Food wasn't always my thing. As a small kid raised on a small farm, just outside of a small town with a small school, you could imagine the opportunities for personal growth were… small. At least for a boy like me who had little interest in planting crops or feeding livestock. As a teenager, the most thrilling moments of my day were getting in a car and just driving. Anywhere. In circles or straight lines, I felt most alive when I was moving forward and discovering a road I hadn’t yet conquered.
The first time I had ever traveled on my own I was 14 years old. The freedom I felt stepping onto that train without any supervision was exhilarating! And when I stepped off the train in Toronto, it was in that moment that I found a city boy hiding within this awkward small town boy. The evolution had begun. I knew right away that I wanted more from life and suddenly, there was an entire world out there waiting for me.
It wasn’t until four years of daydreaming later that I finally made the move to the big city. My brother set me up in a shared home with a part time job. Otherwise, I didn’t have any money in my pocket or any idea what I was doing. Little did I know at the time, the young lady who would eventually become my wife had moved in just two blocks down the street.
Linda grew up in Bangladesh. She and her family had hopped around various countries in Asia throughout much of her childhood so she was well-traveled before the age of five. By the time she was 15, her family had made their way to Canada and settled into an apartment in a small Portuguese neighbourhood.
So, we’ve got a Canadian boy with a bland palate but a deep hunger for growth and a cultured Bengali girl with a knack for inspiring people to be the best version of themselves they can be. How convenient when each of them were hired to work at the same place.
Details aside, fast forward a few years and I still had no idea what I was doing with my own life, but somehow I knew I was ready to go all in on an adventure into a completely different world. I asked her to marry me, not realizing how much I was about to learn about myself.
My Palate Needed an Overhaul
Instant potatoes. TV dinners. Frozen Pizzas. Chicken – salt and pepper (but not too much… that’s spicy!). I judged every food by the way it looked. If it didn’t look like a sandwich, there were concerns. I remember years prior to meeting Linda, I made a personal goal to expand my horizons in food. So I did. I stepped outside my comfort zone and ordered a veggie sub. With all the vegetables. Crazy, right?
After I met Linda, it took six months of convincing before I tried my first curry. What was I thinking?! It was incredible! In the same way I stepped off that train in Toronto, I suddenly realized I had been fooling myself all these years. For 20 years I had been choosing the chicken club sandwich over the worldly experience I had been seeking.
But don’t get me wrong, it took a long time to build my palate to the level it’s at now.
I started small. In the beginning the hurdles were more mental than culinary. Like understanding that hating mushrooms wasn’t a “texture thing” but rather an excuse I made to avoid them. Or that (in most cases) you really can’t judge a dish by looking at it. What began as personal preferences quickly turned into personal frustrations; each order of bland food made me increasingly eager to break out of this comfort zone.
Eventually coming to terms with my new challenge, I started including strange layers of texture or flavours within my food. Like adding onions to anything I could until they didn’t offend me anymore. Suddenly green peppers didn’t “overtake” the whole meal but rather added something special. I continued to build upon that palate with each meal, trying something unusual each time. Eventually (successfully) working my way up to seafood; my final frontier.
This was no quick transition! It took me eight years to go from “I’ll decide when I see the food” to “I’ll decide to have seafood”. It was a great practice of courage and will power and it was a driving factor in discovering who I really am. Who I wanted to become.
How You Eat the Food is Just as Important as What Food You Eat
This changed everything. The reason I fell in love with that first curry was because Linda had taught me how to eat it properly. My initial game plan was to attack it with a 3:1 ratio of rice to curry. Surely, this would help me bear the taste and I could pretend I liked it just enough to get through it. I was still trying to get over the fact that this white rice didn’t come with sweet and sour sauce.
Naturally, it was so dry and ricey that I struggled. This may sound ridiculous, but until Linda noticed and showed me how to properly mix it all together, I had no idea how to eat this alien food! I had a spoonful of the upgraded curry ratio and my palate started dancing!
As someone who couldn’t see too far outside his bubble, I learned how important it is to not only try new foods but to also understand how to eat it. Not everything is meant to be placed between two slices of bread. Sometimes you need to watch a local make their way through a meal. Other times you just have to ask them.
When you understand the intention of each ingredient working together or you add that mysterious sauce they bring with your meal, you'll begin to experience the true form of a cuisine. You’ll appreciate what you’re eating so much more! Not to mention, you’ll likely earn the respect of a few locals.
As a self-proclaimed curry-eating-professional, I had tried out several all-you-can-eat Indian restaurants. I recall one particular experience in which I wasn’t paying any attention to my surroundings but apparently someone was paying attention to me! A lovely Indian woman approached me and praised my eating skills. She was so impressed that I was “eating like a real Indian man” that she felt obligated to get up from her table to tell me. I smiled as wide as a face full of curry and rice could smile. It was an important milestone in my journey from selective to collective.
Loosen Your Inhibitions (and your belt)!
Whether you’re as picky as I was or you’re already a seasoned foodie, I encourage you to push your culinary boundaries. This is why we travel for food. Don’t be afraid to ditch the cutlery. Don’t be afraid to look silly! Remember that the best way to immerse yourself in a culture is to immerse your hands in the food!
Perhaps you’ll find a passion that had been hiding all along.