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Sandwich, Bagel, and American Freedom Fighter

June 21, 2012

When I first came to the US, I hated Subway restaurant. Not because of their food or service (I loved them) but because of the number of the choices that I have to make at the counter.

What kind of bread do you want? Which cheese do you like? Vegetables? Pickles? Dressing? With chips? Soda? – I just want the same Subway Club on the menu board!

The Subway in Tokyo is not like that. What sandwich would you like? Subway Club, please. Sure, here you go. You’ll make only one choice – all the other choices are already made for you.

Freedom of Choice 

The same things happen at any restaurant in the US. What dressing do you like for your salad? How would you like your steak cooked? What side do you like?

What was surprising to me was, however, the fact that my American friends seem to know what they want. For dressing, vinaigrette please, but on the side. Medium, and can you add sautéed onion and mushroom? Fries would be good. No salt. Oh and can I have gravy on the top?

America is a free country, as taught in the school.

Dictator in The Kitchen

There is no such freedom in Japan. The dish is served in the way the chef thinks is the best, not in the way you like. It comes with the sides chosen by the chef, not by you. They are the professionals of cooking. They know what the best is for us. Let them guide the people.

In such a dictatorial society, pursuing the freedom of choice is a tough battle.  Your request to substitute salad for soup will be flatly rejected. Your attempt to have your dish cooked with less salt or fat will fail after the waitress consults with the chef. If you are unlucky, you could be kicked out from the restaurant because you are questioning the authority of the chef. You are powerless in front of the mighty dictator in the kitchen.

Fight for Freedom

A brave young American woman stood up for the freedom. She was traveling to Thailand, another country where the choice of food seems controlled by the chef, not by the people. She went to a deli and found a vegetable sandwich and a bagel with smoked salmon. As a vegetarian bagel lover from Chennai, where no bagel can be found, she requested a vegetable bagel – a mix-and-match of the two on the menu. The response she got was, “sorry but we don’t have a vegetable bagel on the menu.”

As an American, the defender of freedom, she fought back. Pointing out the sandwich and the bagel on the menu, she explained she just wanted the inside of the sandwich on the bagel. No luck. She try to convince them how simple it is to make the swap. No luck. “Oh I’m sorry, Madam, but it cannot be done.”

So she switched her tactic. Like India’s great freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi, she walked away and went on a hunger strake.

Today’s Lesson

Tonight, she is coming back from her second trip to Thailand. It was also her second fight for the vegetable bagel, the symbol of the freedom. Within a couple of hours, I shall know the outcome of her fight for the freedom.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2012 1:03 pm

    No more hunger strike. I used non-violent non-cooperation, as inspired by Gandhi. i ordered 3 sandwiches (which only shocked them a little)! And I mixed the contents until I achieved the perfect bagel sandwich with avocado and egg. There was so much tragic waste (especially of my money), including a perfectly lovely biscuit that I simply could not finish.

    In general, I had great success convincing Thai and Cambodian chefs to make special arrangements for me (less success ascertaining whether they really knew what had fish in it). I was surprised that an American establishment like Dean & Deluca was, by far, the least flexible. Because it is comparatively high-dining with their truly amazing ingredients, they viewed themselves as a non-substitution haute cuisine restaurant. To me they are are a fancy, expensive sandwich shop and should make my sandwich to order like they do in NY or Napa!!

    In total, don’t tell Steven how much my sandwich cost, but it was perfect and I was in ecstasy.

    • June 22, 2012 8:15 pm

      Elizabeth,

      Thanks for the update. And now I’m glad to know that happy ending. Any freedom costs and I’m sure Steven supports your sacred battle.

      – Shinobu

  2. Bharath permalink
    June 23, 2012 9:10 pm

    Just discovered this Shinobu. EXCELLENT!! You are eactly that person who should be writing like this.

    B

    • June 25, 2012 11:14 pm

      Hahaha. Thanks, Bharath. Will try to keep up with your expectations. ;-)

      – Shinobu

  3. June 23, 2012 11:12 pm

    “In such a dictatorial society, pursuing the freedom of choice is a tough battle. Your request to substitute salad for soup will be flatly rejected. Your attempt to have your dish cooked with less salt or fat will fail after the waitress consults with the chef. If you are unlucky, you could be kicked out from the restaurant because you are questioning the authority of the chef. You are powerless in front of the mighty dictator in the kitchen.”

    Seriously, this extends to sandwiches/fast food/cheap dishes in Japan? Aieeeee, what happens if one has a food allergy? I think these folks probably think North Americans are spoiled, like picky children. :D I have noticed over the past few decades, in later generations of children, more parents seem allow kids to be picky instead of getting them to eat certain healthy foods prepared in a variety of ways. That is the other extreme, where some people end up becoming very picky as adult eaters. People who are a pain the neck to eat with / serve food.

    For restauranteurs wanting tourist- customers, it’s just wiser to offer not just 1 filing but at least 2-3 other filliing choices.

    So in Japan are there not extensive restaurant menus? The Chinese restaurants sometimes go overboard with choice –50 different choices or more. :D

    • June 25, 2012 11:13 pm

      Jean,

      I like the Chinese menu system. They have all the possible combinations of ingredients and cooking styles so that I need to spend 15 minutes go line by line (and I always end up with Ma Po Tofu.)

      No, we don’t have such a sophisticated system and sometimes the name is not descriptive enough. On the other hand, most restaurants in Japan have a picture menu, so your instinct can easily tell you what you want. Oh, and don’t forget about the food samples. There is one street in Tokyo with a handful of food sample shops (for restaurant owners.) They look really real. Expensive, though.

      – shinobu

  4. Joy permalink
    June 26, 2012 9:47 pm

    Shinobu! This is the first post I’ve read of yours and I love it! Hope you and Ayako are doing well. Please, let’s catch up soon (Skype or G+?)!!

    • June 28, 2012 8:15 am

      Thanks, Joy. Yes, we are surviving ok. Yeah, definitely we should catch up. Any plan to come to Thai, by the way?

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