China Buffet is a Chinese restaurant, especially in the United States and Canada, that offers its customers an ample selection of dishes on different plates for a single price. The food can be eaten at the table or taken out of the restaurant. It is also called all-you-can-eat (AYCE).
The food is usually served on smaller plates by waiters who go around offering them to customers sitting at their tables. Buffets are mainly located in cities where there is a large demand from the population for this type of service.
Ming Dynasty and China Buffet
It was founded in China during the Ming dynasty 1400 years ago when they started using small plates made from porcelain, crystal, or bamboo to serve individual portions in order to facilitate “fast eating” although the food was already available.
In ancient China, individuals did not have dinner together but in small groups of two or three. The host took care of receiving guests and preparing the tableware while servants hired from outside went from one group to another to serve dishes on trays made from bamboo sticks. In this way, these waiters offered “fast dining” which had a great acceptance among all parties involved. It became a custom that many imitated until today in some countries such as Italy and England where they offer lunch menus of different portions.
The Menu served in China Buffet
The type of food served at this menu was basically something fried like meatballs of minced meats cooked with ginger and onion, sautéed liver with scallions, mincemeat wrapped in cabbage or stuffed in eggplants, whole fish cooked in different ways, served with sauces made from soy sauce, bean paste and sesame oil. Some dishes were boiled like shrimp eggs soup or beef tendon soup.
However, the variety of food that can be offered at this type of restaurant was limited by the social customs that existed during those times. For example, individuals did not eat pork because pigs were considered dirty animals; cow meat should not be too fat; sea fish should not be too expensive; families could not afford to offer duck or chicken but only fish during the New Year celebrations because it symbolized prosperity due to its pronunciation similar to “you will have more” (duck).
This type of restaurant started disappearing after the fall of the Ming dynasty and was only found in small Chinese cities until it reappeared in large countries like Canada, France, and the United States during the beginning of the 1990s mainly due to the increase in Asian immigration.
The China Buffet Restaurants
Today, China buffet restaurants are appearing more frequently in big cities around the world because many individuals wish to see a large variety of dishes offered at different prices. In this way, it is possible to find a menu with a less expensive price containing only cold dishes and another more expensive one containing hot dishes.
In the case of hot dishes, it is also common that they have a steam table or food warmer where they place the food so that clients can see the different types of dishes offered. This option is often more convenient for those who want to take out their food without having to wait for its preparation at the table.