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 being a poor immigrant.
Going out to dinner in the old country buffet menu with prices in Seattle meant a large night out for my father and me. By his very own admission, he’s not an excellent cook. He can only prepare two dishes, both memories of his childhood in Jakarta, where his family lived before they immigrated to america through 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 lunch. All things considered, he had come to America to live like an American. That meant indulging in a certain quantity of gluttony, a virtue within his mind if it arrived at 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 within the food groups on the dinner table. There must be three different but complementary parts of food on your plate: a little pile of vegetables (frozen corn or Brussel sprouts, which he dumped right into a bowl, and microwaved with at the very 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 in the Old Country Buffet.
When you walked in the door, the only thing you needed to do was pay the host in the front counter something similar to $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 loads of mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and green beans and corn who had a suspiciously similar texture towards the bagged stuff Dad nuked in your own home could be available at a nearby station. The platter of hot dinner rolls, still stuck together in a neat square, enjoyed a glossy sheen. Globs of congealed sauce stuck for the meat, dried out from hours under a heat lamp. I may just have been eight or nine during the time, but even then 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 have been no waiters, but we sometimes stayed seated up until the crowds round the trays thinned 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 i had no say in where or what we should reached eat. Growing up in American, I looked down on the old country buffet hours of operation as place for people needing charity, when he saw such bountiful vcubkg at such a low cost as a luxury. Though I never said it out loud, I felt like my father was forcing us to eat there while he was cheap, and that he was intentionally depriving of us from the experiences of normal families, who ate at regular restaurants with waitresses.
In all honesty, my dad could be cheap, and quite often with regards to eating out. As long as I actually have been alive, he has refused to tip waiters, an insufferable trait which includes occasionally called for a clandestine pursuit to an ATM so that I was able to sneak employees their due when he used the restroom. Once, when my mother is in the final 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 a single meal. That seemed a bit extravagant,” he explained.