I hate it when I have a bad experience in a restaurant. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s not just because of the food. Someone once said, “Food eaten in anger turns to poison in the stomach.” I’ll give that quotable quote my own spin: Food eaten in regret makes one want to forget.
Cantonese Kitchen had been on my radar of restaurants to try. It’s in the immediate vicinity, and is situated right across Mey Lin, home of the most succulent, lip-smacking pata tim one will ever eat. Today I grabbed the opportunity to have lunch at Cantonese Kitchen. It was one of those very rare days when I could honestly say that there wasn’t a thing to eat at home (nothing cooked anyway). So off Boo and I went.
It started out pleasantly enough. As soon as I walked in the restaurant, I spied some delicious looking flaky things on a tray waiting to be sent out to a diner. They turned out to be asado pies (P68). Noticing how enchanted I was with them, the waiter placed an order on my table. They were layers upon layers of flaky lard pastry hiding a sweet asado (seasoned roasted meat, usually pork) mixture. These pies were great. I was excited to see how the rest of Boo’s and my meal would turn out.
Cantonese Kitchen serves Cantonese cuisine, naturally. (!) It’s the Chinese cuisine most Filipinos are familiar with. Wok-fried meals and dimsum are Cantonese in origin. Such familiar offerings include hakaw, crab and corn soup, sweet and sour pork, noodles in soup, lemon chicken, etc. Authentic Cantonese cuisine does away with heavy sauces, which allows the food’s natural flavors to come through. Heavily reliant on the freshness of the ingredients, it is common to see live seafood in their watery holding pens in these restaurants. (Cantonese Kitchen has a tank of large live crabs at the back.)
The menu offers the usual Chinese fare ”“ like I said, familiar food. Because I love anything with the word “taro” (gabi) attached to it, I ordered the fried taro spring roll (P55). I thought it to be their version of taro puff. Er, sort of. It was more like mashed taro wrapped in a lumpia (spring roll) wrapper and fried. It was greasy and tasted more like oil than taro.
For the main course, Boo had the crab and corn soup, while I had the seafood hofan (P145). Hofan is another favorite of mine ”“ it’s such fun to suck and slurp those flat, wide rice noodles. My first impression of the hofan however, when it was brought to the table, was that it was so pale ”“ appealing but pale. I ate a forkful. It tasted pale too: somewhat insipid, and in dire need of a squirt of soy sauce. There was a fair amount of seafood: some fishballs, one large shrimp, some thin fish fillets, and some rather tough sea cucumbers.
Throughout our meal, I would take a few pictures here and there. I don’t use a flash when I shoot food, so I was in no way intrusive. I didn’t even get up out of my seat. All I was shooting was the food that I had ordered and was paying for.
Out of the blue, this stocky, fair woman calls out to me from behind: “No taking pictures!” She says, complete with a waving hand. I noticed that her English was very broken; she would’ve preferred to cuss me out in Chinese, I’m sure.
I lowered my camera. “Why not?” I reply. “I like taking pictures.” (I wish I’d said something a bit more clever at the time, but I swear it was the first thing that came out of my mouth).
“No, no,” she insists, still waving her hand. And then as quickly as she appeared, she then disappears.
Slighted, I put my camera away. The remaining noodles on my plate suddenly looked limp and lifeless. I had lost my appetite. I began to seethe inside. I wasn’t going to just leave with my tail in between my legs, my camera dangling forlornly at my side. Like hell, I was.
After I had paid the bill, I asked that nice waiter (Jo-mel) who had given me the asado pies to call the girl back. When he returned, he told me that the girl, Helen, was busy ”“ what was it I wanted? Jo-mel then told me that he’d relay my message to Helen.
That’s when I knew that this was a manager who cared more about following her own rules than taking care of her customers. Does she think her restaurant will survive without customers? What a pity.
On the soapbox
With the advent of blogs and camera-phones, most people are now taking pictures of everything, including the food they eat at restaurants. Almost all the restaurants I’ve shot in have no complaints about my taking pictures: they’re firm in their belief that they serve good food and they have no insecurities about anyone trying to copy them. If they ask, I give them my business card and there’s no problem. They know it’s good publicity for them ”“ heck, who wouldn’t want publicity?! Even my fellow food bloggers in the States and elsewhere don’t get hassled with insecure simpletons who won’t allow photography in their restaurants.
I’m aware that some restaurants are wary of people taking photos in their establishment, fearing that it’ll be part of a published feature somewhere, and that they’ll get slapped with some kind of “advertising” fee. I don’t know which malicious media outfit started that, but it gives a bad name to us food writers. All food articles I know (and have written about) are FREE OF CHARGE.
When I take pictures in a restaurant, I never leave my table. I only shoot the food that I’ve ordered. I don’t take pictures of the restaurant unless I’m on assignment; and I’m always, always respectful to everyone I meet. I’m very discreet: I don’t disrupt the other diners, and I only take a few shots. I don’t take forever with my camera because I want to eat my food while it’s still hot.
Since I’ve ordered the food and am going to pay for it, it’s technically mine. If the plating is so pretty that it makes me want to cry, or if it’s so good it makes me forget my name, I’m damn right going to take a picture of it so that I’ll remember it forever. It’s my right.
Finally, I’m just sad about what happened: sad that this Helen whats-her-face refused to talk to me (the ignorant winch); sad that what could’ve been a pleasant meal turned out sour; and sad that Cantonese Kitchen has lost this customer.
Jupiter Place Bldg.
Jupiter St., Makati