15 June, 2004 - 05:24

Standing on the buffet line

Do you think that maybe there's a conspirsy in our buffets. For instance maybe it's laced with a chemical that's not harmful but will make you bloat like a frog after a few mouthfuls. I know I've been to lots of buffets and I take small amounts of food, but will feel full with the first half plateful of food. Since I'm in Las Vegas it would seem to me that the casinos would be money ahead if they could make people eat less at an all you can eat buffet.

BC | 21 August, 2004 - 05:05

Re: Standing on the buffet line

Might be late to reply to this :P But I just found this website and I have a habit of reading from oldest to newest posts in just hungry!
as for buffet lines.. as someone who lives in Las Vegas, I notice that the food is stuffed with salt, or something that quenches your thirst. As a result, you drink a lot, and you become full faster. Also, people tend to eat a lot of food that is very filling first such as rice, bread, pizza, and sushi. All of these foods, even in small quantities, can be very filling, and especially when they become a bit salty and you have to gorge down glass after glass of beverages.

that's my theory anyways :P

Also, the best buffet I have ever been to was on in Toronto.. it was a korean buffet, and they had fresh vegetables laid out. I think in terms of a buffet, they only serve large groups (such as tour groups) and prepare all the ingredients immediately beforehand. They would take out the marinated, uncooked ribs that had been soaking for awhile and cook them on the spot for you! And everything was home made :) it was so delicious. I think the group I was in ate almost all the food they provided, haha.
I think when they weren't doing buffet business though, they changed back into a restaurant. It was a really interesting concept.

anon. | 26 May, 2010 - 21:16

Standing on the buffet line

The best luck I've had at buffets is to follow the advice above (and stick to items that you know will hold up well and/or are high quality to begin with (no fried rice!)); AND - this is the key - go when the place is just opening for the day. For the chinese buffet down the road from me, this means taking lunch at 11am, but the all of the food is fantastically fresh. Bonus - no crowds.

Good luck with the buffet'ing!

Miss Tenacity | 4 February, 2005 - 19:07

Standing on the buffet line

i like them it's delicious its make me flew away to heaven....................................

vita-chan | 31 July, 2005 - 05:04

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <img> <br>
  • Each email address will be obfuscated in a human readble fashion or (if JavaScript is enabled) replaced with a spamproof clickable link.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

Related sites

Share food, change lives
Play Freerice and feed the hungry

Hello!

Just Hungry is a site about Japanese food and home cooking, healthy eating, the expat food life, and more. [log in] or [register]

About this site

maki Just Hungry is a site about food. There are lots of recipes and much more. You may want to read about Just Hungry, or contact the site owner, Makiko Itoh. To dive in real deep, try the site map.

This article is from justhungry.com.