Changing the Menu

New foods are an adventure. As a rule, people may not like them the first time around, but in time — and with patience — what once seemed strange can become just another dish at dinner. Exposure to different people and cultures often expands your taste horizons.

Some taboos — horsemeat, snake, dog — may simply be too emotion-laden to be overcome. Others with no emotional baggage fall to experience. Most people hate very salty, very bitter, very acidic, or very slippery foods such as caviar, coffee, Scotch whisky, and oysters on first taste, but many later learn to enjoy them.

Coming to terms with these foods can be both physically and psychologically rewarding:

  • Many bitter foods, such as coffee and unsweetened chocolate, are relatively mild stimulants that temporarily improve mood and physical performance.
  • Strongly flavored foods, such as salty caviar, offer a challenge to the taste buds.
  • Foods such as oysters, which may seem totally disgusting the first time you see or taste them, are symbols of wealth or worldliness. Trying them implies a certain sophistication in the way you face life.

Happily, an educated, adventurous sense of taste can be a pleasure that lasts as long as you live. Professional tea tasters, wine tasters, and others (maybe you?) who have developed the ability to recognize even the smallest differences among flavors continue to enjoy their gift well into old age.

Although your sense of taste declines as you grow older, you can keep it perking as long as you supply the stimuli in the form of tasty, well-seasoned food. In other words, as they say about adult life’s other major sensory delight, “Use it or lose it.”

If you’re lucky enough to live in a place that attracts many immigrants, your dining experience is flavored by the favorite foods of other people (meaning the foods of other cultures). In the United States, for example, the melting pot is not an idle phrase.

American cooking literally bubbles with contributions from every group that’s ever stepped ashore in what President Lyndon Baines Johnson used to call the “good ole U. S. of A.” Here a lists some of the foods and food combinations characteristic of specific ethnic/regional cuisines.

  • Central and Eastern Europe - Sour cream and dill or paprika
  • China - Soy sauce plus wine and ginger
  • Germany - Meat roasted in vinegar and sugar
  • Greece - Olive oil and lemon
  • India - Cumin and curry
  • Italy - Tomatoes, cheese, and olive oil
  • Japan - Soy sauce plus rice wine and sugar
  • Korea - Soy sauce plus brown sugar, sesame, and chile
  • Mexico - Tomatoes and chile peppers
  • Middle Europe - Milk and vegetables
  • Puerto Rico - Rice and fishWest
  • Africa - Peanuts and chile peppers

Imagine how few you might sample living in a place where everybody shares exactly the same ethnic, racial, or religious backgrounds. Just thinking about it is enough to make me want to stand up and shout, “Hooray for diversity at the dinner table!” Of course, enjoying other peoples’ foods doesn’t mean you don’t have your own special treats.