Ichi Umi is one of our favorite restaurants in Edison . It is very similar to Todai , a much larger chain that is popular out West , and it offers all-you-can-eat pan-Asian food for a set price. There are some amazing Asian salads , sushi , tempura , yakitori and other specialities. One of the things we like about Ichi Umi is that it offers everything, including the desserts, in small portions . This enables us to try many different dishes without wasting any food. On our last visit there , however, we were surprised to notice this note on every table :
TO OUR PATRONS
When you take sushi , please eat the entire piece . Patrons who eat only the fish and leave the rice will be charged extra . Thank you . THE MANAGEMENT.
The wording may have been different ( I don’t remember the exact words ) but the message was as I have stated above . This episode led me to reflect on the nature of greed and how universal it is .
There is a saying in one of the Indian regional languages that “ The eyes are bigger than the appetite.” meaning that we always think we can eat more than we actually can . Which one of us has not helped himself at a buffet to more than he can eat ? In time , however , we realize our limit and try not to leave any food on our plates , taking only what we can actually eat . Those patrons that the Ichi Umi management was warning are a different type . Fish is expensive and they intend to gorge themselves on it , never mind the waste .
Unfortunately , such greed is widespread and I have observed it in many situations . On an Alaska cruise we took a few years ago, there was a Captain’s night that featured a special seafood buffet. I was disgusted to see some people load up on lobster and king crab legs to the exclusion of everything else . At Indian wedding buffets , I have seen guests fill their plates to overflowing with tandoori chicken . At Chinese all-you- can- eat buffets , restaurant goers concentrate on just the ribs and roast pork.
Even the Japanese , who are highly disciplined in every aspect of their lives , are not immune to such impulses. Recently , we attended a New Year reception in Tokyo where the guest of honor was the Minister for Economics and the attendees were government bigwigs and industry titans . There were inviting spreads of different salads, and there were chefs preparing both Japanese and Continental specialties but I was amused to hear that the sashimi ran out within the first hour. Why ? I know that fish is expensive but these guests could well afford it in their homes . Yet , they concentrated on it and not on anything else.
Unfortunately , there seems to be a basic human impulse , a reaction that kicks in when we see large amounts of food. Restaurant owners have cottoned onto this and structure their menus accordingly . For instance , Harold’s deli in Edison , which I have not been to , is famous for the size of its sandwiches . Its signature creation is a sandwich with 26 ounces of meat (ham , turkey , pastrami , corned beef) between two slices of rye. Perhaps Adam Richman ,( of Man vs. Food) can polish off such a sandwich by himself but most people can’t . There are some people who will want to try but most customers just share a single sandwich between five or more of them. The overstuffed sandwiches at The Stage deli and the Carnegie deli are in the same class and it makes me sick just to look at them . At the Palm Steakhouse , the desserts are gargantuan . A piece of chocolate cake is so large that six of us could not finish it . In every case , I would prefer to see smaller , individual servings .
For me , the biggest anathema is the all-you-can-eat sushi concept . Sushi is meant to be savored : the beauty of the presentation , the freshness of the fish , the quality of the rice and the blending of taste sensations should all come together to create a wonderful experience . Sushi is not meant to be wolfed down in large quantities .Yet that is just what happens at an Edison sushi joint . Previously , there used to be a Japanese restaurant ( Fuji) at this site. The sushi at Fuji was good , the prices reasonable and the service friendly . We used to love to go there once in a while . Inexplicably , Fuji went under and a new restaurant , Sushi Palace , took over . From the first day , it was packed and there were often people waiting in line for a table . However , when we tried it out , we found the food below par . The sushi rolls often came apart because the rice was inferior , the fish was of mediocre quality and the sushi prep below par. However , the restaurant had ( has) two things going for it … prices are low and they have an all-you-can-eat option for a set price . People come to the Sushi Palace to pig out .
Such places are not for me . What I like about a buffet is the opportunity to pick and choose , to try out many different things . No matter how good a particular dish is , too much of it is a waste . At a steak restaurant , I order the smallest size steak on the menu or I share one with my wife because I know that I can only eat so much . Similarly , at a Brazilian rodizio , I am very selective about which meats I ask for. They are not always the most expensive ; they are the ones I really want to eat. Thus I may take a piece of sausage or chicken just for the variety it offers rather than feasting exclusively on the most expensive cuts of steak.
In this regard , I remember an anecdote related to me by my Bengali college room-mate . At the wedding repasts of his childhood ( he said ) , guests would be first served rice and daal ( lentils) , then more rice and vegetables , then still more rice and meat. Finally ,and only when the diners were almost full , they would be served the most expensive item , fish , with more rice , of course.
Yes , greed is a part of human nature and it is well-nigh universal , always has been .