Is there any greater gluttonous experience than a trip to the strip mall Chinese buffet? With dozens of piping hot dishes to choose from, you can try as much or as little of anything as you like; you’re only limited by the size of your stomach! The best part? The price tag! Whereas you’d normally pay $8.95 for a single menu item, you can now pay the same price for the equivalent of nine menu items. On what planet would this not be the preferable route?
Most Americanized Chinese buffets feature anywhere from 8 to 96 steam trays with a wide variety of meat, vegetable, noodle, and rice dishes, as well as salad and dessert bars. Some luxury buffets will even offer a Soft-Serv ice cream machine! Eat to your heart’s content, but you’ll want to follow the standard establishment rules, like taking a clean plate each time through line, and not placing food items in your mouth and then putting them back in the tray. Sneezing on food is also typically prohibited.
How can a buffet even turn a profit when people like you are planning to go in and eat so much that you’ll question heading straight to urgent care to have your rapid heart rate checked out after eating? Because for every large, sweaty, hungry man that walks through the buffet line drooling with temptation, there’s some scrawny little kid who just paid full price and ate one wonton. It all evens out, or the restaurant wouldn’t offer it in the first place!
It sounds like all fun and games, right? Wrong. Like 95% of all buffet-goers*, you’re probably going to leave feeling one of three things:
- Disgust with yourself for having consumed 4500 calories in one sitting and now you just want to nap.
- Disgust with yourself for having eaten too little and not gotten your money’s worth.
- Momentary content, having eaten the appropriate amount, but disgust with yourself an hour later because you’re hungry again and wish you had eaten more.
We’ll first examine how to avoid one of these three horrible outcomes and join the 5% of Americans who leave a Chinese buffet perfectly content with no later-on regrets.
- Go in with a game plan. Tell yourself you’re only going to eat one plate of food. The challenge now is to fill that plate with only the best, most delicious buffet items. When it’s done, you’re done. Be proud of yourself for the calories you saved.
- Realize going in that very few menu items are good for you. Meat and vegetables seem like healthy options, but when they’re fried and wading in a pool of sodium-rich sauce, your net gain is minimal, if not negative.
- Only visit a buffet when you have a tight time slot to get in and get out. If you’re in a hurry, you have no choice but to just eat that one plate, pay, and dart back to the office. You may be a little hungry an hour later, but you can’t blame yourself; you can only blame the clock.
- Stop the very moment you feel full, even if that means leaving a mostly-full plate behind. If you feel bad for how much food you wasted, leave a tip.
- Go all out, but limit these occasions to once per month or less.
OK, so you aren’t concerned about fitting into that 5%. You want to simply devour as much as possible. You’re very, very hungry and you’ll deal with the consequences. How can you get the very most out of your buffet experience?
- If there are multiple lines, start at whichever has the fewest people. Do you want to get your food now or tomorrow?!
- Likewise, if you see an opportunity to start at the opposite end of a buffet line and move in the opposite direction of traffic, do so. There was probably not a sign stating “start at this end.”
- Skip salads and fruit. That’s not why you’re here.
- Lay down a base of rice. Your other food items will stick to the plate better, allowing you to avoid items sliding around. Rice will also soak up all those deliciously sweet sauces.
- Fill your plate. And I mean fill it. Stack items if needed. If someone were to ask you what color your plate is, you should not be able to answer because it’s so full.
- Eat fast. The faster you eat, the quicker you can go back for seconds before your stomach can communicate to your brain that you’re full.
- Consider the possibility that you don’t know for sure when you’re going to get to eat again. What if you have to work late and don’t get to eat dinner until 9? You’d better eat one more plate just in case that scenario arises.
- When your stomach is clearly full and you’re ready to crack open the fortune cookie, go back for one more “half” plate, just to be sure. You absolutely don’t want to be hungry an hour from now and be kicking yourself.
- If someone else at your table left a perfectly good food item on their plate, consider eating it for them. That chicken didn’t give its life so your ignorant friend could put it on a plate and not eat it. Waste not, want not!
- If wasting isn’t a concern to you, get one more plate, then ask if you can take it with you. The vast majority of buffets won’t let food leave the building, but it doesn’t hurt to check! And some buffets will let you take your leftovers for a small fee.
- Full or not, there’s always room for one ice cream cone or dish. Treat yo-self! And a little sugar at the end of the meal can help you to feel more content.
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My Hot Take:
I love Chinese buffets. Yeah, there are some bad ones, but for the most part they all produce tasty, hot, edible food that I want to shove down my gullet as fast as they can bring the trays out. I recently started a low-carb diet, but prior to that, a Chinese buffet binge was a once-per-month necessity. I say gobble up until you feel sick, but really limit these types of binges, and always make time for exercise later in the day.
Chinese buffets can be bad for your health if you don’t limit your intake. However, if you want to get really full, it’s pretty simple: just eat a lot of food.
*43% rounded up to 95%.