Meowser’s Chinese Buffet Experience

meowser-48.jpg posted by meowser

You know what the very ouchiest, bleckiest thing is about that doucheparade “study” we all heard about last week regarding fat slobs, er, patrons at Chinese buffets? You want to know the thing I hated most of all about it?

(dramatic pause)

It made me crave Chinese buffet.

(puts paper bag on head, continues typing through eyeholes)

SRSLY. I hadn’t been to one in years, but just reading about it brought back memories of yellow egg drop soup and crispy fried noodles, like I used to have at this one buffet in north Orange County that wasn’t half toxic. And from there, the confluence of power of suggestion plus PMS led my Google-fingers to discover the Superking Buffet on 82nd Avenue, where I took my fat ass (and the rest of me) for today’s lunch. Or should I say, breakfast and lunch, because sheehowdy, if I’m gonna drop close to $10 for lunch including tea and tip, I’m gonna get my money’s worth.

Of course, it never occurred to these researchers — no doubt upper-crust types with flexible and high-paying careers — that inasfar as a fat person might eat more at a buffet than a thin person, that economics could have something to do with it. Fat people as a group don’t get paid as much as thin people, doncha know.

And guess what else? Although I’m not in this position now myself, in my prior experience most jobs that are low on the socioeconomic totem pole are also high in control of when the workforce gets to eat and how much time they get. Half an hour for lunch, including the time it takes to buy or nuke your food (after you’ve spent 10 minutes waiting for the microwave to free up), and that’s it, you clock in and out and if you’re a minute late you’re written up. Then maybe a little snack a few hours later on your break, if your break doesn’t get hosed by meetings and being slammed by customers and other busywork. If the Chinese buffet is where you take your lunch, or where you get dinner after a workday where you’ve hardly had time to gulp down anything substantial, damn skippy you’re going to eat your fill, if you’ve got the wattage God gave a lightbulb.

But anyway, I had the following goals when I went to Superking:

- Get myself to stop thinking about egg drop soup and fried noodles
- Eat enough so that I wouldn’t have to think about food for the next five hours
- Run down their whole goofball list of Chinese buffet “findings” from yaaaaay to zzzzzz, to see how it correlated with the experiences of An Actual Fat Person We’re Too Freaked We’ll Get Adenovirus From If We Stop And Talk To Them. Rawwwr.

Okay, a little traveling music please. (Preferably by Kenny G, since that’s probably what you’ll hear on the muzak at most buffets. Hey, when I was little, it was the Longines Symphonette doing “Somewhere My Love” at places like this, so get grateful.) We fatties are alleged by the researchers to do the following:

Sit at a table vs. a booth. I didn’t chose my own seat, the host chose it for me. He seated me at a booth. I’m a “smaller size of large” and the booth was pretty roomy, so I had no complaint. And next to me was a table full of skinny women. I’m sure that had more to do with the number in their party than their weight, but I’m also pretty sure that had I been a “larger size of large,” I’d have gotten assigned a table, and if not, I’d have asked for one. At least the researchers had this one right.

Face the buffet while eating, rather than have their side or back to it. Again, if you don’t choose your own seating — and did they make sure to survey only seat-yourself joints? — how can this possibly have any relevance? I suppose you could request seating closer to the buffet if you had some mobility issues, but that could be true for any size person. For what it’s worth, the buffet was to my side, and the way the seating was set up, there was really no direct view of the buffet in any case.

Begin serving themselves immediately instead of surveying the buffet. Those greedy fat slobs! They just start shoveling it in not caring WHAT they eat! Come on now. If you’ve never been to that particular buffet before, of course you’re going to look and see what they have and where it is. I was looking for egg drop soup first, and I found it, and yes, crispy noodles too (which are surprisingly hard to come by in non-buffet Chinese places on the West Coast), but once I had that, naturally I wanted to know about all the stuff they had. It was a pretty impressive selection, actually. They even had a few sushi rolls. (Don’t bother with the potstickers if you ever go there, they have questionable looking and tasting mystery meat filling. Possibly made from Alpo. But everything else I had was pretty good.)

