A Hairrowing Experience

This is not a story for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.

Everyone has a personal list – whether mental or actual – of the food places they've heard about or know to be unclean. Many have eaten at these places despite their presence on such a list. Maybe because the food is just that good that it’s worth the risk. Maybe for convenience. Maybe because you forget. Or perhaps you just don’t think the warnings you’ve heard are all that bad.

Working downtown, there are little eateries all over the place. In my building in particular, there’s a little Chinese food place that always has a steady stream of customers. They also have a reputation among my co-workers. In fact, of all the places to eat in our building, the Chinese place is talked about the most. But up until this week, it was vague comments about how people say it’s not clean. My supervisor actually said a number of times that she thought it was pretty good.

At first, I was reluctant to try their food. Particularly since one of my co-workers (who also happens to be Chinese) always scrunched up her face and shook her head whenever we talked about eating there. Then, one day she walked in at lunch hour carrying take out from the infamous and notorious Chinese place. She brushed it off when I asked, but I got the impression that it really wasn’t all that bad after all.

If it was good enough for the Chinese lady, it must be good enough for me! I decided to give it a try. I enjoyed it the first time I went, so I ended up having a once a week Chinese lunch for about three weeks in a row. This week, my Chinese lunch day was Wednesday. Actually, all I really wanted Wednesday was a sandwich. Quick, simple and I could maybe work while I ate or play on my iPhone.

The lineups everywhere were nuts! I think there was a conference or meetings going on nearby because we usually don’t have that many people around. I looked around at all the lunch options and the shortest line was at the Chinese place. Decision made. I wasn’t particularly in the mood for it, but the short line was definitely appealing. I got my food and went upstairs and started to eat while I played a game on my iPhone. So I wasn’t actually paying attention to the food closely.

What was it going to do – jump up and do tricks!?

The chicken balls were overcooked, but they always are – whatever. It still tasted good. Until I took a bite and there was a texture that didn’t fit. I thought – hoped – that it was just a really thin noodle. I discreetly pulled said “noodle” out only to discover it was a lovely 12” long black hair. I have dirty blonde hair, so I had to rule myself out. It wasn’t mine and I discreetly got rid of the food in my mouth. (Then I started trying to avoid losing the food in my stomach. I was really grossed out.)

I packed up the food, marched downstairs to the food court and waited for the line to clear so I could show the woman at the cash what I’d found and ask for my money back. When I showed it to her, she immediately agreed to give me my money back. Then she said something that boggled my mind. It was something like, “Thank you for telling me. So many people eat here and then never come back and I don’t find out why.” (“So many”? Is customer feedback the only way to figure out the problem?)

I went back to work and told my supervisor and co-worker what had happened. When I told them what she’d said, my boss FINALLY admitted to me that she used to eat there every day. She didn’t even have to tell them her order – they just served it up for her. Then something happened. I don’t k now what it was and I don’t want to know. She’s not talking about it anyway. It was bad enough that for over a year now, she’s never been back. She also says she has no intention of ever going back. The Chinese lady decided we all needed to take a vow not to eat there ever again.

I was up for that. And I even got a recommendation for a really good place across the street. I also decided that I’m going to be more trusting of those recommendations people make even when they’re vague. Maybe the story is just not meant to be shared, but knowing they don’t eat there – ever – is always good information to have. In the end, I concluded I'd better start bringing my lunch. At least then I know the reputation of the cook - no one's ever gotten food poisoning from anything I've made. How's that for a five-star reputation!?

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