My brother once told me there is no such thing as bad pizza. There’s great pizza and okay pizza, but rarely if ever do you find pizza you can’t eat. The same goes, in my experience, for teriyaki chicken, or so I thought. Which is one reason we’re at this out-of-the-way teriyaki restaurant after an unsuccessful attempt to find lunch elsewhere on a day trip less than 100 miles from home.
My son Connor stays in our car, practically the only vehicle in the parking lot. I enter into the restaurant. As I look around the desolate interior, I hear the whistle-like theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly playing in my head. I expect a tumble weed to blow through at any moment.
Instead, from the back of the restaurant comes a man who then stands behind the counter. He looks at me but says nothing. I examine the menu on the wall above and behind him. It’s the usual mix you find at a teriyaki place, the names of the dishes aided by helpful pictures and summary letter/number combinations. I decide on L5: teriyaki chicken with noodles.
“I’ll have the teriyaki chicken with noodles, please,” I tell him.
He gives a short grunt as he writes down the order. Then he looks at me. “No ice,” he says.
Alright, I think. That’s a good thing. Cold teriyaki is right up there with cold burritos. But ice and teriyaki isn’t a common combo, so I figure I’m missing something here.
“Yeah,” I say. “Just the teriyaki chicken with the noodles.”
He nods his head and makes a slightly different pronouncement: “No lice.”
Now you may be scratching your head for a number of reasons. But to me, I suddenly know what he’s saying.
Since the majority of teriyaki restaurants I’ve visited are run by people of Korean descent all serving up Japanese and Chinese food (I’ve never quite figured that one out), I’m on safe ground to assume my order taker here is also Korean.
Just a few weeks ago at the ESL class I teach at my church, one of my students explained that there are no “R” sounds in the Korean language (or in Japanese for that matter). Being from Korea himself, he can’t, for example, say “rerun.” We made him feel right at home because my Spanish-speaking students can’t pronounce the word “thought” and I can’t roll my R’s. I always get a laugh when I attempt to say the Spanish word for railway, “ferrocarrilero.” It comes out sounding like a herd of wild cows.
So, based on this, I quickly deduce that the gentleman behind the counter means that this dish has noodles only and “no rice.”
“No rice, just noodles,” I say in confirmation. “That’s fine.”
He nods with a sharp grunt and rings up to total. I pay and he gives me a receipt. He then takes the order off the pad he’s written it on, turns around, places it on the counter of the little window that opens into the kitchen.
He then walks to the small corridor, turns, heads toward the back and emerges a few seconds later in the kitchen. He walks to the window, now on the other side of it, picks up the order, reads it as if it contains some new information. He then proceeds to cook up my teriyaki chicken and noodles.
Several minutes later, I look up to see the man carry a Styrofoam container from the stove area in the kitchen over to the little window. He sets it there. He then does his previous routine in reverse, exiting the kitchen going forward and coming around to the counter area. He picks up the box as if it is a surprise, closes the lid, sticks it into a plastic bag and gives another of his little grunts.
I come over and thank him and take the bag. He actually says thank you in return.
I go out to the car and decide to eat it there rather than trying to eat and drive at the same time. Connor (who decides to share in my meal) and I dig in.
As we eat, I explain the chef/waiter’s procedure to Connor. We surmise that maybe playing two roles makes him less lonely. All I know is that while it’s not the best teriyaki I’ve ever had it’s pretty good. And more than anything else, I’m just grateful to find something on this day when food choices seemed about as plentiful as “R” words in Korean.
For a quick meal on a trip, it turns out to be just right. Even without the ice.