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.
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.