Conversely, if you’re familiar with the place, and you know that kung pao chicken is in bin 2, slot B, facing the south window, and they’ve never ever ever moved it in the five years you’ve been eating there, why the hell would you need to look around? Remember what I said earlier about time crunch also. If you’re due back to work afterwards — and lots of us fatasses work at night, too! — you’re not going to take a leisurely stroll through the place, the point is to get yourself fed and out the door before you get dinged. Today was my day off, though, and I had time to take a good look, so I did.

Pick up a larger plate vs. a smaller one. Not relevant in this particular establishment, either. They had ONE size of plate, a large one. Which is fine with me. I don’t need my eggroll (they had East Coast-style egg rolls too, also danged near impossible to find out here) on top of my broccoli chicken on top of my braised tofu on top of my avocado sushi on top of my rice on top of my sesame balls. I like SOME flavor and texture differentiation when I eat, thank you, even if it’s all gonna get mixed up eventually.

Use a fork instead of chopsticks. This one cracked my shit right up. I actually learned how to use chopsticks when I was 8 years old, from a Bobbsey Twins book of all things, in which Flossie and Freddie’s parents took them to Chinatown. (Anyone else remember them, or am I the only alter cocker around here?) When I see chopsticks available in a restaurant, I almost always use them.

But oddly enough, this place didn’t seem to have them, on the tables or anywhere else. Everyone was eating with a fork here. Thin people, fat people, everyone — even the Chinese people. What the poop was the point here? People who use chopsticks are more “cultured”? People who use chopsticks eat less? People who use chopsticks are thinner? Sorry, but I’ve eaten meals with chopsticks and without them, and what affects how much I eat is — guess what — how hungry I am, not what utensils I use. And that was true way before I ever gained my medication weight. Whiffage.

Put their napkin on the table or tucked into their shirt vs. on their lap. Okay, it had to be men who thought this one up. If I miss my mouth with my uncultured utensils, where do you think my grub’s going to wind up first — in my 38F cleavage, or on my lap? Also, if you have a big butt — and again, it’s women who more often do — your lap is probably going to slant some downwards. I’ve had to pick up dropped napkins 20 times a meal sometimes, often rooting under the table and crawling between my seatmate’s legs to do so. And why? So I can be “proper”? Screw 8000% of that. What’s “proper” about groping someone’s shoes trying to get to your napkin? (C. might enjoy that, but I’m not so sure about anyone else.)

So more often I’ll either do the “bib” thing, which I know makes me look like a giant 3-year-old, or if I’ve got a long scarf or some type of long necklace, I might wind the napkin up in that. On this particular occasion, though, I was seated so close to the table that it would have been a challenge to get food into my lap even if I was trying to, so the napkin stayed right where it was, and I didn’t need it until I was finished.

Leave less food leftover on their plate. There were signs posted all over the buffet saying (paraphrasing), “Please only take what you can eat. Please do not leave food over. If you leave too much over, we reserve the right to charge you extra.” This is not the first buffet I’ve ever been to where I’ve seen a sign like this. Who the heck wants to be charged extra for eating less? Certainly not me, Ms. Breakfast-and-Lunch — I’m eating what I take, unless I just can’t (see note above on potstickers). Munny, bitchez!

Chew fewer times per bite. Gee, if I’d known people were watching, I’d have chewed more. In fact, that will probably be one of my principal regrets when I’m on my deathbed, breathing my last from some ailment only fatasses ever get (which is pretty much all of them, right?) — “I’m sorry I didn’t chew each bite more. Maybe then I could have lived forever.”

Okay, being a New York egg-roll-loving wiseass aside, I have this little problem when it comes to the endless masticating I’m expected to do which will allegedly fill me up with less food: I have a gag reflex that could send a watermelon into space. You can’t imagine the torture of dental x-rays for me. TMI time: I’ve actually hurled on the table when I’ve chewed my food more times than my gag reflex will allow me. In public. I will NEVER do that again. (And I haven’t in close to a decade.) Believe me, I’d be all in favor of filling myself up with less if I could swing it; imagine the money I’d save when I wasn’t at a frigging buffet. But anyone who tries to make me chew more than I know I can tolerate? Can bite me 100 times. And then bite me again. A hundred times.

