Giving the appetite an adventure
"Oh come on, Al," my uncle would say. "All that food is going to the same place."
But my 7-year-old self had an issue: I didn't want the peas to touch the mashed potatoes. And like hell could any of that mess go near the meatloaf. The bread sat safely on my napkin, far from potential gravy overflow.
I was a frustrating, yet amusing diner at family dinners. For much of my childhood, I didn't like most vegetables, wheat bread or soggy cereal.
And, of course, anything spicy or exotic was out.
Thank goodness that changed before I moved to China. Now, here in Beijing my mantra has become: "Don't ask, Alex, just eat." (Especially after I've been told, "that's sheep cartilage," or, "I'm actually not sure.")
It's no longer if I'll try something, but when.
I KNOW THIS PLACE
The best part about following a friend overseas is inheriting his accumulated knowledge. As we wandered away from the Daoist temple, Dong Yue Miao, near Sanlitun, Jim took us down a hutong.
"I know this great Uyghur place," he said, steering me into a near-empty restaurant that had incredible vegetable appetizers, spicy noodles and milk tea. After poring over National Museum of China exhibits, we'd hit up the best steamed-bun restaurant in the city and pair them with cold tofu and cabbage.
Froggy, aka: Take a leap and try something new.
The snack street along Wanfujing is everything it's made out to be, featuring cart upon cart of fried tarantula, skewered shark, cooked starfish and centipede on a stick. That smell? That's stinky tofu — or, noodles with enough spice to make a grown man cry. But this is the extreme.
Froggy nights are usually trying a new dish at a place we love, like Malaysian potato cakes or lanzhou noodles.
QUICK 'N' DIRTY
In America, I never once entertained the idea of eating off a 7-Eleven hot bar. In Beijing, I eat the convenience store's tomato and eggs over rice at least twice a week, with a few baozi on the side.
I MISS QUESO
I haven't found a way to fill the Qdoba-shaped hole in my heart, but I've discovered some comfort foods: Grandma's Kitchen has biscuits and gravy, unsweetened black iced tea and Dr. Pepper. Local Bar stole my heart with a platter of nachos, complete with chunks of avocado, topped with pico de gallo.
My food evolution and education has just begun. Now, the vegetables touch the noodles, sauces spill onto the tofu, yet I eat with a smile.
Seven-year-old Alex would be horrified.