I love trying new foods. Sometimes I have to work up the courage, but I will usually give almost anything a try. This was not always the case.
When I was a kid, I was about the most finicky eater imaginable. My dad loves to tell the story of how when I was about 3, he had a two hour battle of wills with me to try a hot dog. For years I wouldn’t eat pizza because I thought it looked gross and the name seemed funny to me. I hated soups because I couldn’t always tell what was in them. Brussel sprouts were little balls of hate. Green peppers smelled funny. And stuffing them with something else was NOT an improvement. Lima beans were formed paste. Chunky peanut butter felt weird. Lobster (and shrimp) looked like a giant insects – pass. Liver and Onions? Be serious!
Every new food was a way to find a creative way not to try it. I was a constant source of irritation and frustration to my parents. And I remained that way until I turned 17. I was willfully oblivious to the culinary wonders and delights available. However, that summer I went to Europe for the first time and ate certain foods I would have bet a million dollars would never pass my lips (another great reason to travel). Maybe that’s because after England I was desperate for something different and flavorful. Fish, chips, and peas got old.
When we went across the North Sea to Norway, we went out for dinner in Oslo. My Dad ordered a whale steak. Yes, I know – don’t kill the messenger! For some reason my curiosity was aroused more than my disgust and I tried a bite. Whale. I ate whale. Well it was good. And before I get crucified by anyone reading this, I wouldn’t eat it again. I really do think the whaling industry is barbaric. But at 17, it wasn’t a concern on my radar. In Sweden I tried some indescribable yoghurt looking glop they put on cereal. Not my favorite, but I tried it. What was happening?
In Germany I tried veal for the first time. Wonderful. And yes I know what they do to make veal. I don’t care. It’s too delicious to care. How do I reconcile that with not being willing to eat whale anymore? Well veal is much better tasting than whale for one. And cows are bred for food, whales aren’t. Not a very satisfying answer I know. But the real wonder and change came in France when I was tricked into eating escargot. I may have been branching out, but there was NO WAY I would have put a snail into my mouth. But my dad had ordered some (without telling me what escargot was) and it smelled delicious in that garlic butter. He lied about what it was. So I ate one, then another. Those little things were fantastic, I told my dad. When he broke the news I was initially furious, but I think that was also the moment I lost my unwillingness to try new foods. If something like snails could mentally be so disgusting, but tasted like a celebration in my mouth – I wondered what else I had been missing out on. So from that time I was much more willing to try anything new, including some things in Hong Kong that I don’t want to know the name of.
This brings me to a funny moment that happened years later when dining out with some friends. I had been to Europe a few times by then and had tried many different foods. I didn’t think I was a culinary moron. While perusing the menu I saw an Ahi tuna tartare appetizer. I figured I loved steak tartare and this sounded very interesting, so I ordered it. When it came out the tuna was diced and sitting on some lettuce with little dollops of guacamole surrounding it. The tuna was also accompanied by little toasted rounds.
I took a piece of the toast and scooped some tuna on it. I spread some of the guacamole on top and took a bite and started chewing when suddenly I felt like my tongue and my entire face for that matter was about to burst into flames! HELP! My eyes watered. My nose immediately started running and I grabbed my water glass and chugged it down! What the hell was THAT!!! The whole table was laughing in an uproar at my rookie ignorance. That wasn’t guacamole I was informed, but wasabi! And you aren’t supposed to use it like a cheese spread I was told. A very little amount is sufficient. NOW you tell me, I thought! Well the good thing is that the hotness of wasabi doesn’t last as long as the hotness from most peppers and I was able to enjoy the rest of the appetizer – and dinner. And I both learned a new food – and lesson, but also provided much amusement to our dinner companions. All in all, not a bad night.
So I encourage people to try new foods. You might get pleasantly surprised when you get past your mental objections. And if nothing else you might amuse the hell out of your friends.