I was an extremely picky eater as a child and I have to admit part of this has followed me into my adulthood as I can reel off quite a lengthy list of foods that I don’t like.
I’d say I was an atypical child in my eating habits. Of course, I didn’t like the usual foods that most kids typically don’t like including broccoli, peas, cooked carrots, mixed vegetables, liver, meatloaf, steak, tuna, and so forth. But add to this lengthy list of disliked items the additional fact that I did not want the food to ever touch each other on my plate. I also ate only one thing at a time until it was completely finished and moved on to the next item. And, if I wanted seconds on anything, it had to go back in the exact same spot as it was originally dished on to the plate.
My parents were the type that wanted their children to try everything and to clean our plates. Their thinking was that if you try something often enough that you just might grow into liking it. Unfortunately, my father was the one who dished up our plates and his spoonful always appeared to be a shovelful once it was placed in front of me to eat. Trust me, out of their five children, I was the one left staring at a plate full of food and making every attempt at sneaking it off to our dogs.
There are actually a few things I didn’t care for (okay, HATED) as a child that I will now eat…spinach being one. I will also now eat an occasional hotdog or steak which I did not like as a child. I didn’t grow up eating sushi, but it’s by far my favorite thing to eat. I crave it and believe my childhood would have been easier if I had been born to Japanese parents who feed their children sushi instead of my parents who pushed the typical American fare. I truly like a lot of Japanese food including seaweed salad, tofu, edamame, smoked eel, udon noodles, and spiced rice crackers.
I recently had friends – Tamara and Felix – staying with me and we visited my local fruit and vegetable market. This small store sells quite an amazing array of fruits and vegetables and they loved it. Tamara actually wants to move here so she can regularly shop at this market. I am amazed that on almost every visit to this store, I encounter a fruit or vegetable that I’ve never seen before. On occasion I get adventurous and buy a new item that is out of the ordinary for me. If I see others purchasing the item, I’ll approach them and ask how to cook it and what it tastes like. I’ve found that in the world of fruits and vegetables there’s no standard response such as the catch-all phrase in the world of meats, “It tastes like chicken.”
Following our visit to the fruit and vegetable market, Tamara, Felix, and I also ventured into an Indian grocery store. It was actually not the first time I’ve been in one, and yet, I still amazingly perused row upon row of foods that I could not identify, imagine how to cook, or even fathom their tastes. Initially, we were the only white Americans in the store and everyone else appeared to be of Indian descent. At one point a very American-looking white guy came in and grabbed a shopping cart. I immediately wondered what he was planning to buy and assumed he knew about Indian food and was planning to purchase large quantities as he had a cart. Thinking I might learn something from this guy, I surreptitiously began to follow him.
This guy pushed his cart up and down several rows and at one point, picked up a large can of mangoes and intently stared at the label. He put it down and pushed his cart on to the next aisle and I casually followed along. He circled back around and picked up the can of mangoes once more. In the end, he placed it back on the shelf, abandoned his cart, and walked out leaving me to curiously wonder why he was in the store in the first place. Was he optimistic that he’d find something appearing not too foreign to prepare and eat? Were the mangoes too expensive or for some reason not to his liking? Or, did he simply pick up the mangoes after recognizing them from the picture on the can? I’ll never know.
My friend Felix purchased a few items, Tahina sauce (ground sesame seeds) a key ingredient in Hummus – a favorite food of mine. He also bought an odd-looking eggplant, fresh garlic with the roots and tops still intact (who knew you could buy it like that?), and a small cake about the size of a small biscuit. When we got to the car, Felix opened up the cake. We all sniffed it and didn’t recognize its odor as something that would be tasty. It smelled like an odd assortment of spices mixed together. Certainly nothing like a traditional cake would smell. Feeling brave and adventurous, Felix took a bite and deemed it tasty and safe to eat. So Tamara and I took small bites too. Well, surprise, surprise, surprise! The cake’s smell had nothing to do with its taste; and its appearance also had nothing to do with its fine, light texture. Felix compared it to compacted, spun cotton candy with finely chopped nuts and flour mixed into it. It was a perfect description.
So the next time you find yourself curious about different-looking food…take a leap of faith and take a bite of that strange smelling, spun cotton-candy looking Indian cake. You, too, might be pleasantly surprised to find that the list of foods you like has grown along with you. But if you don’t mind, will you please take the first bite?