All-You-Can-Eat Buffets in the U.S., Taiwan, and Thailand
Dinner Buffets in the U.S. vs. East Asia
While living in the United States, I always enjoyed going to breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets. For one price, you can eat as much as you want. Most of the food is self-service with a wide variety of hot and cold dishes to choose from.
During my first experience living overseas, in Taiwan, I was introduced to a Mongolian barbecue buffet. Currently, I live in Thailand, where I enjoy seafood barbecue buffets as well as both Thai- and Japanese-style hot pot buffets.
In this article, I describe the various kinds of all-you-can-eat buffets that I have experienced in my life.
All-You-Can-Eat Buffets in the United States
While living in the United States, I enjoyed going to American and Chinese food all-you-can-eat buffets.
In the 1980s, I started to partake in these kinds of buffets, or smorgasbords, in Maryland. At that time, my family and I lived in the Baltimore area. When I learned from a friend that the Horn and Horn buffet was situated on Ritchie Highway not far from our home, we started going there around 1985.
I always looked forward to eating at Horn and Horn because it had a wide variety of hot and cold dishes. Horn and Horn served boiled ham, fried and baked fish, barbecued ribs, fried and baked chicken, and pizza. Its hot vegetables included mashed and baked potatoes, french fries, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, green beans, and beets.
The salad bar was my first stop. There you could load up a plate with lettuce, carrot and celery sticks, sliced onions, asparagus, and top everything off with an assortment of salad dressings, bacon bits, or bread crumbs. At least two or three different soups like mushroom and vegetable were also offered.
The favorite part of the buffet for me was the dessert bar. My mouth always watered whenever I spied pecan and cherry pie slices, chocolate and cheesecake, puddings, cookies, ice cream, and other sweets on display. I watched how much food I ate so that I would always have room for at least two desserts at the end of the meal.
For beverages, Horn and Horn served juices, soft drinks, milk, tea, and coffee.
I stopped dining at Horn and Horn in the 1990s but discovered Horn and Horn's successor Cactus Willie's around 2000. Cactus Willie's was even better than Horn and Horn because it introduced steaks grilled to order when it took over Horn and Horn's operation at the end of 1998.
Besides Horn and Horn and Cactus Willie's, the Golden Corral and Old Country Buffet started to become popular after 2000. These buffets offered what Horn and Horn and Cactus Willie's did but could not compete in service and quality of food.
During the late 1990s, I started going to Chinese buffets in the Maryland area. Besides offering American food, the Chinese buffets had a lot of seafood with shrimp, prawn, squid, oyster, and clam dishes. They also served boiled and fried pork dumplings, fried noodles, and special Chinese dishes like General Tso's stir-fried chicken.
Cactus Willie's Buffet in Maryland
Mongolian Barbecue Buffets: Taiwan and the U.S.
My experience with Mongolian barbecue buffets dates from 1969 through 2000. I had my first Mongolian barbecue buffet in 1969 in Taipei, Taiwan, while I was stationed with the Navy there. After returning to the United States and living in Maryland, I discovered a Mongolian barbecue restaurant in Maryland City just outside of Fort Meade where I worked.
According to an article in Wikipedia, a Mongolian barbecue is not Mongolian cuisine at all. It is a stir-fried dish developed by a Chinese man named Wu Zhaonan in Taiwan in 1951. Meat and vegetables are cooked on large, round, solid iron griddles at temperatures up to 300 degrees Celcius or 572 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whenever I ate at the Chungking Restaurant in Maryland, it was always a treat. After being seated, I took a big bowl and walked along a self-serving line that had a variety of frozen raw thin slices of meat and assorted vegetables. The meat included beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, and venison. For vegetables, there were usually slices of cabbage, green onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, and tofu. After placing the meat slices and vegetables in a bowl, you had the choice of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, cooking wine, lemon juice, ginger sauce, and chili oil for seasonings to put in the bowl. Following this, you handed your bowl to a chef who stir-fried it for two to three minutes before handing the bowl back.
Toasted sesame buns (shaobing), pickled vegetables (paocai), hot and sour soup (suanlatang), and roasted peanuts were also included with the Mongolian barbecue. Green tea was included and you could also order Chinese beer like Qingdao if you desired.
Preparing a Mongolian Barbecue
Thai Barbecue and Hot Pot Buffets
In 2007, I retired to Thailand. There, my family and I often go to Thai-style barbecue and hot pot buffets. Also known as mu kratha in Thai, this buffet is a combination of Korean barbecue and Chinese hot pot.
On a table in an indoor or outdoor restaurant, you will find a big pot sitting on a pail of burning charcoal. A dome in the center of the pot is surrounded by a moat filled with water. Fresh thin-sliced meat and seafood are grilled on the dome. The meat mainly includes pork, beef, pork liver, bacon, chicken, shrimp, and squid. Slices of cabbage, lettuce, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, morning glory, baby corn, bamboo shoots, tofu, and shrimp are usually placed in the water. The food can be eaten after it is grilled and boiled.
As side dishes, you can choose from papaya, seafood, and meat spicy salads, western salads, steamed or sticky rice, fried noodles, and grasshoppers.
There are also assorted Thai desserts, ice cream, fruit, soft drinks, and juices to choose from.
The buffet is all-you-can-eat for a price averaging 200 Thai baht, or $6-7.
Thai Mu Kratha Barbecue and Hot Pot
Japanese-Style Shabushi Hot Pot Buffet
A recent newcomer in Thailand since 2010 is the Japanese-style hot pot buffet restaurant called Shabushi. Shabushi is unique as a hot pot buffet because it specializes in imported fish such as salmon from Japan and also features a conveyor belt that rotates small dishes of food from the kitchen around the tables in the restaurant.
Although Shabushi serves slices of beef, pork, and chicken, it is more known for its seafood such as salmon, mackerel, squid, and shrimp.
Shabushi serves more than 80 dishes of meat, seafood, and vegetables via conveyor belt to tables. Vegetable dishes include cabbage, lettuce, morning glory, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, corn slices, and others.
After selecting your dishes from the conveyor belt, you place them into a pot which is divided into two. One on side of the pot you have only water for a clear soup. The other side has peppers and spices for making a tom yum or spicy soup. All dishes of meat, seafood, and vegetables are boiled together before eating.
Before eating, most people dip their food into one of the three sauces. They are the Ponzu original Japanese style sauce, Kamatore, a sauce with sesame seeds, and Sukiyaki sauce which is spicy and full-flavored.
Shabushi also has a ready-to-eat counter. Here you can find a sushi bar, shrimp tempura, grilled saba mackerel, and salmon sashimi. Fried pork dumplings which are my favorite can also be found here.
For dessert, Shabushi has fresh fruit and different varieties of ice cream.
Finally, if you are looking for a beverage, lemonade and other fruit juices are included in the buffet.
This all-you-can-eat buffet is 399 Thai baht, or around $13. Restaurant rules are that you have one hour and 15 minutes to eat and will be charged for any food you take and don't eat. Although more expensive than the Thai barbecue and hot pot, the Shabushi buffet is tastier, especially if you are a seafood lover.
Japanese Hot Pot Buffets
© 2020 Paul Richard Kuehn