cafeteria food done right

It feels blasphemous labeling such deliciousness ‘cafeteria food’, but alas, that is what it is. 24 kuai! Udon noodles and chicken katsu (Japanese-style fried chicken cutlet) for the equivalent of 4 USD. The only aspect that makes this ‘cafeteria food’ is that I had to carry the food on a tray to a table and shared a long table with a bunch of other single people. What a sacrifice! I love cafeterias!

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The Jing’an subway stop is connected to the basements of two malls, Jiu Guang (久光) and Réel Mall, to the west of Changde Road and on the north and south sides of Nanjing Road, respectively. Jiu Guang’s basement has FreshMart, a Japanese supermarket that carries a lot of foreign/imported/ridiculously expensive foods, some small stores like the Yamazaki bakery, and some sit-down restaurants. Réel’s basement is a giant cafeteria. Starbucks and Wagas are down there too, but the highlight is all the cheap, clean, non-sketchy food places and the large open seating area. I don’t eat there too often, but it’s extremely convenient, not very expensive (more than other cafeterias, but for good reason), and much better food than I could ever hope to muster making myself. There’s a healthy mix of places, with a lot of noodle or rice options (great for single people) and a fair amount of Korean, Japanese, or Sichuan/Hunan food (my friend says those cuisines are ‘popular’ among young people).

The only thing I find weird is more of a cultural thing than a critique against Réel itself. When I was done with my meal (which I devoured), I stood up, put on my coat, picked up my tray, started walking, and looked like a complete idiot. The thing is, there is no place to put away your tray. I asked one of the workers where to put my tray, she looked confused, then laughed and took it from me. Apparently you’re supposed to just leave it and a busser (more like a bus-auntie than busboy) will come around and clean it up. To me, if you walk the food over yourself, it’s your responsibility to clean it up or put it away, but if you’re served by a waiter, you can leave it. That thought process makes me an outsider. It doesn’t even occur to people here that you would put away your own tray. When I was at McDonald’s with a local friend and picked up the tray to throw the trash in the trash, she actually asked me what I was doing. I mean really? Cleaning up after yourself is just common decency. But whaddaya know, I guess I’m just abnormally well-mannered.

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