A Vacation Story

I’ve told this story on the website before, but the original version is tucked away inside a long post in the Old Site Archive, so I thought I’d share it again.

Lisa and I were in London from December 26, 2005 to January 2, 2006. We had a lot of fun the first few days, going to the V&A, Hampton Court Palace, Borough Market, and several other historic or interesting sites. But on New Year’s Eve we joined the throng of 450,000+ people to watch the fireworks near the London Eye. As you might guess, we had a few drinks. OK, more than a few. Quite a bit, actually. But we weren’t stumbling around, out of control drunk or anything.

The next day we were feeling less than 100%. We both agreed that we wanted something greasy and familiar to eat, and lots of it. One of us (I don’t remember who) suggested a Chinese buffet we had seen a few days prior. So off we went to Mr Wu’s Chinese Buffet at 58 Shaftesbury Avenue.

I can’t begin to describe how cramped and tiny this place was. I remember it being not much larger than our living room at home, only crammed with as many tables as possible. One had to have the dexterity of a ballerina when walking through this place, especially the guys, lest you do the dreaded “rub your junk against someone’s head” maneuver.

The place was jam-packed that day, but we managed to get a table and pirouette our way the our table. After receiving our drinks – for me, a glass of Diet Coke poured out of a 2 liter bottle with 2 sad, half-melted ice cubes – we proceeded to the buffet line.

Now, picture this:  the buffet table was a largish round table smack in the middle of the restaurant. There’s a little stand next to the table with a bunch of plates stacked on it, and so you grab a plate and start with rice – white or fried – and then move clockwise around the table.

So the first time I’m in line, I get stuck behind these two fat German women. And they’re stopping at each dish and discussing it at length, as if they were reviewing it for the Süddeutsche Zeitung or something. From the smattering of German I know, I could tell that they were saying stuff like “this one’s too greasy” or “people have picked all the pork out of this dish!” It’s no exaggeration to say that they took around 45 seconds discussing each dish on the line.

I was about ready to blow my top at them, but then I saw the strangest thing ever: the last dish on the line was sweet and sour chicken, and the sauce was kept in a separate bowl on the side, presumably to keep the chicken from getting soggy. One of the German women got a few pieces of chicken, then poured a ladle full of sweet and sour sauce over her entire plate. So the Mongolian Beef, curried chicken, kung pao… all of it was covered in sickly sweet sauce. I almost gasped, but then she got another ladle full of sauce and again poured it all over everything! I almost gagged at the thought of 2 inches of sweet and sour sauce covering everything on my plate! When I got back to my table I told Lisa about it, and we watched the German woman happily chow down on her food. I guess universal health care means you can eat however you like, huh?

I went back for seconds, and this time I was behind two skinny guys in turtlenecks and glasses. They spoke something that sounded vaguely German. I think it was Danish, as it doesn’t sound like any Dutch I’ve ever heard. Anyway, these two guys started off by making a nice “base layer” of fried rice on their plates. They then carefully put a layer of lo-mein on top of the rice. They then put a layer of kung pao on top of the lo-mein. They then put a layer of Mongolian beef on top of the kung pao which was on top of the lo-mein which was on top of the rice. Then then put a layer of curry chicken on top of the Mongolian beef, which was on top of the kung pao which was on top of the lo-mein which was on top of the rice. Soon, the two men each had a plate of what could only be described as “Chinese Seven Layer Dip”. Of course, as soon as I got back to the table, I had to tell Lisa about it, and we spied on the two Danish guys and they carefully ate the mess.

It was the damnedest thing I ever saw in a restaurant. And, for what’s it’s worth, despite all the bad reviews online, Mr. Wu’s isn’t any better or worse than any other Chinese buffet I’ve been to.

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