Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eat the worm

You might call my eldest son an adventurous eater. He will gnaw the bones in a goat curry. He doesn't turn down jellyfish salad. He likes his fried tilapia whole ("with the face," as he has remarked. He has yet to opine on the merits of fava beans or a nice chianti.)
So I felt confident sending this elephant to accompany a thermos of stewed lentils. I wasn't sure whether he'd eat the radishes that the ears, headdress and tulips are made from, or the cucumber leaves, but I didn't figure the carrots or cashews would bother him. Certainly not the rice.
This one went basically uneaten, though. "I think it was somebody from "A Bug's Life," was all he had to say about the entire affair.

We have friends who emigrated from Hong Kong when they were very young, and one of their mother's great joys is a kind of culinary one-sided truth-or-dare she plays with us. She tries to order things that we won't eat. Moreover, I think she wants us to find them disgusting. It hasn't worked so far, but crashing dim sum with her and the extended family while we were all visiting her kids in Chicago years ago put things in a new perspective for me. Among the baskets and platters of buns, rolls and dumplings, which, let's face it, could have contained absolutely anything, there was a little plate with a dozen or so chicken feet. Knowing I seldom had the opportunity, much less the inclination to order them, I figured now was as good a time as any to give them a whirl. It wasn't a spectacle. Only our friends and their parents took any interest. It was like the Life commercial, but with a twenty-something Mikey in an all-Asian household and chicken offal instead of cereal. And I didn't tuck into the whole plateful afterward. "He doesn't violently dislike it! Hey Mikey!" The truth is, and why wouldn't it be, that chicken feet- little branching systems of sinew and bone wrapped in leathery, almost reptilian skin- taste like chicken skin. Not being a huge chicken skin fan, I'm not a huge chicken feet fan. Not that cleaning your plate of original recipe at KFC means you'll dig chicken feet, but if you like chicken skin, you're a step closer than I am.
Anyway, the friend who was residing in Chicago went on to say that if I thought chicken feet were bad, I should go to southeast Asia. "They eat some f***ked up s**t," he said, "Stuff Chinese wouldn't touch. Like balut- fertilized duck egg. A hard-boiled egg with a beak and s**t. Chinese don't eat stuff like that." At that point, his father nudged him and started saying something in Chinese. Our friend's face grew incredulous as he alternated between Chinese and English, saying things like "what?" and "no" and "naaaaasty!" "What?" I asked. "My dad's eaten balut. And he says that it's popular in China." Then his father told us that it tasted okay, but he didn't like that it was crunchy. At that point I had to ask him whether there were things he was exposed to that he wouldn't eat. He didn't take long to begin to consult with his son, so it must have been readily present in his memory. There was a little back-and-forth, then he put his index finger flat against the table and began flexing it. Our friend was silent for a moment. Then a heartfelt "Nasty." His father then told us about how he had watched his grandfather eat a live green worm. The inching gesture makes me think it was some kind of caterpillar, but, regardless, I'm in our friend's camp. Nasty.
And so was his dad, apparently. As a kid who would grow up to try balut, he still drew a line at this green worm. I don't know whether he was ever encouraged to try it, whether his parents played "here comes the airplane" with one. But if they did, it didn't work. And sometimes it just won't. Even from one day to another. I'm still scratching my head over the untouched rice.
Some of our friends ask us how we get our kids to eat the things they eat. We've got our tactics, to be sure, one of which is simply to expose our kids to a lot of different things. So, as far as an absolute number of different foods goes, maybe they have more variation than a lot of kids. Taken as a percentage, what they like compared to what they've tried might not really be much different from those same kids.

I mean, maybe Primo is on the "adventurous" side of the spectrum, but, to help keep things in perspective regarding my little gastronaut, potatoes (discounting french fries, of course) are not part of the adventure. Which is a shame, because they were totally ready for it.
There's a song from Yo Gabba Gabba about the party in one character's tummy. Potatoes are not invited to the party in Primo's tummy. Why not, you ask? Potatoes know what they did.*

*Adapted from a Scotty Kangaroojus joke about pad thai on The Showbiz Show. They won't be needing it anytime soon. Also, I know what potatoes did, too, but I ain't no snitch!**

**Adapted from refutation by Clifford Joseph "T.I." Harris Jr., who also won't be needing it anytime soon.

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