Here's a picture of a typical buffet spread at my family's gatherings.
For most of my life, I've loved a good buffet meal. The idea of endless choices of dishes and heaping plates of food has been a fantasy of mine.
A lot of this comes from my family, who throw lavish potluck meals for the most minor of occasions -- birthdays, baptisms, graduations, etc. For Filipinos, it would be shameful to throw a party without tables groaning under the weight of all the food, and everyone eating until they are stuffed. Not only that, everyone also has to go home with plates of leftovers or the party will be deemed a failure.
In college, I loved nothing more than a cheap all-you-can eat meal. I would have dreams about eating and eating but never getting full.
As I've gotten older and more sophisticated about food, I've found overindulging to be less and less enjoyable. The feeling of being completely stuffed doesn't have that same allure as it used to. Since I've become more active (biking, dancing, running, etc), feeling completely incapacitated after a meal means that I can't do these other activities that I enjoy.
Not that I have any willpower when confronted with a buffet. I will still stuff my plate with food and go back for seconds, plus dessert afterwards. I'm still far from the Okinawan ideal of "hara hachi bu", or eating until you are 80% full, but I find the idea intriguing to practice.
In general, if I have a choice, I would rather have a dish or two of my favorite dishes, rather than a dozen different meats, carbs and veggies on one heaping plate. I find that I can't really enjoy any particular dish if I'm shoveling in massive amounts of many different kinds of food. My appreciation for the individual flavors, spices, and textures is totally lost in the mish-mash of foods.
The best meal I had last week was the "Thit Kho Chien" at Le Colonial in downtown SF. It's a small plate of pork belly, pickled bok choy, Hosui pear, quail egg, and savory caramel, drizzled with truffle oil. In a few inches of plate was contained a medley of rich and distinct flavors that combined into something nearly overpowering and totally umami. Accompanied by a little coconut rice, this was the perfect dinner repast eaten before the jazz band started up in the upstairs bar. I was satisfied and happy, but still able to dance with my friends afterwards.
Compare that to the meal I just had yesterday for my family's thanksgiving meal: roast turkey, baked honey-glazed ham, chinese style pork ribs, pancit noodles, pasta with vegetables in a cheese sauce, polenta, rice, roasted root vegetables (that I made), mac n' cheese, baked salmon, Ceasar salad, corn-bread stuffing, and gravy. It was a completely ridiculous meal.
Coming home from my family's thanksgiving feast, it was still early and I had to eat something for dinner. My body craved something simple and nutritious. So I roasted some cauliflower with olive oil and garlic, which I sprinkled a little parmesan cheese on. So perfect and satisfying.
In this time of celebration and overindulgence, I'm going to try and remember that less is more, that simple things well-prepared are often better than a million things that are just okay.