Says the Livescience article which disseminates the findings of this study:

But like the proverbial chicken and egg, [Brian] Wansink and his colleagues don’t know which comes first: a person’s behavior, or their weight. As Wansink put it: “Is that what made them thin, or is that what thin people do?”

How about no? Just plain no?

ETA: Amp’s analysis is a must-read. And Rachel has helpfully uploaded the original study for us. Thanks, you guys!

29 Responses to “Meowser’s Chinese Buffet Experience”

  1. the Lindsay of Babble-on Says:

    Face the buffet while eating, rather than have their side or back to it.

    Okay, i had to comment because this one is just plain dumb. Here’s why: most people prefer to not sit with their back to an entire room full of people. And in a buffet type restaurant, they’re not going to stash the food in a dark corner of the room – it’s going to be as central as possible. Maybe it’s a “want to be aware of one’s surroundings” bit, maybe it’s a “just like to people-watch” bit. Whatever the case, i think this is just goofy.

    A lot of these other things are similarly bizarre. Using fork instead of chopsticks? Maybe they just don’t like using chopsticks? I love using chopsticks, so i’ll ask a waiter/waitress if they have them if they’re not kept out in the open. Usually the answer is yes. But! When i was a kid? My mom tried to put me on a “chopstick diet”. Meaning, i wasn’t allowed to use a fork/knife; the theory was that i’d eat slower and/or less.

    I haven’t been to a Chinese buffet in a hot minute, but the ones i have been two had two sizes of plate: regular dinner plate, and “fancy little dessert saucer”. The latter was kept on a separate buffet bar that only had dessert type items. Someone who pays $10 for a single meal and then uses a plate no larger than a coffee cup saucer? Is someone who has Issues, or someone with a lot more disposable income than me. :P

    I think the problem here is that these scienterrific maroons went to a Chinese buffet specifically to watch the fatties eat. The things they attribute to the actions of fat people are things that lots of PEOPLE do – fat or thin.

    Total side note? My favorite Chinese buffet had the oddest music ever. It was muzak-type stuff. You’d hear the strangest combination of instruments, and here’s the kicker: the songs were covers of older rock songs. You have not LIVED until you’ve heard Stairway to Heaven played on harpsichord and piccolo.

  2. Ampersand Says:

    Wow, the Superking is less than ten blocks from my house!

    And yes, reading that study also made me tempted to go eat at the Superking. :-)

  3. Lillian Mitchell Says:

    The study did make me want to go to buffet, but your story did.

  4. etooz Says:

    “I have a gag reflex that could send a watermelon into space. You can’t imagine the torture of dental x-rays for me.”

    Oh man, me TOO. I start gagging violently even if I just hold something in my front teeth (like a hair elastic or something). It sucks, because people (dentists) seem to think I’m exaggerating it, which I’m not. It looks like I’m convulsing when the dentist tries to put those little trays in my mouth. I abhor going to the dentist for that reason– they ALWAYS get mad at me. I test their patience, it seems. I, of course, cannot help it. I am with you. I hate dental x-rays.

  5. Mari Says:

    I just went to a Chinese buffet the other day and had a very similar experience. I thought I was going to eat a ton of food but I only ate three plates, including one plate of desert. Funny, when I go to the buffet with other people, sometimes, I end up eating less. I agree though that in these economic times, the Chinese buffet, along with Svenden House/Old Country Buffet are more economical when dining out.

  6. pyewacketsid Says:

    Dammit, I want an eggroll. And some orange beef. With chopsticks.

    I cracked up reading your napkin explanation; it’s so true. What the point in struggling to keep your napkin from sliding off your lap if all the food’s just going to fall on your boobs anyway? Oh, such amazing, insightful “research”… I’m surprised there aren’t already ads proclaiming that a napkin in your lap will make the pounds melt away!

