Sunday, March 15, 2020

Pandemic Dining Expererince

FusionFest hosted a Diversitastic Dining Experience at Veggie Garden (1216 E. Colonial Drive, Suite 11 Orlando, FL 32803) which offers Vietnamese food. You’ll receive a full meal, chef talk about the food and eating customs, entertainment, presentation about the culture and more. Each month FusionFest will offer patrons a chance to immerse themselves into exploring the tastes, sights, sounds and mindsets of another part of the world. Each experience is approximately $50 all included.

Earlier this day the World Health Organization had announced that the Covid-19 virus was a pandemic and to avoid the spread of the disease we should  practice social distancing.When I arrived I just kept thinking that crowding together on a deck next to Colonial Drive might not be a great idea. Until Pam arrived I sat a a distance of a bout 20 feet away on a cement bench in the courtyard. The DJ was busy adjusting lights and rubbing his nose with his hand. The music was LOUD to blast away and threat the virus might have had.

The tables were about half as wide as any other table I ever sat at. My knees almost touched the person across from me and when I leaned over my plate and blew on my soup, I just about butted heads with the person across from me. This was not the 6 foot distance that the World Health Organization had advised. Regardless the food was delicious, being cooked by a Buddhist monk.

The appetizers to begin consisted of Bò Bía (Summer Rolls) consisted of rice paper, sauteed carrot, jicama, tofu, fresh lettuce, herbs, peanut sauce. Also offered were crispy Chả Giò (Spring Rolls) which had crispy deep fried roll with shredded vegetables, mung bean, tofu, plum sauce. The main meal was served inside buffet style. That meant I would have to use the serving utensils everyone in the crowd was using, a fine way to transmit a virus hand to hand. There was some hand sanitizer on a counter and I squirted some on my hands after getting my servings. A main dish was, Mì/ Hủ Tiếu Xào which consisted of Sauteed noodle, Soy protein Ham, Tofu and Vegetables. Another dish was Cơm Chiên Thập Cẩm which was Fried rice with mixed vegetables. Everything was vegan.

Terry Olson introduced the evening and a couple performed music which was oddly Italian in theme. Italy has experienced 15,000 cases of the virus as of March 13. 2020. World wide as of March 13, 2020 there have been 200 deaths in Italy as of March 14, 2020 and 5,429 deaths world wide due to Covid-19. Those numbers will be exponentially higher by the time you read this. At my table someone reached out to shake my hand and I offered an elbow bump. It became a joke, but that is how we all greeted each other. The gentleman next to me had just flown back to Orlando From California. He practiced the only social distancing that evening by covering his nose and mouth with a bandanna while he was in the serving area. I respected him for that.

The most impactful and emotional moment of the evening came when Cindy Pham told her story of escaping from Vietnam as a child. She had to travel in a small sail boat and was sea sick for the entire voyage. When in America she had to start life over, not knowing the language. A family in Colorado took her in and she worked her way through college becoming an electrical engineer. She visited Orlando and loved the weather which reminded her of Vietnam. She volunteered at a Buddhist temple and now volunteers at Veggie Garden. The chef came out and spoke for a bit but she knew no English. Cindy translated.

The piano player also performed on a string instrument, walking among the crowd and offering some people the microphone for karaoke. Ugh, three separate people sang into that mic without it being cleaned or disinfected between performances. No one seems to be taking the warnings from the World Heath Organization seriously.  Egon Schiele, one of my favorite artists died at the age of 25 from the epidemic of 1918 right after the First World War. I always wonder what amazing things he might have created had he lived longer.

On a more positive note, the food was delicious and the performances were a delight.

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