The bitter aftertaste of trying new things

May 24, 2010 in Life,Philosophy

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Before leaving for France, I swore that I was going to be openminded and try all sorts of new things. While I haven’t gone back on my word, I’m realizing that openmindedness comes at a price: the awful aftertaste of something that just wasn’t that good.

Living with a French person who likes to cook has provided plenty of opportunities to discover new foods. I hover around the kitchen while she cooks, asking questions in broken French about what exactly she’s eating. Whenever I express my complete ignorance as to what a fruit or vegetable is, I’m pretty sure she gets a little more convinced that I was raised in McDonald’s. I’m sorry, but I swear I have never seen quince or morels in an American grocery store or farmers market.

I do the same thing at work, casually mentioning to the chef that I’ve never tried rabbit, dates, herring. He usually sighs, asks what exactly I eat in America, and slips me a piece of the day’s special.

I usually feel an awkward sense of guilt when I admit I’ve never tried a particular food–it’s like my spoiled, picky eater, only child-ness that I try so hard to hide are shining through. For a while, however, I was feeling an even weirder sense of guilt when I didn’t like something. I’d try to sugarcoat my distaste to my host mom or the chef–in essence, lie and say that I really did like it, even when I was fighting to get it down.

However, in the past few days, I’ve tried endives, smoked herring and mushroom. I realized that endives are gross, herring tastes like the smell of the fish market and despite my many attempts at liking mushrooms, the texture is just too slimy.

While choking down the endives that I lovingly prepared and the mushroom sauce on my staff meal, a lightbulb went off: I don’t have to like everything I try. Sure, it would be great if I did. But it’s normal to have preferences, dislikes, tastes we love and those we don’t.

Trying something new is the important thing. Liking it isn’t. I’ll keep trying new things–the date banana cake with brandy sauce wasn’t half bad–but I’m not going to beat myself up if its culinary reputation surpasses that my humble opinion. Sometimes it’s an bitter aftertaste, but sometimes it’s something you just can’t get enough of.

What foods have you tried while traveling that you loved? What foods do you wish you could go back and NOT try?

  • Kaley

    I tried quince here in Spain, but a sweetened version of it, called “dulce de membrillo” and it is so. damn. good. How did I live without it? I've also eaten fresh persimmons and pomegranates, as well as ham, ham, and more ham. Also cheese. I know France is known for cheese, but just about any European country, including Spain, is better than the U.S. for cheese diversity.

  • Catherine

    My mom always said, “You have to try it. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it. But you have to try it!”

  • Katelyn

    My host parents tricked me into trying pigs blood (GAG) and although I hated it, it makes for an interesting story :)

  • Oh man. If we liked everything I think it would make traveling too easy. 😛

  • Rex Flores

    What are endives?
    I don't understand the mushroom thing, Christine. What about on pizza or a cream of mushroom sauce? It's so good!

    Trying new foods has been a battle for me too, mostly do to only-child-picky-eating habits. I don't have to like everything I try, but it's disappointing to order something new in the spirit of adventure just to have it be bland or induce gagging. Still, trying something new helps you develop an informed preference and interesting people have preferences for everything.

  • Linda

    Last night I tried alligator! We ate at Johhny Garlic's in Windsor, CA – there is a hunter's choice on the menu which varies – last night the offering was Jambalaya-alligator morsels, sausage and crawdads. I ate everything, but the crawdads – too messy. The alligator was fin – nothing special.

  • camorose

    My mom once tricked me into eating creamed spinach by telling me it was pesto. I've never forgiven her, or tried creamed spinach again.

  • camorose

    Very true–the best stories come from the culinary surprises, good or bad!

  • camorose

    Endives are the thing in the picture. They're gross. And I have totally tried to like mushrooms, but they're just slimy! Yuck, I honestly have a disgusting taste in my mouth just thinking about it.
    Only children (especially of divorced parents) can get away with murder when it comes to avoiding foods they don't like. It gets harder and harder to try new things as we get older, but traveling can definitely force it on you. When you're going to the same restaurants, cooking the same things and eating things because we know we like them, there's not much incentive to go outside the box. Traveling can force that on you.
    I like that interesting people have preferences. I need to stop being so wishy-washy and be decisive in my likes and dislikes! (p.s. Thanks, as always, for reading and leaving such insightful comments.)

  • camorose

    I've never tried alligator or crawdads. Probably because my parents never take me to cool restaurants that offer things like that.

  • camorose

    Ok, I'm definitely going to have to look for dulce de membrillo when I'm in Spain. My host mom makes a quince jelly, but I'm not a huge fan.
    Although I totally agree with the cheese diversity, I do miss some American cheeses–it's impossible to find cheddar, Monterey Jack or Mexican queso here. While I know that those aren't the highest culinary quality, I do miss a good grilled cheese with Monterey Jack and sourdough!

  • camorose

    I was really good at talking my way out of trying new things, or swearing that I had already tried it and I didn't like it. I wasn't the most honest kid, and it has led me to a life deprived of culinary variety!

  • I'm furthest thing from a picky eater, and I like to test my adventurous culinary streak. I'm nowhere on par with freaks like Mr. Bourdain or Mr. Zimmerman, but if there's something weird on the menu I'll ooh and ahh over it and finally order it. I enjoyed caracoles (snails) in Spain, bacalau (salted cod packed in oil) in Portugal, and haggis (sheeps stomach stuffed with oatmeal, onions, lungs, heart, liver, etc. and boiled) in Scotland.

