I strongly believe that food brings people together. I'm pretty sure Donald Trump could bring about world peace if he'd just have a conversation with the Mexican president over some Tres Leches. Food transcends languages, emotions, even cultural differences. That was never more evident than during the evening I spent celebrating my Korean BFF, SU's, birthday.
Since she’s a foodie, a dinner gathering was obvious, but what kind and where is always the question. After mulling over house party options and the like, she eventually landed on dinner plans at Maggiano’s. Tysons Corner, a central location for all attendees to commute, is littered with choice places for dining but for the crowd she was accruing we thought to keep it simple. "Do you want to come to dinner?" she asked me. "Of course! Why'd you even bother asking?" I said knowing that she's aware this is a no brainer. "So you won't be uncomfortable around all my Asian friends?" she asks me jokingly. "Just put the food in front of me. I'll be fine".
There were to be 20 of her closest friends in attendance, including myself and Chavon, another mutual friend of ours. Chavon and I would be the only 2 black people in attendance that night. While I wasn't overly worried, I was a little anxious about how things might play out. I don't particularly like talking to people I don't know, especially not in situations that already highlights the "elephant in the room".
As I began coordinating arrival plans with Chavon, since I did not plan to make my grand entrance alone, the ever complicated matter of paying the check came up. It's always so infuriating to dine out in large groups as the awkward bill splitting production inevitably ensues. It seems that no matter what I've ordered, even if it was just a free glass of water, I always end up paying $300. I thought we had overcome dubious bill itemizing with the advent of separate checks, but now we are affronted with denial and limitations if our party is not within a certain size. We wondered if this same moment of discomfort existed in the Asian world since it has been plaguing the black community for years.
We arrived a few minutes before we were to be seated. Awkward introductions and shaky eye contact ensued as we all waited for the guest of h0nor to arrive and subdue the underlying tone of uneasiness. Before I had a chance to insert anymore bland jokes or politely awkward smiles, I was distracted by babies! There were babies there! Cute, squishy and fat just how I like them. I couldn't help but coo and aw as fat babies, and particularly Asian ones, are my weakness. My decision to have children is not always a concrete one, but I knew my ovaries were jumping once I laid eyes on those rosy cheeks. I suddenly had the urge to be impregnated, and discreetly shared that I'd hoped it would come out Asian. With introductions so newly made, I felt a tad bit inappropriate asking "Hey can I kiss and hold and cuddle your spawn? I know we just met but I promise I wash my hands frequently and I won't sneeze on your kid." Instead, I just ogle from afar and managed to steal a smile every now and then.
Eventually we were seated and the business of selecting our dinner was underway. With a group our size, it was more economically friendly to order family style. While this means endless servings off the prixe fixe menu, which I was not opposed to, it did leave my stomach's fate in the hands of the popular vote and not on what suited just my fancy for the evening. Luckily, I was with a crowd that shared my same zest for mussels and creamy pasta. All went well, and my tastebuds were content.
There were many rounds of laughter, numerous photo ops and too many passed plates. I even forgot I was the black one in the group. While dining family style wasn't meant literally, I really felt like I had been adopted into another world; A world not too much unlike the one I already know. They even split the check too! But they are way more high tech about it; anyone ever heard of Venmo? Google it...it saves lives 😉
Amidst conversations discussing exuberant weddings, disdain for current job roles and ordering our third round of mussels, I learned that we are all the same. Our outwardly appearances may make us feel different, but inside we all just want a second plate.