  7. Godless Heathen Says:

    Curse you, now I’m craving Chinese.

    I’m sad my favorite buffet place doesn’t offer chopsticks at all. I like eating without the hazard of a cheap fork meeting one of my fillings. On the other hand, I respect them for keeping their costs down, and if it’s such a big deal I can bring my own. I tend to eat less than my husband does at the buffet, but I try more dishes than he does, so we both try to get our money’s worth. He’s a beanpole, I think he’s actually got an extradimensional stomach he pulls out for buffets.

  8. Rachel Says:

    I used to love Chinese buffets and our family frequented them often. I haven’t been to one in some six years but I was craving it last month, so Brandon and I set out to find a good one nearby. He hasn’t eaten at one in a long time either, so we had no idea what the local Chinese buffet scene is like here. We checked out a few and none were remotely vegetarian-accommodating beyond fried rice and fruit. Seriously, everything had some variation of meat in it, from frog legs to oysters. It’s kind of ironic, given that traditional and authentic Chinese diets are primarily vegetarian, but I guess Chinese food in America is a lot more American than it is Chinese (i.e. fortune cookies). We did find a great little hidden gem downtown that offers at least 6 vegetarian dishes, including orange-glaze seitan faux ribs and seitan chicken and cashews. We’ve gotten takeout from there three times since Election Day and always have leftovers the next day. Yum!

    FYI… Barry over at Amptoons got a copy of the full study and was kind enough to send to me. I’m going to upload it and make it available from my site later today.

  9. Rachel Says:

    Oops, Meowser can you fix my comment to remove the link? I have no idea how that happened.

  10. Rachel Says:

    Okay, I’ve uploaded the full study if anyone is interested. Click here to download the 163k PDF file.

  11. MacNabb Says:

    What’s particularly irritating to me is that I dislike that kind of buffet *because* I don’t eat a lot at one sitting, and I don’t like to eat more than I want until I’m uncomfortably full, so it often feels like I’m not getting my money’s worth.

    AND, the first thing I do when I do find myself at a buffet is take a full survey of what is offered, so I can pick and choose just what I like and can eat comfortably.

  12. Stephanie Says:

    Oooh! I remember the Bobbsey Twins; my mom had a bunch of their books and I read them when I was a kid. I also remember getting some from the library. As a note, I’m twenty-six. I also read the Happy Hollisters and, of course, Nancy Drew.

    And, uh, now I want Chinese food.

  13. Mary Sue Says:

    So, 82nd and what’s the cross street exactly? *takes notes*

    ..what? I’m a food blogger! It’s RESEARCH!

    (Although it will have to wait until after the dim sum research trip.)

  14. a.j. Says:

    What exactly is an “East Coast-style egg roll” versus say a Midwestern egg roll? I’ve been both an East Coaster and a Midwesterner, eaten at Chinese buffets in both places… and never really found a difference. They were all kind of the same, middle-of-the-road, not-so-great egg rolls. Just curious.

  15. meowser Says:

    Mary Sue: Between Holgate and Foster, on the right if you’re going south, on the left going north. Next to Freddie’s.

    a.j.: Wikipedia article on egg rolls. The top picture is the kind of egg roll that’s served on the East Coast (also known as “American egg roll”), which has a thick, puffy flour wrapper; on the bottom is a picture of what’s known as a “Cantonese egg roll,” or what they think of back east as a “spring roll,” which has a thin, rice paper (I think) wrapper.

  16. meowser Says:

    Rachel: Thanks! (And I fixed your first post.) Orange-seitan fake ribs actually sound really tasty.

    Lindsay: That muzak sounds hilarious! Maybe someone in their family made it for them so they could save a few bucks. But they still had to pay the licensing fee for the songs, I guess, unless they were hoping not to get caught. (Garage Band, man. I’m telling you.) I once heard a symphonic version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in an elevator and I about peed my shorts by the time I got to my floor.

