The True History of Buffet Dining

Every time the month of Ramadan arrives, festivals, parties, restaurants, or eateries in our country, whether big or small, start promoting buffet meals to break the fast.

Even with prices seemingly getting higher and higher, dishes like this that allow customers to eat and drink as much as they want or can afford, remain the choice of many.

Worth it or not worth the buffet meal, the original history of where the culture and tradition of eating buffet style or in English terms this buffet is something interesting to learn.

Who actually started this method of self-service dining?

The true meaning of the term buffet

To discuss the history of this buffet eating method, it would be good to see where the original term came from first.

This is because buffet is not an English term. It is also legitimate that the buffet does not come from a term created by the Malay community, right?

From a linguistic aspect, ‘buffet’ is a French loanword term that has two vastly different meanings.

The first is ‘buffet’, referring to someone’s act of stomping, hitting or slapping with the hand. This term and meaning come from the old Peranics term ‘bufe’ from the 12th century which refers to the act more generally.

‘Bufe’ does not specifically refer to the act of hitting with the hand, but can be used to describe an object that violates another object and also the nervousness of someone who receives bad news.

The term ‘buffet’ which carries the second meaning is a newer term, first introduced around the beginning of the 18th century, more precisely in 1718.

In French society, cupboards or shelves used to arrange crockery used for the purpose of meals are referred to as ‘buffets.’

So, we have two original meanings of a buffet. One fist. Another closet. Why do we refer to a free meal as a buffet?

The mystery of the buffet is unraveled

Pronounced as ‘buh-fei’, the buffet term we use is borrowed from a word that means ‘cupboard’, as we mentioned above, it’s not a fist.


Its history began not in France, but from the eating culture of Scandinavian communities such as in Sweden, Finland and Norway; but is believed to have been initiated by the community from Sweden.

They love to organize mass meals called smorgasbords, which combine hot and cold dishes arranged randomly on a table.

Smorgasbord means ‘sandwiches served openly on the table’, where individuals participating in the ceremony will prepare their own meal using whatever traditional ingredients are provided on the table.

Instead of a sandwich dish, this tradition began to grow leading to heavier dishes before being scooped up by the French, practiced during the breakfast time of the aristocracy there.

For the convenience of guests, the French will usually provide dishes that their guests can use in cupboards or buffet-type shelves. The buffet will be placed not far from the food served so that the food intake process is smooth.

Eventually, French society began to refer to the method of serving the food used as the ‘buffet method’, stemming from the shelves or cupboards used during meals.

The name is attached, also borrowed into English so that all types of self-service dishes no matter what form of food is called a buffet.

The world’s largest buffet dinner in Thailand

Although originally from Sweden and popularly using the term French loan, the world’s largest buffet dinner was successfully hosted in Thailand in 2017.

To promote their state as a tourist destination, the Koh Samui state government in collaboration with the Thai central government and several private companies organized the world’s largest buffet meal at Chaweng Beach, during the Samui Festival that year.

Food and drink dishes provided free of charge to all visitors involve more than 10,000 types of dishes arranged on the table, along a total length of 2.5 kilometers.

More than 30,000 visitors came to try the food and drinks prepared by a line-up of chefs from all over Thailand, specially selected to handle the giant event.

The hard work of the Thai community managed to break the 2010 record held by the Indian community in Ahmedabad, in terms of the diversity of recipes.

The event in Thailand managed to serve 5,829 different types of recognized cuisine while the buffet dining event in India ‘only’ managed to serve 5,612 different types of dishes.

This proves that even though the tradition of the buffet was created by the Swedes and the term was borrowed from the French, this chapter of large gatherings is indeed the main specialty of Asian people like us.

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