100daysofgrievances #43 THE HOLIDAY BUFFET

I returned from Fuerteventura over a week ago now, yet my eating habits remain firmly in holiday mode; it’s amazing what a week of all-inclusive gluttony can do for your appetite.  Three meals a day with superfluous snacks in between, what’s not to love?


I don’t usually bother with breakfast (unless you count a cereal bar after my powerwalk to work, or an elaborate brunch of a lazy Sunday), except when I’m on holiday.  When en vacances (or in any hotel), I’ll set my alarm to ensure I don’t miss the good stuff then I’ll hotfoot it down to the restaurant, jumper pulled on hastily over PJs, hair suggesting I’ve had a recent altercation with a hedge, ready to do battle with brekkie.  I had actually intended to go for a pre-breakfast run along the beach every morning of my hols, but alas it was not to be.  Instead, I’d greedily make my way round the buffet, piling my plate with several different types of egg: Scrambled egg, lovely! Ooh and that one’s got ham in it, I’ll have a dollop of that too!  Fried egg, yep I’d best have one of those… And a boiled one for luck… Spanish omelette, well,  I wish I’d known that was there!  If I just squish the scrambled egg over a bit, I can fit it on the side of my plate… I tend to avoid the mystery meat (the bacon you just KNOW you’re going to hear some British idiot whinging about and the anaemic-looking sausages), but that just means all the more room for weirdly salty eggs of the scrambled variety.


After my egg course, I like to fill a plate with an assortment of  miniature pastries of the type that I would never eat in real life.  I also like to sample all the jams and special spreads on offer (this particular hotel excelled: milk and dark chocolate spreads).  This takes a while to digest so I tend to sit reading my book and drinking coffee for a good hour or two post-pastry.  A couple of years ago, the hotel we were staying at had this on offer at breakfast time:

It pleased me immensely that the fruit juice dispensers were covered up during lunch and dinner, but that this was available all day long.  Not that I took advantage of this brekkie booze of course, I just liked the fact that I could have.


After my leisurely breakfast, I barely have time to recline by the pool before people are making movements towards the restaurant again.  When that happens, I can’t relax; what if they’re pinching all the prawns?!  I find myself saying things like “Yes, I do want to go for a walk, but we don’t want to miss lunch, do we? What if they have really good stuff on today?” This particular hotel provided a pretty high standard of food, but I have had the misfortune to have previously signed up for all-inclusive in somewhat more budget hotels.  In such establishments, lunch is usually the most entertaining meal of the day as you get to play the ‘who can find the best breakfast leftovers dish’ game…


In the hotel of all-day-wine-on-tap fame, we had delights such as ‘sausage salad’ (cut up breakfast sausages combined with sweetcorn and smothered in gallons of mayonnaise), ‘special pizza’ (cold slices of toasted baguette topped with egg, sausage, tomato, bacon and cheese), and my personal favourite, a ‘lasagne’ of sorts made with a delectable-looking assortment of breakfast debris. Delicious.  Okay, I’ll admit it, I didn’t sample any of them, but I’m sure they were stunning.


I always approach the lunchtime buffet with good intentions, my plan of attack is always the same: I will walk round and look at what is on offer, then I will take diminutive amounts of a small selection of dishes.  Having sampled these dishes, I will then return to the buffet and help myself to a slightly larger portion of the most delicious one.  A lovely light lunch.


In reality what happens is this: I am too impatient to walk round (what if someone steals all the best stuff from under my nose?), so I grab a plate and start loading it with small (so far, so good) portions.  However (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this), I don’t seem capable of stopping at a few tasty samples.  Oh no, I arrive at my table laden down with a heaped plate that I would like to be able to liken to a smorgasbord… Alas, that would cause one to envision inaccurately an attractive array of sumptuous Scandinavian delicacies.  Unfortunately, this is more of a mismatched mess.  That grilled fish looked delicious until I hid it under the ladle of that tasty-smelling beef Bourguignon.  In retrospect, that salad might have been better without the addition of a wee taster of curry. Ditto the ratatouille and that gravy…


And I don’t learn.  I’ll scoff it down (usually leaving an unattractive conglomeration of leftovers on the plate which is destined to remain on the table looking markedly unappetising until I finish my meal), and head back on up there for a clean plate.  I’ll then proceed to do exactly the same thing all over again: Oh look, they have king prawns now, I’d better grab myself some of those before that loitering buffet veteran fills his plate.  Okay, they don’t really go with the second portion of Bourguignon but what if they’ve all gone by the time I finish? Crab salad!  That wasn’t there before… If I just pile a bit on the edge of my plate, just here, then it shouldn’t be contaminated by beef juice… And a little bit more, what if they don’t serve it again for the rest of the week? By the time I sit back down, I have a plate resembling the one I previously abandoned.


It pains me a little because when I am at home, I am a vehement advocate of the ‘Those foods don’t go together – stop it!’ school of though.  I even wrote a guest post on a foodie blog on this subject: https://pinchypops.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/fish-pie-and-conservative-flavours-a-guest-blog/


But somehow, to my eternal shame, all tenets of my no-mixing philosophy go out of the window when faced with the strangely compelling allure of a buffet.


