Some traditions are so subtle that you may not even realize how meaningful they are until you take a step back. For us family dinners at Mongolian BBQ in Tigard, OR are one of these.
We hadn't seen Troy's sister for awhile when she texted us that she'd like to get together for dinner, we said "of course!" and she threw out Mongolian BBQ as restaurant of choice. As one of our usual Wheeler Clan stomping grounds I didn't think anything special of it. Then Troy's dad texted Troy that he needed the nail gun (there is a lot of tool-trading around here), and that he'd meet us at Mongolian BBQ along with Troy's stepmom. Just like that almost half of the family was together for dinner!
The restaurant itself is comfortable and familiar, but not at all fancy. It's a family run operation that is modest in its endeavors - they have no website, make no claims, and simply offer the best food they can. For anyone that has never been to a Mongolian-style grill, you go through a buffet line to choose your own veggies, meats/tofu, noodles, and cooking sauces (including sesame oil, lemon juice, teriyaki sauce, ginger water, hot oil and more). Then you hand your plate to the chef and he cooks it on a giant, round, super hot cooking surface (I don't know if it has a proper name, but it's like a giant skillet). When your food is thoroughly cooked he hands it back to you on a fresh plate and you head back to your seat to enjoy!
As we were chowing down and catching up, Troy's dad looks over at the chef and goes, "That guy has been walking around that stove for 20 years... Can you imagine walking around that thing for 20 years? At least that's how long I've been coming here, and I've never seen anyone else." THAT'S when I realized how special this place really was. Not only have the people running it been so dedicated for so long, but this was also a place that had quietly become a bearer of 2 decades worth of family memories.
Troy was 8 when they moved to Portland and started eating there a few times a year. We were 15 when I was first invited to a family outing there (and it was my first ever Mongolian-style eating experience). After we left for college we made sure to always eat there on our visits back home. It's a place where we meet to fill each other in on life's dramas; where we seek reassurance and guidance from one another. And it's where we told Troy's mom that we were having a baby (our server wished us a little boy - it worked!). I don't think Troy and I have ever been there by ourselves, we are always with one or many of our family members, chatting in our booth well after we are done stuffing our faces. That night was no different as we practically closed the place down hearing tales from Troy's dad's and stepmom's recent vacation across the county, and his sister's trials at work.
Maybe it's just me, but I feel like if you asked any one of us "what are your biggest family traditions?" we would all mention the major holiday celebrations; Halloween - trick or treating at Troy's dad's cul-de-sac (they do it up MAJOR on that block), Thanksgiving - having both extended families get together for a food fest (I'm super honored my family and his get along super well), or even the annual Mother's Day Brunch. Mongolian BBQ is hidden in the background of our daily lives, so ingrained as part of the family backbone that it's not even worth mentioning. I think that's beautiful.
Today's your day, though, Mongolian BBQ. Today I acknowledge the impact you have had on our lives (and our guts). I am grateful for your delicious food and your unassuming manner. May your skillet keep burning and your plum sauce keep flowing, for we shall keep visiting! My hat is off to you!
Perfect Stranger, do you have a special place where your family gets together? Tell me about it!