I’ve been going to the same cafeteria for a few days now, getting to know some vegetables and making a name for myself. These steam table cafeterias are pretty typical here. You don’t have to speak or know what things are called, you just point with your finger and they dish it up. (Turu-turo is the Tagalog word for point)
Right when you walk in the door, you either grab a tray or a paper bento. Around meal times, Auntie Rice will pre-rice the paper bentos so you can just grab one. If you’re getting it “for here,” auntie rice will give you a paper rice bowl. Next to Auntie Rice is Auntie Specials, who has the special meats like roast pork, pork loin, breaded pork; she also has the taiwanese sausages, the brick of tofu with a preserved egg, and several other special veggie dishes. The specials section is separated from the rest of the counter by a little food fence, separating the special food from the common food.
Meat Auntie is next down the line, she has pork belly, fish steaks and fillets, etc. After her is Veggie Auntie, who likes me. She taught me how to say 韭黃 jiǔhuáng (pleco calls them “hotbed chives”). Today when she saw me she went immediately to the 韭黃 to wait for me; she called me over when I wasn’t moving fast enough. I didn’t even point to them, she just put them on my plate with a smile.
After Veggie Auntie is Supervisor, who does nothing. Then Soup Auntie, who keeps the broths ready to go on the counter, followed by a glass wall, and then Cashier Auntie, who hates me.
All the Cafeteria Aunties wear personal spit guards, that hang around their jaws; transparent walls of hygiene, hanging from their ears.
Today I knew the name of everything I ate; it was a triumph. There are two flat screens at the front and rear of the dining room; the news is always on. The rest of the room is decorated with sexy photos of the cafeteria food in various combinations.