Signature dish

I should have known better than to ask about a “signature dish.”

That’s just a little to hard to get across a language barrier, and I thought I had more experience working across languages than to use that.

I knew from the first phone call that I’d have trouble. The accent was thick, the words halting, as we set a date and time to meet to talk about her new restaurant. Friday, 11 a.m., we could go to the Burger King?

I tried to suggest my favorite coffee shop instead but she didn’t understand. Fine, I said. Burger King is just fine.

We ended up in Perkins instead, a family-style restaurant across the street that smells of syrup when you walk in the door. She brought a friend-turned-employee, who knew more words but with a stronger accent; and a relative from her home country who spoke beautifully British-accented English.

She played translator more often than not.

“Why did you want to open a restaurant in Indiana,” I asked them over three cups of coffee and one of tea, and they all spoke among themselves before one gave an answer.

“What is your restaurant going to be like?” And again, they spoke together before one answered.

Those interviews are the hardest. I’m never sure that I am being understood or that I am understanding both what they say and what they actually mean to say, or that the two are one and the same. They all speak together and then the one says it again, in English, and I don’t know who, exactly, I’m quoting, or whether she’s giving me an actual translation or a summation.

And then I asked if they had a signature dish.

They all looked at me blankly.

I tried to elaborate and they tried to answer but they kept saying “country-style” and well, I don’t think a Thai restaurant is what my readers would consider “country-style.”

My story ran Sunday, short and to the point because there was less room for misunderstanding that way. But when they open I’ll have to drop by, find out for myself what their signature dish might be.


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