Sunday, November 04, 2007

The most glamorous Hong Kong dining yet

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, a local student led me on a tour of my dorm complex. "Here's the laundry room, there's the office," mostly mundane things with little room for commentary. But when we passed Café 113, the cafeteria-style restaurant attached to the complex, she gently cautioned that "some people think it's...not so good."

I didn't realize it at the time, but in a culture that is as obsessed with saving face as it is terrified of openly criticizing anything, that was the most damning condemnation imaginable.

Thanks in part to the Hong Kong air, which essentially has the chemical composition of aerosolized batteries, I've been fighting a case of bronchitis. So after two months in the dorm, the desire to conserve energy finally overtook my better judgment, and I decided to brave Café 113 for lunch.

Even without truly understanding how dire my guide's warnings had actually been, I resolved to play it safe with ordering, opting for a roast beef and cheese sandwich. Harmless, right? And when the sandwich came out, it looked innocuous enough. Pieces of white sandwich bread cut into friendly little triangles, the contents so sparse, they could barely be seen between the slices of bread. With far too little caution, I took a bite.

The single slice of cheese on the sandwich had the oily consistency and indefinably unnatural flavor of Kraft singles, but with a sinister white color that resembled printer paper more than actual cheese. In fact, I suspect that the cheese was chemically closer to oily paper than to actual cheese. The so-called "roast beef" featured a texture somewhere between ground beef and corned beef, with a yellowish-brown speckled color that resembled corkboard. Even in the one bite, the temperature of the beef was disturbingly uneven, suggesting a smorgasbord of possible intestinal infections that could soon be complementing my bacteria-ridden lungs. Clearly, my selection was a disaster.

But I was hungry. So I took another bite.

The second bite largely resembled the first in flavor and consistency. As I chewed (and, unfortunately tasted) my food, it occurred to me that this sandwich was probably the single worst food product I had taken more than one bite of in months, if not years. I pondered the wisdom of going forward, contemplating whether getting a few calories – from a sandwich that cost me about US $1.25 – was worth subjecting to myself to this gastronomic apocalypse.

It was immediately after my third bite, as my teeth sunk into – no, bounced off – a hard, granular pocket of alleged beef, that I decided I should cut my losses.

So remember, Harvard kids: the next time you're strolling through the Hark, pondering some particularly unappetizing Sodexho option, just think to yourself, "At least I am most likely capable of affirmatively identifying each component of this food, and can say with reasonable certainty that it is not actively dangerous to my health." Perspective is important.

As for me, at this time, I am proud to report no new bacterial infections!

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