When it’s time for pudding, I don’t suddenly enjoy an increase in willpower… I KNOW I’m not going to enjoy that tiny wee square of cake with the lurid green topping, but it’s rude not to at least try it, right?  And it’s only small.  And whilst I’m at it, I might as well try a bit of the chocolate one, too.  I know it’s quite likely to be that minging faux-chocolate flavour, but you never know, and it is free, after all. The best bit about all-inclusive desserts is the fact that you can add you own toppings: all those things that are limited in an ice-cream shop and were rationed when you were a kid are suddenly free-flowing.  Raspberry sauce?  That’ll be delicious with my tiny-little-supposedly-kiwi-flavour square of cake.  Strawberry sauce?  Best have some of that, too.  Chocolate sauce?  Might well (probably will) be that fake stuff again, but in for a penny, in for a pound and all that.  Caramelised nuts? Well, that’s practically healthy, I’ll have two scoops of those… Yep, my pudding bowl is destined to sit forlornly on the table alongside my two abandoned plates, ice cream melting, sauces bleeding.


At this point, I usually suggest we retire to the pool area once again (all notions of a brisk walk disappeared along with my resolve not to over-eat).  I am too embarrassed to beckon a waiter over to replenish my drink, given the disgusting example of gluttony littering the table top, but not to worry as I saw the pool bar was serving margaritas today…


When enjoying an all-inclusive holibag, my approach to drinking is, I’m sorry to admit, sadly similar to my eclectic plate-piling.  I find myself drinking the cocktail of the day (even if it’s pina colada; a drink I wouldn’t dream of supping at home).  I also like to sample all the local spirits.  You never know, I might discover my new favourite bev.  Never mind that I couldn’t bring any back with me even if bottles over 100ml were allowed – I’ve no space in my bag, it’s all taken up with my so-far-unused running gear!  This time two weeks ago, I could probably be found sipping on a bright green margarita (same E number as the aforementioned cake topping), or perhaps the Spanish version of Pernod…  I might even have been sampling that thing on the menu that neither of us could translate.  Variety being the spice of life and all that, but unfortunately not all that beneficial to the state of one’s head the morning after.  But not to worry about that, some breakfast eggs’ll fix all ailments!

The other good thing about the pool bar (in addition to the vast range of enticing drinks on offer) is the fact that one can observe the snack bar and marvel at the fatty families, sorry, I mean people of a larger stature and simpler taste who are piling their plates with an assortment of yellow offerings whilst simultaneously bemoaning the lack of Heinz-branded ketchup. They are seemingly oblivious to the fact that they left their lunch table only an hour previously. I love a bit of free entertainment.


When evening arrives, I inevitably find that my stomach is adequately stretched (I blame the beer) and all thoughts of skipping dinner go soaring out the window (along with the likelihood of me getting up for a pre-dawn run the following morning).  Dinner usually passes in a bit of a haze of repeat buffet trips.  I would like to be that person who has a nice neat side plate of healthy salad and a second, larger, plate with a conservative portion of something tasty yet nutritious… But I can’t carry a salad plate and simultaneously load my big plate with tasters of everything on offer. So, alas, it is not to be.  I do, however, always manage to sit at the next table over from that one woman who somehow makes her buffet plate look like the cover photo of Good Food magazine.  Neatly arranged slices of cucumber, a perfect pile of shredded lettuce, a sprinkling of seeds.  Actually, scrap that, it looks more like something I imagine would feature in a publication going by the name  ‘Top Vegan’ or ‘Skinny Salading’, but either way, it looks healthy and wholesome and pretty; no commingling of condiments on her plate.  She often also has something that search as you may, you will never locate.  No matter how many times I pace round the buffet, I’ll never spot that elusive sauce-less grilled chicken or broccoli floret. It never fails to amuse me if the gentleman – I’m assuming it’s her partner – sitting opposite her has a beige mountain towering perilously in front of him.  All the onion rings, chips, calamari and chicken nuggets he could shake a (carrot) stick at.  Of course, we know that he’s making the most of it because he’s not allowed to hang out at the pool-side snack bar (they probably actually go on the brisk walks they talk about) and for the other 51 weeks of the year he’s presumably forced to eat like a rabbit.   That’s why he’s mopping his plate clean with a fourth slice of buttered bread…


I love over-hearing buffet conversations too.  I wanted to be disparaging towards one particular gentleman who was bemoaning the state of the salad bar “I much preferred the hotel we were in last year, they sliced the tomatoes the way I like them instead of cutting them into these big chunks”, but I actually got where he was coming from.  I’m not fussy about the chopping of my tomatoes, but don’t dare try and argue with me that a disk of carrot tastes the same as a baton!  Then there are the people who assess the 50-plus dishes and announce “there’s nothing I like, I’m not a fan of weird foreign food.”  Idiots.


On the one night we had a table service meal in the other hotel restaurant, I found myself massively impatient, tapping my feet and itching for a buffet spread.  This feeling has continued back into the UK.  On Monday I found myself making up a plate of assorted cheese, olives and crisps to eat whilst I waited for my dinner to hurry up and cook.  Okay, that wasn’t strictly a one-off event, but humour me and let me blame buffet-lisation, and its associated instant gratification, for my impatience and greed!


The more I think about it, the more I believe that the allure of a buffet (and the associated mismatch of flavours) is directly proportional to the number of units of alcohol one has consumed prior to ones arrival at said hodgepodge (perhaps why some hotels choose to serve pre-dawn wine?).  I will leave you with a photo the BF took of my post-pub Friday night meal a few months ago.  I rest my case.


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