Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Learn to Love the Food You Hate

There it sat, spikey spines boring into me. If it had grown legs and walked off my plate, I would have been more relieved than surprised. But it just sat there, mocking me. You don't even know where to start, do you, it sneered. Go ahead, just try to take a bite. You know it's bad when your food starts talking to you. I should have known better. Here I was, my first meal with my new host family in France. It had to be an artichoke. I had specifically prayed, please God, I'll eat anything, but don't make them feed me artichoke.
God sure has a sense of humour.

Picky eaters don't last long in a life abroad. Whether moving across the globe to a new country, or just trying to expand your options for Friday night dinner with friends, learning to like new foods is essential to not only your health but also your social life. Nothing kills the dinner party vibe like someone saying, "Wait. What is that. I don't eat that." When you opt to live with a family in a foreign country for a year, keeping your taste buds flexible is more important than ever.

We Americans are used to our as-you-like-it, customizable habits where the customer has free reign to create entirely new dishes from the bare bones of what's on the menu. The French, however, are of the opinion (and I am too) that if a chef whose entire job is to masterfully match flavors with textures makes a dish with roasted artichoke, you eat it. Sans alteration.

But sometimes you just really hate a certain food and can't get past the taste of it. Then what? That's where my method comes in. It's a two-punch approach to helping you learn to like the foods you really can't stand.

First, find something that pairs well with what you don't like that will initially mask the taste. This may be a dressing or a sauce or an entirely different food. Whenever you eat that food, add a little less of your masking element and try to taste a bit more of the food you don't like. Your goal is to eventually wean yourself off the mask entirely. You will need the second step to help you with this.

Your second punch is to determine what makes that taste unique. If you don't like a certain food, you are tasting something different than other foods you already like. At first you see that difference as a negative, but you have to turn it into a positive. Determine what specific flavor and/or texture you can find in that food you can't find in other foods. What makes it unique will make it worth eating.

I have used this method for a lot of foods here in France that I didn't like when I first arrived and now have since learned to love! Artichoke of course was the first to join, but then mushrooms and plain yogurt and raw fish joined my palette. With artichoke, for example, I used a spicy mustard vinaigrette. Or for the plain yogurt (which has since become my favorite snack), I added a spoonful of jam or honey. And the best part is all of the new foods is discovering the worlds of taste behind, in, and through them.

I think the most important thing is to be curious. If you are curious, you will want to discover what tastes you are missing out on, what foods you haven't quite discovered the flavors of yet. If you are curious, you continue to expand your taste buds so that you can begin enjoying a huge variety of foods in no time.

Now, be a dear and pass the artichoke, please.

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