I am very fond of eating and I believe I have always been, in my own way. For many years, my parents used to tease me with a picture from my “bunny period”, a time at the age of seven or eight when my drawings depicted a family of upright-walking, human-like bunnies. The one they pinned on our kitchen door showed the mother and father next to a table with a big pile of carrots. A little to the side was the child, looking at the carrots and saying Don’t eat it all, I want some too!
I can assure you that my parents have never let me starve. I was just greedy when there was something I really liked. However, there were not many dishes that pleased me. I was a picky eater with a strong will and as soon as I learned how to write, I used my new skill to make a list of everything I did not condescend to eat. The list does not exist any longer but I still remember many of the instructions that were intended as a guide for my mother.
Some probably apply to many children, like ‘no eggplants’, ‘no fish except fish fingers’ and ‘no cheese except gouda’. Others, like ‘no cinnamon’ and ‘no chocolate’, were more unusual. Some were easy to remember like ‘no diet soft drinks’ and ‘no tea’. Others were more evolved like ‘bell peppers should not be heated’ and ‘no milk except with corn flakes or cacao but only if it is fresh and full-fat’.
Even though I am still a fairly picky eater, that list would be considerably shorter today. Almost every country we visited has taught me to eat something that I didn’t eat before or made me discover a new favourite that I had never heard about.
Malawi taught me to eat not-quite-perfect vegetables. We had just arrived in a remote place at the foot of a mountain, when Mr Colors’ temperature rose rapidly. There was no one around except a few young guys who wanted to sell him marijuana. Fearing that he might have caught Malaria, I decided to take him back to civilization as soon as possible, even if it required a fair bit of walking and a long bus ride. I chose a combination of food, sleep and paracetamol to prepare him for the journey.
Half way through cutting the tomatoes we had carried with us, I saw a worm in one of the pieces. At home, I might have screamed. I might have thrown all the tomatoes away and bought something else. But there was nothing else to buy. I removed the worm, never told my boyfriend about it until several days later and made sure to eat enough myself so that he would not suspect anything. And really, there wasn’t anything wrong with the food. It made him strong enough so that we could travel to the nearest city on the next day and he soon got better.
Coriander? Thai basil? Fish sauce? No Asian restaurant in Germany has ever convinced me of these. A bland soup does not get any better with a few leaves of coriander. If you can still identify all the ingredients of a curry because they do not form a unison, throwing in a bit of Thai basil only adds yet another strange taste. And fish sauce does smell weird.
When we were in Vietnam, there was no escaping from these ingredients however. And I did not even want to! Because they turned out to be great if used in abundance and combined in the right way. Throw a massive amount of mint, coriander and thai basil on a fish sauce-loaded Pho Bo, don’t forget to add a bit of lemon and you will make me seriously happy. We even bought fish sauce to bring home from our trip.
In Japan, I came across green tea latte. I know that everyone says that no Japanese would ever drink that stuff. But the fact is, it was sold in many places in Japan, and as I now love both milk (‘fresh and full-fat’ is still my favourite configuration) and green tea (‘no tea’ is now ‘no sugar in my tea’), it was irresistible.
Before our recent trip to Korea, it was not ‘no fish except fish fingers’ any more, but it still was ‘no fish that looks like fish (except boquerones)’. Filet, yes. Sushi, yes. But no fish of size larger than a finger would go on my plate if it had heads or eyes or skin.
But I am more courageous when I am travelling and thus we tried one of the barbecue places at the fish market in Busan. The small assortment of grilled fish smelled so good that I could not resist. And all the fish tasted differently! I still had to turn the plate so that the heads looked away from me. But on that morning, grilled mackerel went the long way from a no-go to a celebrated dish. And because I know that these things happen when I travel, I look forward to every trip as an opportunity to strike another item from my list.
Have your eating preferences ever changed because you were away from home or have you discovered a new favourite dish while travelling? Share your story with us in the comments section!
This article was published on perelincolors.com.