The Grand Lunch Buffet at City Garden Grand Hotel

I may not look like it, but I really do eat a lot. There was a time when I could finish a large box of pizza, or a bucket of chicken. When I’m writing or watching Koreanovela, I could munch several packs of chips in one sitting. If I like a certain food, I would keep on eating it until the craving wears off.

My big appetite often leads me to buffet restaurants, especially if I’m craving for several items at the same time, or when I can’t decide what to eat for lunch or dinner. A week would not pass without us — Big Bear and I — dining at a buffet restaurant. Whenever there is a new smorgasbord in town, we would end up sampling their spread.

Of course, if there is an occasion in the family, buffet is the automatic choice for celebration. It is also popular choice if you are hosting a large number of guests and you don’t have staff with you to serve them. You can just lead them to a buffet and let them “get lost” in the serving tables.

I remember when I was in Seoul for a journalism fellowship. There were 10 of us from different countries,  following different traditions, customs and cultures. I don’t eat pork, by persona choice. Three were Muslims (two were from Indonesia and one from Egypt); hence, they couldn’t eat pork and should only be served Halal food. The Ethiopian guy would fast every Wednesday and could only eat vegetables and fruits. My Myanmar friend only ate chicken and fish. The rest could eat anything and everything.

With such a big group with conflicting food preferences, the logistic for the meals (I presumed) was a nightmare. What the organizers did was to send us to buffet. We had the freedom to choose what we could eat and how much portions we could consume. Definitely, the perfect solution!

Roast Beef at the Carving Station

Roast Beef at the Carving Station

History has it that buffet traced back its roots from Sweden’s smorgasbord. The Swedish term came from two words smorgas (open-faced sandwich) and bord (table). The term smorgas, meanwhile, was coined from the words smor (which means butter) and gas (which literally means goose).

During the 14th century, Swedish merchants and the upperclass would have brannvinsbord or schanapps table, a small buffet on a side table with appetizers, before sitting at the dinner table. The hors d’oeuvres were composed of bread, butter, cheese, herring and various liqueurs. Sometimes, smoked salmon, sausages and cold cuts were present at the side table.

While the main dishes were being prepared, the people would gather around the side tables, picking whatever appetizers they fancied and eating them while standing. But things changed during the mid-17th century, when the side table was moved to the main table. Aside from the cold dishes, it also included hot dishes as well. During the 1912 Olympic Games, the Swedish restaurants turned the side tables into the main course.
But it wasn’t until the 1939 New York World’s Fair Exhibition when the term smorgasbord slowly caught on. To showcase the best of the Swedish food to the large crow at the exhibition, they invented the concept of smorgasbord. When the railroads expanded throughout Europe, the smorgasbord took the world by storm.

But maybe because smorgasbord seemed mouthful, the term buffet was introduced in the 20th century. Originally, it referred to the French sideboard furniture where the food was served, but it was later applied to the meal-serving method where guests self-serve themselves.

Herbert McDonald, an casino publicist, introduced the concept of all-you-can-eat buffet (AYCE) in America. Local history tells that McDonald started the casino buffet tradition at the El Rancho Vegas in 1956 when he brought out some cheese and cold cut from the kitchen and laid them out on a bar so that the hungry gamblers could make some sandwiches for themselves.

Stuffed Chicken Roulade

Stuffed Chicken Roulade

Eventually, the buffet culture evolved and gained popularity around the world, even in the Philippines. Restaurants and hotels serving buffet are a dime a dozen. Depending on your budget and taste preference, you can try buffet anywhere in the metro. If you fancy some Korean BBQ, there are AYCE restaurants. There are also buffet serving Filipino, Japanese, Italian, French, among others. If you are craving for just a certain food, there are specialty buffet. Some restaurant offer unlimited pizza or pasta, eat-all-you-can steaks, and dessert buffet.

Ebi Tempura at the Japanese Station

Ebi Tempura at the Japanese Station

But if you want variety, you can try those buffets serving international cuisines such as the City Garden Grand’s Spice Cafe. Located at the 7th floor of the hotel, the cafe serves Grand Lunch Buffet from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.

According to executive chef Dennis Peralta, they call the dining area Spice Cafe “to evoke a sense of excited gastronomy among our patrons. Our kitchen has brought together a great amount of culinary experience to focus on one goal: using time-tested techniques and celebrated cuisines to develop rich and unique offerings for our guests. Each dish we offer represents our team’s many years of experience working in some of Manila’s finest establishments, further refined and developed in rounds of taste-testing, feedback, and experimentation in our very own kitchen.”

Whenever I dine at a buffet restaurant, I start with some soup and salad to whet the appetite. During the media launch, I had a bowl of minestrone, a thick tomato-based soup with vegetables and pasta. When we came back, we had pumpkin soup, which I simply adored. I liked the velvety texture and its buttery taste.

The salad station has Waldorf Salad, made from apple slices, celery and walnuts, dressed in mayonnaise.This salad was named after Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where it was first presented in 1893. There are also the Sausage Salad, Thai Chicken Salad, Chili Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad and Stuffed Peppers.

If you prefer something else, you can toss your own salad. Put some ice berg lettuce or romaine lettuce, throw in some carrot sticks, red or green bell pepper.Perhaps some turnips, cucumber, tomato or whatever you fancy. Dress the greens with some honey balsamic vinaigrette or caesar dressing. Choices for the dressings include Mango Citrus, Thousand Island, Ranch Dressing, Sundried Dressing, Honey mustard, French dressing, Italian, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Pesto, and Asian Dressing.

They have a Cheese Station, filled with parmesan, cheddar, mozzarella, cream cheese, brie, edam and camembert, among others. You can eat them as they are, or try them also with grapes, walnuts and olives. Or have it with some cold cuts like stuffed chicken roulade, Lyoner ham, salami, mortadella, among others. Partner the cheeses with some bread and crackers at the Bread Station. I do like breads like danish, croissant, focaccia, and baguette.

From here, you can take a pick on which station to take. There is the Chinese Station with its sio mai, mini siopai, vegetable dumpling, chicken feet, hakaw, mushroom dumpling and gyoza. Beside the dimsum are the noodle area where you can ask the chef to make you some hot piping noodles. Choose your noodles from Hong Kong egg noodles, sotanghon, hofan, or bihon; then proceed with the vegetables such as bok choi, napa cabbage, ear mushroom, beansprout, carrots and green beans. Put in the balls (shrimp, Squid, fish, mushroom) and thee Shredded beef, topped with some garlic bits. Squeeze some calamansi.

Pan-seared Salmon witth Salsa

Pan-seared Salmon witth Salsa

The Japanese Station means sushi and tempura; while the Italian Station is all about pizza and pasta. Middle Eastern Station is Chicken Shawarma galore. Ask the chef to fill a home-made paratha bread with raitta salad, shredded lettuce, onion, tomato,some hummus and yogurt, topped with shredded cheese and curry sauce. To give it some kick, add some chili sauce.

Main Course changes daily. During the launch, the choices were braised beef caldereta (the beef was quite tender), grilled pork loin with onion chutney, roasted chicken with maple gravy, pan-seared dory with salsa, potato croquette, roasted vegetables and japchae (Korean glass noodle).

But the main star is the Carving Station. Most diners headed to this station to sample the juicy and tender roast beef, best paired with Yorkshire pudding and bakes potatoes.

Meal endings are very important to me. I really save some room for desserts. (Did I mention I have a very sweet tooth?) Aside from the Crepe Station and the Chocolate Fountain, there are fresh fruits, some mango float, some bread and butter pudding. I love the truffle chocolate balls. But no ice cream! I hope they would add some to the dessert list.

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