How to Get Comfortable Eating New Foods
I grew up in a home with meals that were pretty basic. Breakfast was cereal, or pancakes on a weekend. Lunch was a sandwich, some chips, a piece of fruit and some cookies or another sweet. Dinner consisted of meat, a starch, and one or two vegetables at each meal. My mother was passionate about vegetables and their importance for good health. She would brag at the doctor’s office when I went in for check-ups that the reason I was so healthy is that our family ate vegetables every day. My mom’s cooking was (still is) good, too. She learned to cook from her mother, a German/Irish Catholic woman who grew up in Ohio and lived out her adult life in Pennsylvania. Stapes in our house were spaghetti with a sauce made with kielbasa, roasted chicken, beef stroganoff, and many different soups and stews. We didn’t eat out much, either, since we weren’t wealthy, so my childhood was delicious but rather limited in terms of palette.
Now, as an adult, my food palette is fairly adventurous. I’m not the most adventurous eater you’ll ever meet (some things I just don’t like, sorry eggs) but I’ve tried and enjoyed many different cuisines. I’m fortunate to live in a large metropolitan area where I can easily access Thai, Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Ethiopian, Lebanese, Greek, Spanish, Italian and many variations of American restaurants. So I do, happily. I’ve learned to love all the different spices, ingredients and degrees of heat in all these possibilities. So how did this transformation come about? How can you learn to be comfortable with different types of food?
Ideas for Loving New Foods
First, go to new restaurants with people who love them. I was fortunate that my first experiences with Indian food were with two of my college roommates, both of whom were from India. They walked me through the menus and helped me figure out what to order, much to my gustatory delight. If you can’t find someone who grew up in a particular culture, find someone who is a fan. My first real experiences of Thai food were with some friends who had lived in Thailand for a while in college; I had tried it before then but with these friends guiding me I was able to branch out beyond pad thai. I’ve had this experience with many other cuisines that I have come to love. If I can’t find a friend to come with me, then I will at least ask the waiter for a recommendation. Some of my best meals have happened because I ordered the dish the waiter told me she liked best off the menu.
Second, go to new restaurants with people you love. I believe at least half the pleasure in eating comes from the environment. So if you want to enjoy a new type of food, go with people who will help you enjoy your entire evening. Plan to laugh, talk, joke, reminisce, share confidences and generally have a great time. Don’t worry too much about the way the restaurant looks; I’ve had some outstanding food in places that were pretty scruffy looking (but clean!). The company you keep is the key to a great night out.
Third, order sampler platters when these are offered. I love ordering a sampler when I’m trying a new restaurant. I get a chance to try multiple different dishes, so there’s sure to be a winner in there. If the restaurant doesn’t offer a sampler platter (many don’t) then have each person at the table order something different and plan to share the dishes family style. Again, you get a better sense of the range of possibilities in a new cuisine and won’t be stuck with a dish that just doesn’t happen to be to your particular taste.
Fourth, try to check your expectations at the door. If you go in expecting tandoori chicken to taste like your mother’s oven roasted chicken with butter, you are in for a sad surprise and probably won’t enjoy the experience. As much as you can, clear your mind and appreciate each taste for what it is. Of course, if you are craving your mother’s oven roasted chicken, that’s probably not the right time to go out and try a new cuisine. Better to try to replicate that recipe yourself, at home, and get the taste you are looking for.
Fifth, plan to try anything and everything at least once, within your own personal ethical and allergy tolerances. I don’t like eggs but I’ve tried tortilla español and various other eggy dishes. I still don’t like them but perhaps one day I’ll be surprised. I don’t particularly like fish either but I’ve tried sushi (I prefer it vegetarian) and will occasionally order (and enjoy!) a fish dish that comes highly recommended. You may think you won’t like something, but how do you really know unless you try?
Sixth, make a habit of trying new things. Once a month, once a week, whatever you think you can do, but keep trying out new foods. Some will be duds and you won’t want to repeat them, but some will become new favorites. If you don’t have access to a wealth of restaurants, try making some new foods at home. These days you can obtain a cookbook featuring almost any cuisine over the Internet. You can buy most ingredients over the Internet too, which is particularly helpful for spices and other sometimes hard to find items.
If you are interested in trying, it’s pretty easy to become comfortable eating new foods. I encourage you to try. There’s a world of flavor out there just waiting for you!