    Actually, there are some cheeses that smelled (and tasted) so foul I would never eat them again. There's so much cheese to love, why eat the gagarific kind?

  • I had my first tortilla des patatas in Barcelona and became addicted. I crave this potato and egg omelette all the time and need to get around to finding a good recipe and making it myself until I can get back to Spain!

  • camorose

    You are a much braver man than I am. I can't imagine ordering any of those off the menu, although I have tried snails–at a family friend's home in Southern France. The only smelly cheese I like is Roquefort–but I do think it's best with a bit of honey!

  • camorose

    I made friends with Spanish girls while I studied in Paris, and they cooked me my first Spanish meal. I remember being really confused about how they were going to cook tortillas–don't you need a lot of dough for that? But the omelette-type thing with potatoes they cooked up was absolutely amazing! I'll definitely be looking for “tortilla de patatas” on the menu when I visit Spain…good choice!

  • I'm new here and what a great post for me, a picky eater to discover on my first visit!

    Endives – they can taste quite bitter, I always cook them with loads of cheese (and add some sugar). I prefer them in salad, uncooked, with ham and cheese though. My Hubby (who's French) hates having them cooked.

    I have tried lots of disgusting things since being in France, I didn't even consider myself a picky eater until recently when I realised at a restaurant that I didn't like anything on the menu (okay, so there was not much, just Pigeon and Steak and the steak I couldn't be bothered with as I didn't want to have yet another endless dispute as to why I wanted mine well done… arhhh). The worst thing I have ever ever eater was actually red ant sauce in Cambodia. I even blogged about it recently!

    'I don’t have to like everything I try. Sure, it would be great if I did. But it’s normal to have preferences, dislikes, tastes we love and those we don’t. '
    Kudos for you, I think you have just given me a new motto :)

    A bientot!!!

  • I'm quite an ambitious eater, but can totally appreciate your apprehension to try new things. Fried pigs ears in Madrid was definitely a bit of a challenge – and I can't say I enjoyed them. They had the consistency of, well, pigs ears!

    A good realization to come to – just because you're keen to try new things, doesn't mean you have to enjoy them.

  • camorose

    Although I'm hesitant to try new things, I am constantly amazed by how much more Europeans make use out of an animal–eating the ears, blood, tongue, etc. Americans are just too spoiled!

  • camorose

    Glad you found the site and enjoyed this post! I actually enjoy most of French food, but there are definitely some things that you have to develop a taste for. Unfortunately, endives just aren't one of them! If I don't like the taste of something raw/cooked just with a bit of olive oil or lemon juice, I usually won't eat it since I like the taste of my veggies fresh!

  • I didn't use to like sushi, but I gave it a second try and now love it. Going a step further than tuna and salmon, I do try to sample new fish and creatures from the sea, though I'm not shy about saying what I don't like (urchin, mackerel).

    I grew up a super picky eater, and my parents still make jokes about it, but who was the one eating sheep's head in South Africa? Yep, that was me. :)

  • camorose

    That's what matters in the end–not the years of hell we put our parents through refusing to eat just about everything healthy.
    I've become a big sushi fan too, after refusing to eat anything but California rolls. So glad I did as I absolutely love it now! There are definitely some fish that I've learned to not order again, but that's what living and learning is all about :)

  • I don't like Chevre! Yes, I admit it! I just don't like it. Here in the south as probably all over France, I thought I must be the only one. We're surrounded by it. However, the other day I mentioned this to a French friend and he said he doesn't like it either. Voila!

  • i became absolutely obsessed with pastries while backpacking through south america. the empanadas in argentina, and the saltenas in bolivia, have inspired me to become an amateur pastry chef.

    on the other hand, my sister a bought an empanada from a side stall in colonia, uruguay, thinking it would be the cure for her hangover. it was the worst taste i have ever experienced. i think it was stale liver.

  • camorose

    Ugh that's the worst! I hate it when something I love isn't nearly as good as I remembered. However, you've totally inspired me to want to check out the cuisine in South America. Those sound delicious!

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  • Saskia

    lol… I have to admit your endives look absolutely horrible! Belgian endives is either eaten raw (especially nice with pine nuts and cottage cheese), or you could cook them in the oven with some cheese. (Personally I don't like Belgian endives cooked, but LOVE them raw). Don't eat the parts that have gone too green, as they tend to be more bitter.

  • camorose

    Honestly, I think after my one endive experience, I won't be going back…but pine nuts and cottage cheese sound like a nice combo!

  • Saskia

    lol… I have to admit your endives look absolutely horrible! Belgian endives is either eaten raw (especially nice with pine nuts and cottage cheese), or you could cook them in the oven with some cheese. (Personally I don't like Belgian endives cooked, but LOVE them raw). Don't eat the parts that have gone too green, as they tend to be more bitter.

  • camorose

    Honestly, I think after my one endive experience, I won't be going back…but pine nuts and cottage cheese sound like a nice combo!

  • I love trying new foods. But like you, I don't always like them. One thing I definitely won't try – escargot! I'm sorry, they will always be slugs in a shell – and I hate slugs. They terrify me.

  • camorose

    I'm scared of snails too! I've tried escargots, and while they didn't taste bad, the texture just weirded me out–and the fact that I was eating snails. Although, I will say, you don't really see snails on the ground and in the garden here like you do in California–so I can't fault the French too much :)

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