    I was actually toying with the idea of eating there on Christmas day. They’re open that day; the buffet that day is $11.99 all day. (Monday-Saturday lunch is usually $7.99.)

  17. Anita Says:

    Weird that I’m not craving Chinese after that post. Huh. Wonder what that’s about? Usually I’m super suggestible.

    There’s a Hmong buffet that I show up to occasionally. I’m usually the only customer when I go, and I usually eat a lot of a few specific foods – banana leaf (?) steamed rice, cucumber and carrot sweet salad, and this flan-type pudding that is ungodly. Often there’s also other good things, but those are my standbys. (I like carbs.) I like it because there’s no one else there, and the family gathers at the other end of the room to hang out. It’s actually really peaceful, and I’m supporting a local family, which is cool. I face the buffet because then I get to watch the family (and it feels creepy to have my back to everyone in the establishment.) I eat more plates of things because then I can try more bits of things, and get a slice of flan each time rather than devouring whole platefuls at the end and looking like a greedy bugger. It’s seriously plateful devouring good.

  18. Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » It’s SCIENCE, Dammit! (Peering At Fat People’s Plates In Chinese Buffets) Says:

    [...] Rachel and Meowser, I learned of a study, “Eating Behavior and Obesity at Chinese Buffets,” published by [...]

  19. Ampersand Says:

    To tell you the truth, I’m not a big fan of the Superking. It’s fine (if you think mediocre chinese buffet is a fine thing — and I do) if you go for the $7.99 price, but the food isn’t worth it for $11.99.

    All the really good Chinese buffets I’ve eaten at have been in Florida, for some reason.

  20. meowser Says:

    I’d agree with you, Amp, I wouldn’t pay $12 for exactly the same thing I just got. Allegedly, though, they have more stuff at the dinners, like crab legs, that aren’t on the lunch menu. Whether that’s worth it or not depends on how much you like/can tolerate shellfish, I guess.

  21. Stephanie Says:

    Also, my husband, a former West Coaster, tells me that lo mein and chow mein are reversed on the West Coast, from what I (a Midwesterner) am used to . . . I think lo mein is wet noodles (sort of like spaghetti), and chow mein is dry ones, and he thinks they’re the opposite.

    Huh.

  22. meowser Says:

    Stephanie, I’ve never heard of lo mein made with crunchy noodles, and I’ve lived up and down the entire West Coast. But you’re right about the chow mein — here it’s what they call “lo mein” back east, soft noodles sauteed with soy sauce and veggies/protein. AFAIK, the “chow mein” on the East Coast, like the East Coast egg roll, originated in the U.S. rather than in Hong Kong, where most “Chinese restaurant” dishes as we know them in this part of the world were first created.

  23. wiscck Says:

    Whoever thinks people eat slower with chopsticks have obviously never seen someone who really knows how to use chopsticks eat with them. And when you factor in the difference in manners with chopsticks, it really enables you to put a lot more food in your mouth much more quickly.

  24. wellroundedtype2 Says:

    Brilliant. I really laughed out loud — maybe it’s that I can actually hear your voice when I read it, too.

    I don’t like buffets, Chinese or otherwise, because I always feel like I’m being watched about how much I’m eating. This study does nothing to alieviate my paranoia.

    When I was taking insulin during and after pregnancy, I really hated buffets because all the yummiest stuff (I don’t eat shellfish) was carb-y and I had to be careful no to eat more than a max of 60 grams of carbs per meal (not low carb but not really a buffet-friendly carb budget).

    I really love excellent Chinese food, which is hard to come by on a buffet. Not eating pork of shellfish, my choices are limited. And Mr. Rounded often can’t tell what pork looks like, so I’m standing next to him saying “pork” so he’ll avoid it (if he wanted it, that would be fine, but he prefers not to.) I know how hypocritical this all sounds as there is surely oyster sauce on much of what we are eating there, another reason I don’t feel great about it.

