CR Drost (kentox) wrote,
CR Drost

Food in Wateringen, or, Why I'm Getting the Hell out of Dodge.

At eight and nine o'clock, all of the supermarkets in Wateringen are closed, and if you've missed dinner so far, you're stuck with two tired dining spots: a falafel space named "Oase" on the street-of-many-names, and a Chinese place located in the twisting ennui north of the city proper.

I went to the Oase a couple days ago. "Wat wil je?" he asked, looking at me as if I were a hobo. "Sate," I said. He looked at me blankly. "Sate?" I asked. More blank stares. "Satetjes!" I said. "Come on, you've got to know what sate is, it's right on your menu. And I know I'm pronouncing it right."

"Oh, Engels!" he said, or something like it. He motioned to me to point out what I wanted on a menu. And when I did, he pronounced it exactly the way I thought it was pronounced. "Yeah, that's what I've been saying!" I opined, clearly distressed. He talked with a fellow cook, then set about tossing my skewers of chicken on a dirty metal grill. He kept shooting me these dirty looks, as if he expected me to steal something. I looked around: there was nothing for me to steal, unless I wanted to steal a bar stool.

Needless to say, I wasn't going back there again tonight. So tonight I went to the Chinese place instead.

It was the most depressing restaurant I've ever been in -- and I've been in several depressing restaurants. It's like, having soaked in the ennui of the streets around it, it has just emerged as this deep speck of suck, crystallized into an eating establishment. I was literally, actually, almost in tears as I left the place.

The waitress who rung me up tried to look cheerful as she charged me 19.90 euro for a 5 euro meal. I think she even went to get me a 10-cent piece, which I feel is adding insult to injury, so I left before she returned. I don't know -- why the attempt to be cheerful at the end? I think deep down, she was aware that the experience as a whole was downright horrible for me, and here I was, paying four times what it was worth.

The lesson? If you find yourself in Wateringen and it's 8 or 9 pm, go to sleep hungry. Temporary starvation is much better than any options this backwards town has for you.

Edit: It occurs to me that future-me will probably not remember why the restaurant was so depressing, so I might as well detail it here. Imagine this, future-me:

Suddenly, here you are, at the Chinese place. You walk inside and ask if the waitress speaks any Engels, or whether you need to talk in Nederlands. She answers that she understands a bit of English, but your grasp of Nederlands is probably even worse. Okay, so you ask if they're still open for dinner, and she says yes, then double-checks with some other man to make sure. He jokes, in Nederlands, about how late it is to be eating, before he sits you down at a lonely table facing the tired streets. The decor is a passionless brown everywhere you look. As you get sat down, a waitress asks you if you want anything to drink. You ask for a cola.

There is no menu, and no plate, nothing. Well, there's something that looks like a drinks list in the middle of the table, but you've already ordered your drink. So the silence attacks you. What are you doing here, lost and alone?

She brings you a drink. "Um, I'm not sure how things work here," I said. "How does this restaurant work?"

She offers, "first, you get an appetizer, then you wander around." That, er, doesn't sound right. So you consult the drink-list-looking thing in the middle of the table, which informs you that this is a buffet restaurant -- hence the walking -- and that the buffet costs 18 euro. Suddenly, that 20 euro in your wallet seems like a lot less than the $30 which it actually represents.

You walk up to one of the waitresses. "Hi," you say, interrupting her -- though it's late and she has no more customers. "If dinner costs 18 euro then I really can't afford an appetizer." She clarifies, after consulting with her boss, that the appetizer is contained within that price. Okay, so your confusion is a bit sated. The appetizer plate appears soon after. The sugar roll looks like a fried dumpling, so you accidentally dip it in the sweet-and-sour sauce; oh well. Munch, munch, munch.

You get up and walk around. Where the fuck is the buffet? It's hidden a bit, and there is no real organization to it. Just five seconds after you figure out the general groupings within the disarray, some Chinese woman comes out of the kitchen, trying to explain the setup in broken Nederlands. Yes, I *know* that that purplish-and-white stuff is uncooked shrimp. I *know* that the man with the wok is going to cook it for me. Do you really get people who don't know these things?

And a buffet for 18 euro? Really?! All I want is a plate of rice, maybe with some knoflooksaus and stir-fried shrimp to go alongside. Well, that part they can handle for you: real shrimp sits alongside large portions of blatantly fake-crab meat on the stir-fry station. Vegetables carefully chosen, you ask the guy to stir-fry the whole deal for you, and he tosses them into some boiling water to blanch them. He blanches them for a bit on the longish side as his wok heats up slowly, takes the local garlic-based sauce, and stir-fries the concoction. No advanced prep here. Really, *this* is worth 18 euro? I could do this blindfolded. Hell, I even selected the vegetables for the stir-fry to complement each other, already. What's left? Do I at least get some artful arrangement, with a sprig of parsley on top? Nope: dump-and-run job all the way.

Fried rice sits in one of those generic rectangular metal food-buckets that buffets and cafeterias have -- the sort that are sometimes temperature-controlled by being immersed in near-boiling water. (Future-me will hopefully understand what I'm talking about here.) It looks painfully old. Decrepit soup sits in the next-door rack. Ugh.

So you take the plate of rice-plus-garlic-shrimp back to your little isolated depressing table, and eat quietly and alone. You go into meta-analysis mode -- why is this restaurant depressing me so? -- but that just makes the problem worse for some reason.

You finish the rice and stare out into the street, realizing that this just doesn't feel like a place you want to be. It's like if all the crappy social aspects of Burger King met all the crappy tastes of Chinese food as Americans cook it, and then decided that the resulting meal was worth thirty bucks.

The waitress arrives as you contemplate these deep truths. And contemplation is deserved: does it take intentional malice to set up a restaurant so horribly? She tries to be helpful: "You can go up for a second plate." I try to politely decline. "Well, we also have ice cream and fruit," she suggests, and I feel obligated to indulge her, if only because I want to see if they somehow messed up the ice cream, too.

Fortunately, they messed up this station only by not placing the bowls anywhere accessible. I already had an appetizer plate at the ready when the woman more or less demanded (or sternly asked) for me to trade with her. Into the huge voluminous bowl went a scoop of ice cream and a couple pineapple wedges. I really wasn't into this.

They had stolen my fork, so I ate the ice cream with my leftover soup spoon and my pineapple by spearing it with my knife. The one other group-of-people in the place left. I waited until they were gone, finished off my glass of Pepsi (which was the extra 1.90 euro on the bill -- really, $2.85 for a smallish glass of Pepsi?) and snuck out on my own. The woman tried to ask me for 19.90 euro with a huge smile on her face, but, as I said above, I wonder if she secretly felt ashamed to be selling me a $5 meal for $30.

She looked after me worriedly as I walked out of the restaurant. Now that I think about it, maybe she was distressed because, to all intents and purposes, it looked like she had stolen my ten euro-cents, walking off like that. But like I said, it would have been an insult to have been refunded only 10 cents of the 15 euros that they overcharged me, so I left.
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