We sit down and deciding what to order goes like this...
Ba: What do you want to eat?
Grandma: I don't care.
Ba: Pick something!
Grandma: I don't care. I'll eat anything.
Afram: Get something with mushrooms or broccoli.
Grandma: (laughing because she hates mushrooms and broccoli) He knows me too well!
Ba: You gotta pick something.
Grandma: I don't care!
Ba: They don't have I don't care on the menu!
Grandma: (looking at the menu) Okay... I want... the "I don't care."
My grandfather says he's going to get flounder, much to my delight and surprise, but then he ends up ordering fried calamari again, and then I'm sad. Afram and I order gai lan, e-mein with dried scallops, seaweed tofu soup, and general's chicken (which turns out to be too hot for my grandfather, even though he used to like spicy things and it's not very spicy).
As we ate, I tried to think of stories for my grandparents to tell.
"Ba," I said. "Tell Afram why you don't like yams."
I was expecting him to talk about being poor and how yams were cheap in China and as a result, they always mixed it in with the rice to stretch it. He ends up telling us that yams were prevalent in Northern China and that he prefered American potatoes. He tells us that the Chinese word for potato actually translates to "foreign yam." While we are talking about it, the cute young Chinese waiter comes over and talks to my grandfather about China. My grandfather tells him that potatoes are hard to get in China and the waiter is confused, saying that he never had a problem finding potatoes when he was in China.
"Well, this was like eighty years ago," I explained. There are looks of recognition and laughs all around.
After the dishes arrive, my grandfather asks the head waiter for soy sauce and ketchup. The head waiter smiles and says that he will bring the soy sauce, but that they don't have any ketchup. My grandfather is shocked and appalled.
"You don't have ketchup?!"
It's as if the waiter told him they don't have water.
I imagine that this will be the end of it, but then later when we are almost done eating, he calls the head waiter over again.
"You know," my grandfather is practically yelling at the waiter, "You'd get a lot more of my business if you just had ketchup! I live five or six blocks away! I'd come here a lot more often if you had ketchup!"
The waiter laughs good-naturedly and says he'll talk to the boss about getting some ketchup.
"Or maybe we can just get a few packets from McDonalds," the head waiter offers as I cover my face with my hands. At least they seemed to take it well. Guess that's the good part about being 96. You can yell at people about not having ketchup and people just think you're cute.
My grandfather pays the bill and they bring us a red bean tapioca soup dessert. He continues to rant about the absurdity of them not having his favorite condiment.
I mentally decide to start carrying around ketchup packets in my purse where ever I go out with my grandfather so that he won't continue to dislike places with good food just because they don't have ketchup. Suddenly, I realize why he likes Beijing Buffet, even though it basically consists of repulsive old steam-table food: they have unlimited self-serve ketchup.