Trying New Things

My mother in law is a picky eater. I mean this with the utmost love and respect. I am pretty sure MIL is a super taster. As in, there are very mild flavors she can pick up that float along in the background for my palate. She won’t eat meat, including seafood which she finds too fishy. No alcohol. Bitterness is absolutely off the table. Carbs and dairy product are pretty much the only things you can reliably count on her liking. 

Any amount of heat in a dish and MIL is out. No peppers, not even black pepper, or she throws up her hand in the air from the spice. Once, someone served her a slice of pepper jack on a charcuterie board, and she bemoaned that someone could so ruin a perfectly good piece of cheese.

Whenever we go out to eat with MIL, she orders the same thing: grilled cheese sandwich. It doesn’t matter if we’re at a sandwich shop, an Italian restaurant, heck even when we went to Asian fusion. Grilled. Cheese. Sandwich. Please.

It pained me to see that there were so many flavors in the world that she had isolated herself from. Some of them out of distaste, sure, but most of them because she had become too scared of trying. For someone like me, who considers food one of the most pleasurable aspects of living with family and emotion wrapped all up in it, it made me sad to see her so afraid of so much food. It felt, to me, lonely.

So we decided. She was going to come out with us and get some Japanese food. We’d order her different things she might like and eat the rest of it if she didn’t. No harm, no foul. Just a welcoming space to try.

Turns out, with just a little nudging, we were able to expand her culinary interest considerably! She loved the tamagoyaki, sukiyaki soba, chawanmushi, edamame, and purple sweet potato tempura. She liked the avocado maki except the seaweed which wrapped it. She didn’t fancy the enoki yakitori. She looked downright appalled at my uni ikura soba (It looks orange and furry but I swear it tastes delicious!).

With this new assortment of foods that she had tried and knew she liked, she could go to a Japanese restaurant the next time one of her girlfriends wanted to go for lunch, and feel confident that not worry about being thrust into something scary or unfamiliar. As the pushy daughter in law that helped get her there, I am really happy about this.

Anyway, this is all to say a couple things:

  1. people can grow, even in their core habits, even late in life
  2. sometimes all you need is a nudge

Have you tried something new or encouraged a loved one to trying something new recently? How was the experience?


8 thoughts on “Trying New Things

  1. As I was reading this post, I kept trying to think of other things she might be able to try. Not a lot of Korean foods I commonly eat would work, but veggie japchae and dumplings should work, I think, given the criteria and the dishes she liked at the Japanese place. Ooh, and veggie pad thai and a lot of Chinese foods that don’t contain meat could also work, potentially. It’s a nice thing to do to introduce her to some new foods in a welcoming and friendly, no-pressure way!

    And people’s tastes do change over time. My sister was one of those kids who seemed to be able to run on soda and didn’t have much interest in food basically through college, would just eat as needed for fuel and didn’t particularly like trying new things. These days, she’s a far more adventurous and better eater than me! (I’ll try and eat pretty much anything and do enjoy trying new things, but sort of prefer simpler foods and will stick to a limited menu when left entirely to my own devices.) It just happened all of a sudden at some point in college, and I was totally surprised when I noticed it.


    1. We started with Japanese since we knew there was a lot of stuff that didn’t have spice, but now that you mention it I would love to bring her to Korean or Chinese soon. Nom nom. At the very least, it might be interesting to expose her to some Asian desserts, especially egg tarts given how much she liked the egg stuff at the Japanese place.


  2. At 40, I’m still discovering new foods that I like that I always just assumed I didn’t because my mom told me I probably wouldn’t (or she just didn’t like herself, so I assumed I’d be the same). It’s embarrassing how many things I didn’t try just because I assumed I didn’t like it.

    That said, I’m with your mom on seafood. I don’t hate it. I’ll eat it if it’s the only thing available. But I don’t particularly like it, so I avoid it when possible, which is almost always.


  3. It took me a lonnnng time to be able to eat seaweed. I’d literally unwrap sushi.

    I try old foods that I know I dislike from time to time. For example, my colleagues really like brussels sprouts so I’ll try a sprout when we go to a steakhouse and get family style sides. They are not as disgusting as they used to be, and some preparations of cooked brussels sprouts are actually edible.

    But anchovies are so disgusting I don’t ever try them unless I am accidentally served a high quality caeser salad pre-fixe. (Last time it happened it was still gross. Low quality caeser salads for all!) And I do not like turnip or mustard greens and I can’t take much fish sauce at all.

    To answer Xin: Bibimbap, vegetarian, none of the sauce. A lot of the sides are nice and sweet without being spicy too.


  4. The first part of your post made me so sad for her – so much of the world of food is out there to be enjoyed, how terrible to have to restrict yourself to just a tiny portion of it. I’m so glad that you opened the space for her to try some things.


    1. I’m really excited to be able to share some of this stuff with her. We’ve been talking about opening up her food horizons for a while so I’m glad we’re finally taking some steps to do it now that she’s feeling a little more adventurous in retirement.


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