In my family three of us are fairly adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. One of us is not. My younger sons eats about ten things, with variations. That makes cooking a challenge, and I increasingly tell him to make something for himself.
I have noticed that either an experimental or picky attitude to food starts at a young age. I am not sure what causes it. I don’t think that I indulged pickiness in my son, but perhaps I did and the die was cast. My parents, on the other hand, indulged nothing and I grew up eating whatever was put in front of me. Some of it was pretty weird. I ate eel and squid, for example. So I got used to giving most food a try. Still, I at least like to know what is going in my mouth.
When I traveled to France during a summer in college, I stayed at in a French university dorm and ate at a student dining hall. Every day for lunch there was a full meal. One choice, take it or leave it. Let’s just say that it helped to be either adventurous or clueless.
Several times I found myself confounded by the food. The American students would confer among ourselves as we inched down the line and tried to figure out what would be put on our plates. What was that?
The women serving always had an answer for us. In English, no less. I think their managers rehearsed them. I am pretty sure that sometimes answers were lies.
Once the meat appeared a little odd. Beef, I was told. Only it tasted a little different, and had a different texture. I think I ate horse that afternoon. They do that in France.
Another time the “chicken” had a bone structure such as no chicken I had eaten before. One bite and I knew why. It was rabbit. I recognized the taste since I had eaten it before. I didn’t tell anyone else. If they were happy with their chicken, so be it.
The most suspicious meal consisted of sauce drenching oddly textured “quenelles.” But those are long and narrow fish or meat dumplings, and these ambiguous little misshapen mounds were not dumplings at all. I think they served us brains that day.
In all of these cases we were given an answer that would avoid the “ick” reaction they expected from us. Their stereotype of American students included a lack of adventure when it came to new foods.
Not only will I will try most things, I even like some of them. Even some organ meats, which have an ick factor that is hard to surmount. (Hint: Don’t dwell on what it is any more than you dwell on what that steak really is.) I have tasted most of them and even like some of them.
When DH and I were first dating, he took me to a casual restaurant that had liver and onions on the menu. That item kept drawing my attention. Maybe I had an undiagnosed iron deficiency, because I found it very appealing. I looked at future DH who at the time was a promising catch that I wanted to keep hooked. Um, do you like liver, I asked? No, he did not. Are you the kind of person who can’t stand even seeing it or smelling it? He realized why I was asking and told me to order it if I wanted. I did. He did not break up with me. He did, however, have a story to regale friends with for years to come. (So I take her out to dinner on our fourth date and what does she order? I’ll bet you can’t guess. . . .)
In many other countries they eat a lot of organ meats. In Florence, a fast food lunch is a tripe sandwich bought from pop-up lunch carts parked just off the main drags. It is worker food, and cooked unlike you would expect, stewed in a tomato broth with lots of herbs. My parents used to make it the same way and I have tasted it. I disliked everything about it— smell, taste, texture and especially the looks of it, and dreaded when mom cooked this “delicacy”. It has a huge “ick” factor for me, so I when I visit Florence I forgo rubbing shoulders with the natives at lunch time, or even looking in the pot on the cart.
What foods are “ick” for you?
What foods that you like are ick for lots of other people?
Are you a picky eater or an adventurous one? What is the weirdest food you ever ate?
(I will be giving away an advanced reading copy –ARC– of my Feb. 26 release, The Conquest of Lady Cassandra, to one comment poster today)
NYTimes Bestselling and two time RITA-winning author of historical romances; lover of artisan jewelry; industry numbers wonk. Her recent book, The Counterfeit Mistress, is available now!