Vancouver: Chinese Tour – Part 5 (Buffets)

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This is Part 5 in a series about my recent tour in Canada.  Click the link if you’d like to catch up on Part 1 of the series.

When mealtime came around, we would always stop in the parking lot of some pretty run-down Chinese buffet.  When you take one of these tours, you get the chance to buy a meal plan, in which case the tour provides the meals for you.  They are always Chinese buffets.  We knew this.  We didn’t buy the meal plan, and we ate much better food.

Two Bohemians, Sherman and his son Yale, did have the meal plan. Our assigned seats were always in the same group.  At the end of every mealtime, I’d ask them how the food was.  They almost always looked at me and shook their heads.  On the way back, we stopped in the same town as we had the first day.  Thomas told us that we would be stopping at the same buffet as before.  Yale uttered a loud expletive.  I am still laughing about that.

There are two reasons that the meal stops are always Chinese buffets.  First, for some reason Chinese people aren’t much into eating indigenous foods in places that they travel to, in the same way that Americans often tell me how much they liked the McDonalds in Bangkok.  They also like visiting Chinatown in any big city.  I don’t get this at all.  China towns are always a great source for cheap knock-off merchandise., but why someone would want to visit a foreign country’s poor copy of your homeland is beyond me.  It is humorous that the best place in a city to buy cheap knock-offs is itself a cheap knock-off.

The second and more important reason that these groups always stop at Chinese buffets is capitalism.  The Chinese buffets give the tour companies kickbacks and a cheaper price for taking the tour groups there.  It is an exclusive contract.  Thomas confided in me that he wouldn’t be allowed to take the group somewhere else even if he wanted to, and then made the universal fingers rubbing thumb motion for “money”.

This means that the buffets have zero incentive to make their food quality or service competitive with any other local establishment, because they are not in danger of losing any business.  It just has to be good enough that no one loudly complains and nobody gets sick.  This is of course, the opposite of capitalism.  The tour guide is a type of dictator, the bus his kingdom, and we are the starving masses.  Let us eat cake, or at least decent Chinese food.

So, whenever the bus stopped for mealtime everyone would walk in single file into the restaurant.  All Chinese buffets look generally the same everywhere, so I don’t need to describe the scene.  We would walk in the opposite direction, searching for some sort of Canadian fare.

As it turns out, Canadians really like pizza.  Pizza in interior Canada was unavoidable.  It was everywhere.  In some towns pizza was the only viable alternative to pub food.  We ate a lot of pub food.  We also ate our share of pizza.

In one small town (the one where we stopped at the same Chinese buffet twice), we went to a local pizza chain for lunch.  The lady owner was an immigrant from some indeterminate country, possibly the interior of SouthwestAsiaIndia or Somethingistan.

She was also indeterminately pleasant.  The menu offered several different types of crust for you to choose.  I asked for the hand tossed garlic.  She smiled and said, “It is fresh I made it this morning.”

“Great,” I said.  “I’ll have that one.”

Her brow furrowed.  “It is fresh.  Choose again.”

I was wondering if this was some game from Somethingistan, a cultural idiosyncrasy that makes customers order crusts a number of times before their choice is acceptable.  She did seem quite proud of the freshness of her dough.   So, I repeated my order.

“It is very fresh…made this morning.  Choose again, please.”

“OK.  I’ll have the hand-tossed garlic, please.” I repeated, feeling my lunch time slipping away in this Twilight Zone-esque moment.

“You will have the wheat crust.”

“Um…ok…sure.”  I furrowed.  “Is it fresh?”

“No, it is old.  You come back 15 minutes.”

We ate the pizza back on the bus.  It burned the roof of my mouth, and I couldn’t taste anything much for days.  The crust was really good, though…much better than that fresh stuff you get at other places. -Ryan

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