Food was a bothersome necessity. That’s how I felt, a lifetime ago — that is.
Despite the economic restrictions of my coal-mining roots, my childhood diet was not at all shabby. Fresh garden produce and home raised poultry, hogs and beef were staples on the table, along with fresh baked biscuits, all prepared by my grandmother whose reputation as the finest cook in three counties was unquestionably deserved. It mattered that granddad excelled at farming, too.
Still, I had grown weary of most meat and had yet to develop a mature appreciation for vegetables. That limited my favorites to fruits, breads and desserts. Beyond that, eh, I could skip most mealtimes and had little interest in foods that were new to me.
My attitude was altered by the chap who would become my spouse. He exalted food. He repeatedly told me — and anyone who would listen — that “Food is fun!”
“Sure, sure,” I’d agree, halfheartedly. So, he set out to prove the validity of his food philosophy. (He is nothing if not persistent.)
Actually, he succeeded rather quickly, especially given my tendency to be unchangeably mule-headed. His enthusiasm for food, all kinds of foods, his background — his childhood was spent in his parents’ restaurants — combined with his refined palate and his native skills in the kitchen, meant I ate like royalty — all the time.
So, I agree. Yes, food is not only fun, it is an adventure! You never know what exquisite taste will greet you, if you decide to take on the food adventure challenge. Granted, there are those, on-pain-of-death-I-will-never-eat-this-again moments. It’s only happened twice for me — once with an aged cheese that turned rancid in my mouth and then with cilantro’s nasty soapy, curdled taste. (Apparently, the preference for or dislike of cilantro is genetically based.) Yet, I actually have tried it, again. And will, again. You can never totally dismiss a food as too foul for your taste. Cliche as it is, tastes do change. At the age of 70, I went from turning green at the sight and smell of sardines to moments of mouth-watering anticipation before having a plate of the small fry. Who’d a thought?
Also, when I first tried olive oil back in the 1970s, it tasted rancid to me. I thought that surely folks who touted olive oil’s wonders had lost all their taste buds. However, that was because all the olive oils I tasted were poor quality. Once I tasted top quality, extra virgin olive oil, I became aware of its aromatic olivey flavor and warm silky texture. It is important that the food is good. So, a word of warning: when judging different foods, be aware that the product’s quality really matters.
Over the years, since my spouse and I started this food adventure, grocery stores have vastly expanded their varieties of imported food. Back in the 70s, 80s and even early 90s, items that are now as common as wonton wraps, aged soy sauce and basmati rice could only be found at shops that handled Asian foods. Now, those items are so normal, we hardly take note that they once were specialty foods. The same goes for the tacos, tortillas, salsas, burritos, enchiladas and chilies needed for Mexican cuisine. Even locally raised sugar snap peas were not readily available.
Until the last couple of decades, preparing ethnic foods was more difficult. Some searching was required to track down recipe books for Chinese and Thai cuisine, for example. Finding, what we, then, classified as exotic foods was a challenge. It required trips to more metropolitan areas, for my spouse to fill his larder with the required ingredients to prepare foods from around the world.
My spouse and I, normally, are homebodies. However, we do travel to the grocery store. Naturally, we do. For us a trip there is — wait for it — fun. We can spend an inordinate amount of time exploring foods in the organic, produce and international food sections. Recently, we discovered Kombucha — a probiotic drink, supposedly beneficial to human digestive systems. “Booch” comes in a wide variety of flavors. (Kombucha originated in China in 221 BC during the Tsin Dynasty and was known as “The Tea of Immortality”) Actually, “booch” has been on store shelves for at least a decade. We were just slow to give it a shot.
If you feel in a rut, if you sigh ho-hum when it’s time to eat, consider exploring food you have never tried.
That exploration is made much easier, now, not only because grocery stores carry many more foods, but also because, across our nation, many more ethnic restaurants are available than there were 50 or even 20 years ago. If, like me, you are not adventure-some enough to attempt preparing ethnic recipes, and you have the resources, give an ethnic restaurant a try. Actually, both Mexican and Asian restaurants tend to serve reasonably priced meals.
Good news: According to a 2011 ABC News report, “No matter where you are in the country, you can count on finding a Mexican restaurant in your city. ...the country is home to 38,000 Mexican restaurants.”
Also, apparently, “Between 1999 and 2015, sales of Asian fast food rose 135 percent, beating Latin and Middle Eastern cuisine.” -Euromonitor — July 15, 2018. (Euromonitor is an international market research firm.)
Not surprisingly, increased immigration, of both Asian and Mexicans to our country, is one of the reasons that restaurants with ethnic cuisine have multiplied. Another boon, due to the increased immigration — restaurants and grocery stores offer a wider variety of ethnic foods that are more authentic. Also, now, there are more small ethinic grocery stores that offer a wide variety of foods to select from.
So, go ahead, if you have been food shy, give the food challenge a try. It will make mealtimes more exciting. Besides, becoming familiar with different foods can make you feel more at ease, not only trying different dishes, but perhaps even preparing unique recipes. Really, it could happen.
For those of you who already realize that food is fun, bravo! Continue to share and enjoy. After all, isn’t sharing the adventure of different foods the best way to enjoy dining. Given that eating is vital, it seems wise to make it, not only a healthy, but, also, a fun, shared expedition!
Plus, for those of you who have children or grandchildren around, it is amazing to watch them savor trying different foods and then make those foods part of their regular diets.