#170 Inventing new foods at the buffet

Buffets are chemistry labs.

You’ve got every element on the Foodiodic Table sitting in front of you in tiny black plastic containers. There’s smeared clumps of feta and pickled beets in the salad bar, greasy cheese pizza congealing under table lamps, and mini chocolate eclairs sitting pretty in paper wraps.

My favorite buffet was back at my old college dining hall. It was fun eating in a roomful of scraggly-beard-and-pajama-pant teens buzzing over late Saturday breakfast, getting ready for Friday night, or just hogging out over the lunchtime trough.

And whether your buffet is the cruise ship, clinking casino, or Chinese restaurant, I’m hoping you always find tipsy piles of heavy ceramic plates, chocolate milk on tap, and screaming kids scrambling to invent beautiful buffet hybrids amidst all the mayhem.

Let’s count down five of the best:

5. Curry French Fries. Since big plates of fries are pretty standard at most cafeteria buffets, it’s all about figuring out new ways to color them up. Farty squirts of ketchup, cheese and gravy, or if you’re really adventurous, grabbing a ladle of curry sauce from the spicy chicken soaking in the metal tin next door.

4. Apple pie in a waffle cone. Hey, who says only ice cream gets to enjoy the sugary home of the waffle cone? Not us! Nope, throw some apple pie in there for good measure or a couple brownies and some whipped cream if you’re feeling crazy. Feel free to try the “food in another food’s home” technique elsewhere, too. Spaghetti on a hot-dog bun, pita pockets filled with meatballs, chicken nuggets on an English muffin, yes, yes, yes.

3. Chicken finger fried rice. Most cafeterias are home to boring bland trays of rice or noodles. And even when you’re given some yellow rice with peas or fried rice with tiny cubes of pork, it’s still time to upgrade. Chopping chicken fingers in fried rice is a good start. For those with arteries to spare, you can also try the classic Fried Chicken Fried Rice, which is fun to whip out in a food court.

2. All  Won Ton, No Broth Soup. Back when our ancestors were tearing apart buffalo on open plains, I bet there was this one jerk in the tribe who would swing by just after the slaughter to swipe a big juicy leg. He’d let everyone else peel meat off feet and ears and suck marrow from bones while he sat by the fire and chomped away at the juiciest piece on the beast. Well, that’s kind of what the All Won Ton, No Broth Guy is doing to the soup. We don’t like them unless they’re us. Same goes for Taking-All-The-Shrimp-In-This-Shrimp-Pasta Guy and Stealing-That-Extra-Pepperoni-That’s-Technically-On-The-Other-Slice Guy.

1. Creating a fake version of something you can’t find. No pizza? No problem! Just smear spaghetti sauce on a piece of bread and sprinkle it with cheese from the salad bar before tossing it in the toaster oven. No tacos? No worries! Fold a pita around some roast beef cold cuts and cover it with sliced cheese, shredded lettuce, and barbecue sauce. It’s not always pretty but creating fake versions of something you can’t find can help satisfy strong urges.

People, inventing foods at buffet is just part of who we are. It makes meals sparkle with new taste sensations and breathes life into old flavors. Just think about the first time the Earl of Sandwich invented the sandwich. Dude was merging meat, cheese, and bread into a gem and he didn’t even know it. Flash forward a few hundred years and inventing new foods is now part of our DNA.

It’s in our blood.

It’s in our genes.

It’s in our cheap plastic bowls still wet from the dishwasher.


Check out The Book of (Even More) Awesome

Photos from: here, here, and here

31 thoughts on “#170 Inventing new foods at the buffet

  1. I totally invented a food when I worked @ a fast food restaurant!! Chicken nugget with a slice o chz wrapped around it (and you can’t forget the pickle on the inside)!! Yum! Nugget sandwich!:) Your #4 sounds awesome, btdubbs!;)

  2. Ha! I love your inventions and their descriptions!

    I completely agree, the dining hall was THE place for this. People complained about it being sub-par food sometimes, but I just don’t think it got much better than that (I mean, can we say “MILK ON TAP”??).

    My friend Kellen was always the king of the inventions of new food creations. He’d come back to the table with plates full of random, and we’d always stare in wonder at what he’d create. He was the guinea pig — he’d give it a go, and if he approved, he’d let us all have a go at it. If he didn’t like it, his was the sacrificial palate and he would advise against others trying it.

    1. What a useful friend! I definitely need to hang out with someone who can be my sacrificial palate.. particularly when I’m worried if the milk has gone sour..

      “Hey Buddy.. come over here and drink this..”
      *glug, glug, glug, clump, clump*


    2. I had a friend like this in college too. Even if the caf DID have something, he’d sometimes invent his own. Example: honey-mustard dipping sauce. Awesome.

  3. Don’t care much for curry, but a big ol’ bowl of hot chips swimming in gravy would be SOOOOO good right now!

    Damn you and your awesome hunger-inducing posts, Neil!

  4. You know, fries with gravy and cheese curds is actually a really popular dish in Quebec (Canada). It’s call poutine. And it’s the best thing to eat when coming out of a bar at 3am.

    1. We don’t call it anything special here in NJ, but fries with gravy and cheese (the yellow melty stuff, not curds) is a really popular late night/hangover food at local diners.
      I’ve had a few plates of the stuff in my time. I think about it now and my stomach does flip flops. Somehow though, after having had a few, it tastes delicious!

  5. Mmmm….. You just really made me want to go to the Chinese buffet by my house today. I love that place. Sometimes, I’ll put sweet and sour sauce on almost everything on my plate. Sometimes, I’ll just mix a few of their creations in together to make my own creation. Oh, look at that, I’m drooling now.

  6. Hello. My name is Freddo. And I am a Won Ton-a-holic.

    Every time I am at a chinese food buffet, I make myself a little bowl with a handful of nice, juicy Won Tons, and just enough broth to keep ’em moist.

    I wan to apologize to the guy behind me who just gets to scoop up some salty yellow broth and a few scraggly Won Ton pieces, and a spare scallion or two.

    Hopefully I’m just 12 small steps away from change.

  7. It’s about dipping the food in the leftover sauce from something else. Who cares if it doesn’t look like it’ll taste great. Try chips and salsa… with chocolate fondue ;)

  8. Mixing foods is wrong. Except for dressing and poutine.
    Fudge, marshmallow, brownies, cherries and whip cream covered ice cream…that is all.

    1. When I was kid mixing foods was impossible for me. In fact, I couldn’t even eat alternate bites from my plate. I would start with the thing I liked least, then the next, and then whatever I liked best was last. We were a “clean your plate before leaving the table” family and saving the best for last was my own little strategy.

      Today however, I love to mix things. Peanut butter omlet anyone? Soooo good.

  9. I was once at this buffet where you could order almost anything on a pancake, and I ordered one with chocolate chips, white chcolate chips, mini M&Ms, pineapples, cherries and blueberries. It was awesome. Or another thing that is awesome is the fountain soda mixer. Today I had one with Coke, Sprite, Root Beer, Dr Pepper, Fanta Orange Soda, lemonade and Hawaiian Punch. It was also awesome.

  10. Just last night @dinner my teen orders a huge burrito w gravy (basically smothered in meaty enchilada cheese sauce) all I ordered was a plate of fries n dipped them in his “gravy” for dinner. YES arteries are clogging all over this world, but man ur was yummy ! He just looked at me in awe n said he’d order just that next time lol see mom isn’t such a weirdo afterall

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