    I also can’t stand to eat at a buffet with my family. It’s not the eating, it’s the complaining afterwards, my dad complaining about what my mom’s eating, my sister taking one bite of things and leaving a ton of stuff to be wasted, Mr. Rounded eating platefuls of rice and noodles (which probably costs a total of $1), and little one leaving mounds of rice on the floor and crawling all over it, and never wanting to sit still so I’m the one walking over to the fish tank again and again and never getting more than a couple of bites anyhow. Not a bargain, not relaxing, not fun, and now I’m thinking that if I rush to the buffet and grab a few things and eat quickly (bracing for the multiple trips to the fish tank) I’ll be judged as a hasty fatty eager to wolf down as much as possible.

    Sorry for the rant, it’s been a tough few weeks.

  25. Meowser Says:

    Oh, please, rant away, WRT2!

    About the so-called “chopstick effect”: Have any of the people who believe in this ever seen Play It Again Sam? There’s a classic scene in which Woody Allen, on a blind date at a Chinese restaurant, shows off his chopstick skills to his tablemates, who watch in horror as he lifts the communal rice bowl to his mouth and starts shoveling the contents until he looks like a chipmunk hoarding acorns.

  26. lola Says:

    Coming out of lurk mode to comment on this, because it addresses something in the study that annoyed me beyond measure:

    “Maybe it’s a “want to be aware of one’s surroundings” bit, maybe it’s a “just like to people-watch”

    Exactly–and watching all the action around the buffet would be trumpeted as a positive if linked to slender people: it’d be all about how the “naturally” thin don’t ignore other aspects of dining, they take in more than just food–they use their eyes! and ears! as well as sense of taste!–so all you fatties listen up and start paying attention to something more than just the food on your plate!

    Similarly so with a couple of other points in the study–like leaving food on a plate (“Slender individuals seem to have a natural sense of portion control, which results in less waste on their plates”). And filling one’s plate immediately would be seen as some kind of magical, innate discipline (“Slim people were not overwhelmed by too many choices or tempted to roam up and down the line, in search of food: they appeared to decide quickly–almost immediately–what food they wanted, and stuck to those choices, despite dozens of available dishes.”)

    Small plates vs big? Well, if fat people *had* used smaller plates, the skew would likely be that they were delusional about how much they were eating–thinking multiple servings on a smaller plate would somehow amount to less food intake–but the slender people who used large plates? Ahhhh, a thing of beauty to a scientific eye: the use of a “normal” sized plate, with “normal” portions, indicating
    “normal” people with a “normal” appetite.

    And on and on–I would love for someone to do a covert eating experiment on the experimenters themselves–the bias overflow would be astounding, I’m sure.

    Thanks for letting me jump in–just pissed me off so much (and to the Longines Symphonette “Somewhere My Love” line–huge LOL).

  27. LK Says:

    The dining halls at my university were all buffet-style and filled with crappy food, so three years of on-campus living soured me on the whole buffet thing. It’s been near 5 years since I lived in a dorm and buffets (unless they’re really good banquet-style ones) still turn my stomach. Delivery Chinese that in no way resembles real Chinese food – that, however, I can get behind wholeheartedly.

    Slightly unrelatedly, if I get bored sometime in the next few days I might pull up the full text of that study. I’m a psychological methodologist and poking holes in shoddy research is a hobby of mine. Should be fun, if I can get through it without going off on a giant rant about poor methodology, specious logic, and improper use of statistics.

  28. kat Says:

    Had to go look it up, but I’m a fellow alter cocker. hehe. Love loved the Bobbsey Twins. Read most of them several times each. Still have my huge 1960′s collection up in the attic.

    I’m craving egg rolls.

  29. leapetra Says:

    I just read this to my 6’3″ 120lb son. He laughed! He does everything a “fat” person does.
    His response; “Do these researchers every eat at a buffet?”
    Who ever uses chopsticks, expect for a bet? Plate size? All the buffets I go to you have one size plate, and one type of bowl that’s it.

    As for sitting, I sit where I don’t have to watch other people eat. That can turn you off so fast.


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