One Man Tests the Limits of Mandarin's Infamous All-You-Can-Eat Buffet
One Man Tests the Limits of Mandarin’s Infamous All-You-Can-Eat Buffet
If you don’t live in Ontario, you probably don’t know that Mandarin is a chain of all-you-can-eat Chinese-Canadian buffets that lands somewhere between Degrassi and Canada’s Wonderland on the cultural spectrum. The place is an institution. Since opening their Brampton location in 1979, Mandarin has expanded to 20-plus (giant-ass) restaurants, offering customers an assortment of Asian, North American, and fusion cuisine. The buffet was also home to many fundraisers for Toronto’s former mayor, the late Rob Ford, who just loved the spot.
In grade school, my peers talked about the buffet the way that college students talk about their trip to India: It was a cultural experience that deeply changed how they viewed and interacted with the world. There was even one kid who claimed his family made a weekly pilgrimage to the restaurant, though this was also the same kid who claimed to be next-door neighbours with The Ultimate Warrior. After hearing about it from my classmates, I would beg my parents to go to Mandarin, and I did manage to make it to the buffet twice: once after we put down our family dog, and another time after attending the funeral for a distant relative. In retrospect the fact that my parents used massive amounts of food to quell the inevitability of death seems somewhat problematic, but at the time I wasn’t thinking about that. At the time I was thinking that chicken balls in gallons of red sauce are fucking awesome.
Earlier this year I celebrated my 27th birthday and was overwhelmed with the fact that by this age most of my heroes had already gotten famous and died. I’ve tried to cope with this idea in a couple of different ways: I went to acupuncture, listened to Tony Robbins tapes, and both increased and lowered my antidepressants. None of these things worked and, seeking other options, I decided to return to the childhood comforts of Mandarin. You know, like my parents taught me. I made a pitch to my editor asking if I could spend the duration of service at the buffet (approximately four hours, depending on location) taking in the scene while eating as many plates as possible. I would experience Mandarin as an adult, and I would eat food until I didn’t feel feelings anymore. I would sacrifice a bit of my body for piece of mind.
To prep for the Mandarin experiment, I contacted fitness professional and owner of Bang Fitness Geoff Gervitz to talk strategy. “First of all, I can’t recommend that you do this,” explained Gervitz. “But your number one priority is to eat as rapidly as possible. Stretch receptors in the gut take 15-20 minutes to register satiety. Hormonal regulation during this time is further cued by awareness of flavours and textures, as well as slow, methodical chewing. So don’t do any of that shit. Just shovel the food down. Be rushed and—ideally—be distracted. I wish you the best of luck with your impending diarrhea.”
With this information in mind I made a reservation for Thursday lunch at Mandarin’s Yonge and Eglinton location in Toronto. By booking a reservation at the lunch buffet I hoped that less people would witness my solo descent into a sodium-induced coma. My goal was to eat ten plates of food. I would only stop if I got physically ill.
I arrived at Mandarin just after opening. I waited in line behind half a dozen senior citizens, who were being asked to show ID in order to confirm they are indeed eligible to participate in the seniors discount. After, three staff in matching green Hawaiian shirts ushered me past the broken cotton candy machine and showed me to my corner table in section E. I was given a hot towel to start my experience. I wiped down my face, ordered a diet coke (natch), and from there embarked on a life of desserts, fried food, and freedom. The following are my notes over eleven plates and four hours at Mandarin buffet, and if you’re into blurry pictures of food and existential rambling, hold onto your butt. You’re in for a wild ride.
@bugoutfever Yeah…my parents are…something else.
When I was a kid, I asked my parents about this phenomena and they told me that “emotional eating” was a common thing/mental illness among caucasians, hence their huge obesity rates.
LMFAO…great parental answer.
I’ve been to Asian all-you-can-eat buffets around California before. Some were great, some were not so good.
On a semi-related note, I find it fascinating that some people (like this author) use food as a distraction to sadness. When I’m sad or depressed, my appetite completely disappears, so it never ceases to amaze me to see people whose appetites grow bigger when they’re sad. When I was a kid, I asked my parents about this phenomena and they told me that “emotional eating” was a common thing/mental illness among caucasians, hence their huge obesity rates. I’m not sure if that’s true or not but I do find the concept of emotional eating very peculiar.