Bringing Taste Buds to Life
Both my parents were raised in small towns in Ontario, Canada. While my mother’s father was a formidable baker and my dad’s parents grew fresh ingredients on their farm, neither was offered a particularly stimulating dining experience in their youth. Luckily, growing up in a gastronomic wasteland instilled them with a pressing need to try new – and generally delicious – food.
Growing up in Russia, Pakistan and China, my brothers and I were taught to finish everything on our plates, and to try everything – no matter how unidentified and unappealing – at least once. Upon returning to Canada each summer we were shocked by the squeamish palates of our relatives – one aunt made separate meals to accommodate to her son’s ‘sensitive’ tastes – and bored by the bland food we ate at family reunions; a dainty sprinkling of sea salt cannot compare to Pakistani spices and Sichuan peppers.
We raised our eyebrows at one another when our cousin visited us in Beijing and ordered plain noodles at every restaurant, refusing to even taste anything else. What, we wondered, would she do if we tried to feed her chickens feet and scorpion street kebabs?
In a recent New York Times article Matthew Forney praises what adventurous eating of his children and questions whether, as their father, he deserves much credit. Perhaps, he argues, the fact that his children are such good eaters is entirely circumstantial – after all, they were born and raised in China.
Living in a country with an incredible, diverse cuisine certainly increases the likelihood that your children will be excited about food. Forney’s article, however, begs the question – what if your Beijing-residing child refuses to try anything new at all?
Some parents suggest hiding the food your child detests most in a meal they normally love best (tiny mushrooms in a favorite sauce, for example), while others claim that leading by example – thus, hungrily trying strange dishes yourself – is sure to do the trick.
Sneakily feeding your children food when they’re least expecting it may be one solution but it definitely doesn’t get kids excited about eating new dishes. However, it seems more likely that turning eating into a fun, challenging activity – as Forney does with his children – and constant exposure to new cuisines will get the culinary ball rolling. While Mrs. Shanen’s, The Tree and Grandma’s Kitchen are homey depositories of Western favorites, there are hundreds of restaurants in Beijing that will help teach nonbelievers the bliss of exploratory eating. Children may never learn to love mapu dofu or jiaozi, but they certainly won’t know if they don’t try.
Check the tbjkids Directory for restaurants that are both kid-friendly and taste-worthy.