He saw the abundance of the Old Country Buffet as being 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 hours in Seattle meant a large particular date for my father and me. By his own admission, he’s not a very good cook. He is able to only prepare two dishes, both memories of his childhood in Jakarta, where his family lived before they immigrated to the United States by way of Holland: babi kecap, a garlicky pork dish simmered in ketjap medja (an Southeast Asian variation on soy sauce also called 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 lunch. In the end, he had arrived at America to live such as an American. That meant indulging in a certain quantity of gluttony, a virtue in his mind when it came to eating.
His look at food was, and 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 over the food groups in the dinner table. There has to be three different but complementary sections of food on the plate: a little pile of vegetables (frozen corn or Brussel sprouts, that he dumped right into a bowl, and microwaved with at least three pats of butter before serving), a carbohydrate like French-fried potatoes or rice, along with a slab of meat. And nowhere was this philosophy made quite so literal than on the Old Country Buffet.
Once you walked within the door, all you were required to do was pay for the host at the front counter something such as $11 to become 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 should you got lucky. Greasy heaps of mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and green beans and corn which had a suspiciously similar texture towards 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, experienced a glossy sheen. Globs of congealed sauce stuck towards the meat, dried out of hours within a heat lamp. I may have only been eight or nine during the time, but even so I suspected that this food could not come to be as healthy as my father insisted it had been.
We filled plastic tumblers with water or soda and sat together in a booth; there were no waiters, but we sometimes stayed seated till the crowds around the trays thinned just a little. While we waited, I wasn’t permitted to drink my beverage, lest I ruin my appetite. When we served ourselves, I stubbornly picked at my food in silence, upset which i had no say in where or what we got to eat. Growing up in American, I looked down on the old country buffet opening hours as spot for people needing charity, as he saw such bountiful vcubkg at such a low cost as being a luxury. Though I never stated it out loud, I felt like my father was forcing us to eat there because he was cheap, and this he was intentionally depriving individuals from the experiences of normal families, who ate at regular restaurants with waitresses.
In all honesty, my father could be cheap, and quite often when it comes to eating out. So long as I have been alive, he has refused to tip waiters, an insufferable trait which has occasionally called to get a clandestine pursuit to an ATM so that I was able to sneak the staff their due while he used the toilet. Once, when my mother is at the ultimate trimester of her pregnancy with me, she took him to your nice restaurant. He opened the menu, then abruptly got up and left. “I couldn’t stomach spending $70 using one meal. That seemed somewhat extravagant,” he informed me.