Last week, as part of a class on food anthropology, we all had to conduct an ethnographic study of a food production place in town using participant-observation methods (read: hanging out and discreetly taking notes). Rather than choosing one of the town’s many pizzerias or gelato shops, I decided to investigate the one place that has elicited a sort of morbid fascination for me for the last month: The Chinese restaurant in Bra. That’s right, there’s only one, and there isn’t too much other ethnic food in town to speak of, aside from a couple small kebab shops.
After enlisting the help of some comrades who claimed to be strong of stomach, we ventured toward Nin Hao Ristorante on the northern outskirts of town. It was 8 pm on a Monday night, and the restaurant was ostensibly open, but the dining room looked dark from the outside, and there were no signs of life, other than a Chinese man who was sitting on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. I hesitated and gave a cautious tug on the door. The restaurant was desolate and the lights were even off. At that point, a server marched out, then turned to us with a smile as she flicked the light switch. We turned to each other apprehensively. I don’t know if I have ever dined at an entirely empty restaurant before.
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