Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 11.20.04
Stanstead, Quebec


And don't forget the Chinese frog legs

Judging by their buffets, the Chinese should be obese. Of course, there weren't actually any Chinese people eating at this Sherbrooke buffet, which for legal purposes we'll call "Beni Two Ton."

Instead, we had a warehouse worth of Sunday diners scarfing down plateloads of deep-fried meat byproducts and cabbage in sauce-sauce. It was really quite tasty.

My family dines out occasionally, certainly more frequently than I did as a kid. My childhood restaurant experience consisted mainly of a much-anticipated stopover in Shubenacadie, NS, during our rare trips to Halifax. We would eat at The House of Hay, which was actually a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

It was neither a house nor contained hay. But my brother and I loved it for the novelty of its pull-knob vending machine and the luster of its neon green coleslaw.

My own children, I feel, take dining out for granted. On the other hand, familiarity has toned down most wild behavior, such as the need to visit each bathroom stall.

When we had just Emily and Kate, we introduced The Restaurant Rules: no running, no elbows on the table, no crawling under the table, no screaming, no throwing food, and no spitting.

It was around this time that we made a trip to Toronto to visit my brother, he of the vending machine fascination. He took us to M÷venpick, the Ikea of restaurants - Nordic in origin, umlauts on the vowels, and a do-it-yourself flare for the complicated. This market-style restaurant offers whatever cuisine your heart desires.

You want Cajun-Thai candied yams? Just head past the soup trough, journey through the Valley of the Doughs, turn left, walk three blocks to the J°rgenfrŘzen desert stand, turn your head and cough. There may be a lineup.

Your bill is based on a passport card stamped at each food station. By the time you get back to your table, your passport is filled and you owe Switzerland $1600.

It's a great concept but not so convenient while keeping track of 2- and 4-year-olds who forget The Restaurant Rule about no yanking on Daddy's arm while he's balancing a tray of international culinary delights.

But back to Beni Two Ton.

With the exception of Abby, the children are reasonably old enough to let loose in a buffet, where the whole point is to flout The Restaurant Rules by being piggish and jumping up so you can refill your plate with fat-wrapped fat bundles.

"Can we go get more?"

"Sure. I send you on a quest for a vegetable. Go be Raiders of the Lost Artichoke."

We did have to keep an eye on Abby, though. MSG-addled diners carrying heaps of peel-and-eat shrimp tend to be unaware of 3-year-olds making a beeline for the pretty Jell-O. At one point, Abby walked into a post. Most people kept eating as she howled. "Hmmm," they seemed to think. "Dinner AND a show."

I had to question why some diners were at a Chinese buffet at all, since so many were filling up on onion rings, french fries, and other not-exactly Asian dishes. What exactly was the attraction of the cocktail sausages in sauce. The bacon-wrapped sausages, sure, but cocktail weenies?

I think for many, a buffet is simply a challenge to be overcome, like running a marathon or sitting through an Andrew Lloyd-Weber musical.

All-you-can-eat? I'm getting my money's worth if it kills me. I can appreciate this.

Deb and I both skipped the egg roll to leave more room for an extra-big helping of General Tao chicken parts. And no matter how many times our waitress whisked away our scrap-filled plates, even if the untouched food was enough to feed a family of twenty in Bangladesh, a little voice inside said, "Hmmm, I could manage just a few more pork balls in tinned pineapple."

But you know what they say about Chinese food: an hour later, you're still out 80 bucks.