“Ahya, let’s look at the fish!”
Those are the ever-familiar words of young children as they visit Chinese restaurants with magnificent aquarium setups. Here, I think of Gloria Maris and Choi Garden, both in Greenhills. (It’s now obvious that I come from that side of the Chinese-Filipino community in Metro Manila, of the many “kinds” of Chinoys out there!)
Before the food comes — and after they’re all eaten — the young children would pull their older cousins and siblings to see the lobsters, the lapu-lapu, the shrimp, and they’d be amazed when a person from behind the aquarium catches something. Memories of a time that seemed so long ago now!
Besides that, I am reminded of four other pre-pandemic Chinese restaurant moments we totally miss:
1) Watching the dimsum cart arrive
Not all Chinese restaurants have dimsum carts, but of those that do, what I remember from them is the excitement when they arrive by the table. Dimsum seems to taste so much more real if they come from dimsum carts than straight from the kitchen!
2) Eating Yang Chow Fried Rice and the other usuals
Yes, we’ve probably eaten these more than once in this time of pandemic, but at home, though, it’s just not the same!
For one, I think we miss being amazed at the incredibly large serving platters, the order in which the food arrives (cold cuts first), the dimsum, the birthday noodles, the ever-familiar Yang Chow fried rice, the peking duck, the steamed shrimps and steamed fish, and of course, to finish, the mango sago.
3) Chatting with three (or more) generations of family
Admittedly though, the scenarios I mention above are more descriptive of large birthday celebrations and the like, so it’s not all the time that we eat peking duck. Many times, we also miss eating in Chinese restaurants just for a quick lunch or dinner, in the comfort of our own direct families.
But whether big celebrations or mini reunions, Chinese restaurants have been places where we formed real bonds and experienced human interaction with friends and loved ones. That, I believe, is something a video call — even if it’s all we have at this time — will never match.
4) Fighting to pay the bill?
Chinoys know this all too well… #TheStruggleIsReal to get a bill paid not because there isn’t any money to go around, but because there’s always a disagreement on who pays! Is this something you, dear reader, experience all the time?
On my end, not so, actually! In my family at least, it’s more or less understood on who’ll pay: whoever extended the invitation pays. However, what I do relate to is how several parties in the family would contribute a fair share to the bill whenever we eat out. In that respect, the meal really does become a shared experience: not only in terms of sharing food, but also the contribution to the bill as well.
What are your favorite pre-pandemic Chinese restaurant moments you miss? Let us know in the comments below! For now, let us continue to be hopeful that what was a past reality we experienced so long ago will someday be a reality once again. There’s hope, and we should keep that hope.
The author of this article:
Aaron covers topics that range from business and ethics to culture and philosophy. He is currently a CHiNOY TV producer, a Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondent, a Philippine Association for Chinese Studies lifetime member, and an Ateneo de Manila University Chinese Studies Program constituent. An occasional TikToker, he also loves Pokémon! Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aaron.joseph.s.medina/