Saturday, 28 November 2009
The Big Fat Indian Buffet
On a ‘package’ holiday, one part of the action that gives me the heebie-jeebies is the ‘free’, ‘complimentary’, buffet breakfast that hotels line up for us. I just can’t seem to handle these, and I usually end up parked in a lonely corner, ordering a la carte, and paying up big for it.
The reason is simple: we Indians totally lack the buffet consumption etiquette, and what should be a pleasurable activity, where you get to partake of various delicacies on display, turns into a nightmare, an event I totally don’t look forward to.
Here are some tips for readers on buffet behaviour, and I have compiled these after many unsuccessful attempts at this mother of all (mis)adventures.
•Just as it’s deeply offensive and uncivil to jump queues at malls, airports and ration shops, so is the case with buffet spreads. If you follow the food line, you will not only enjoy the ride, but reach your choice of platters smoother and faster. Jumping the line leads to chaos in the food chain, and I have seen people viciously elbowing each other out to get at that extra helping of coconut chutney. Makes no sense to me. Folks at the community bore-well queue are more chilled out. And yup, when you arrive for that second/third/fourth/tenth helping, it’s only correct and fair to rejoin the line. But I know this isn’t gonna happen anytime soon. Indians in general viscerally loathe the concept of queues.
•It’s never a good idea to unleash your kids into the buffet consumption process. With the mad frenzy that often gets underway, I have noticed children being trampled upon (ouch!), and I once spotted a little girl crushed between the legs of some heavyweight patrons. Also kids, quite naturally, struggle with the large food dispensers, the lids of some of these contraptions aren’t easy to pull, even for an 80 kg hulk like me. And so accidents become inevitable. A brat once dropped an entire container of steaming hot sambhar on my crotch. Sure, go ahead, laugh. The feeling isn’t funny though, trust me.
•Some groups (especially the undivided family wallahs) attack the spread in unison, much like a pride of lions. Now this is bad news for the rest, as this causes longer waiting periods, but it can’t be helped. I guess some people actually believe in the theory that ‘families that eat together, stay together’. Though I am quite certain whoever wrote that, didn’t have buffets in mind. But that’s cool. What gets my BP raging is the sight of some of these ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun?’ clans get involved in heated debates over which dish appears worth trying… the intense arguments over the merits and demerits of each item. Am sure that’s how families bond, but clearly this practice is unfair to folks waiting in the long queue. The correct thing would be to top up your plate, go to the table, and THEN gossip over the cuisine. Or play antakshri, or whatever it is that gets you off over breakfast.
•After you have richly dug into the container, the polite and hygienic thing is to shut the damn thing down. Hotel staffers do all they can to keep the dishes adequately warmed. Either setting them on simmer, or replacing them at the right intervals. Leaving the containers open not only cools the dishes swiftly, it also makes the khana vulnerable to assault from flies. Is that such a difficult thing to understand?
•I kid you not, some food lovers sniff right into the containers, before deciding if it’s aromatic enough for their refined taste buds. Others grope and feel each chapatti/bread before zeroing in on the chosen one. Do you really want me to explain why these acts are totally repugnant and unhealthy?
I could go on, and am sure you have your own list of buffet peeves. All we need to understand is that the concept of the buffet spread is to make the experience of eating brisk, varied and delightful. It’s not meant to be a game of skill, power and crude behaviour.