The other day, I took a different bus home and one of the stops was right in front of a Chamorro restaurant. Imagine my surprise at an actual Chamorro restaurant in Seattle! It was in a small, shack of a building, but there was a latte stone and the words Chamorro BBQ. My heart jumped! When Mike got home, we went back to the place to investigate.
A Filipina woman greeted us as we walked in. Mike asked if she was from Saipan. She shook her head and said, “No, my husband is.” I saw a man in the back, scrambling from one end to the other. I scanned the menu eagerly for Chamorro cuisine like chicken kelaguen. But there was none, save for some BBQ, but the only Chamorro thing about it was the guy at the grill.
The Chamorro guy came out and introduced himself. He asked me some questions in Chamorro and I replied in chopped-pathetic sentences. He asked me my family name (the name or nickname my family is better known as) and I told him, “Pitu.” I tried to explain that my uncle was the former mayor, my mother’s real name, etc. He said he hadn’t been home for years, that he had been in Seattle since ’83. So I guess he wouldn’t know my uncle. But here’s the kicker: he said, “You should really know your family name.” I told him, “I did, it’s Pitu.” He repeated, “Yeah, I know that, but you should really know the name.” I thought, didn’t I just tell you that? I had flashbacks of all these mean cousins and distant relatives who tried to shame me because of my weak language skills. I didn’t say anything because the food came out. Because of my new-found vegetarianism, I had udon and Mike had chicken teriyaki. His red rice tasted burnt and I felt embarrassed that he would be eating it something not done as well.
Then other flaws came to light. The iceberg lettuce in the salad bar was withering under; every surface seemed to have a greasy just-wiped-with-a-wet-rag plastic feel to it. There was no “island” feel to the place, save for two GUAM posters tacked up in one corner. A huge Chinese portrait hung on one side. The items on lit-up menu board .. And they spelled “Restaurant” as “Resturant” and “Restaruant”. Of all the things to do, couldn’t they have spell-checked? There was another restaurant across the street, couldn’t they have used that as a reference? It felt like another teriyaki place that couldn’t even do its teriyaki very well.
There was a great Vietnamese place a few blocks away called Pho Cycle. The place was really majestic, they made it a point to tell a story of the Vietnamese cyclicsts who knew the streets, the score, the gossip, etc., so everything in the restaurant told a story. I kept thinking of that place while I was in the faux-Chamorro BBQ. They could have done sooo much better.
So the moral of all this: if you’re going to have a Chamorro restaurant, please make it Chamorro. Have a story, explain what Chamorro is, where the islands are, what are some distinctive dishes… And don’t shame your customers! Is that too hard to ask???