I’m usually pretty good about trying out unfamiliar foods. I think it’s my duty as a citizen of the world. I also figure my friends have pretty good taste, so if they like it, it’s a good bet that I will, too.
But not always. Sometimes it’s a texture thing, sometimes it’s a taste bud thing. I can’t help it, but it disappoints me in my equal-opportunity, food-loving soul.
A couple of anecdotes to illustrate.
"What just happened?"
A few years ago The Ladies got together for a belated New Year's celebration dinner at Georgia Brown's, which is known for its "Low Country" cuisine—Southern food with Native American and West African influences. None of us had been there before, and we settled in for some warm comfort on a cold January night.
Ali and Kim both ordered the crispy chicken livers as their starters. Now, my first thought was, "Chicken livers, gak." But they were both so enthusiastic that I started to reconsider, and asked Kim if I could try hers. She was thrilled by the prospect of converting me (or possibly by the prospect of me barfing at the table, I don’t know). So when the food came, she forked me up a piece of the fried organ and handed it over.
It smelled great—like the most incredible fried chicken you’ve ever smelled. It looked yummy—a little golden fried nugget of goodness. I put it in my mouth. The ladies watched breathlessly. I thought, "Ooh, hey, that’s pretty goo--"
And then something happened. What had gone in as a fantastic little morsel of poultry organ just… disintegrated in my mouth. It was like it turned to powder or something. It was a solid piece of meat, and then it… wasn't. Squick.
Kim, who was watching my face this whole time, said, "Uh oh. I know what just happened. Not working, huh?"
I swallowed whatever it was that had just happened and replied, "Yeah, no. What was that?" The Ladies chuckled and gave me props for at least trying it, and I went to town on my shrimp and grits to recover. The wine helped, too.
We’d been in France for a little less than a week. A group of us had rented a house in a little tiny town very close to the Mediterranean, so lunches and dinners were full of the freshest seafood I’ve ever had—mussels and oysters and langoustines right out of the sea. (I don’t even really like oysters and I was eating them like it was my job.) But after four days of that, I was kinda hankering for something from terra firma.
After a morning of shopping and sightseeing in Montpelier, Kim, Andy, Roland and I decided to hit a bistro for lunch. The waiter handed us menus, and my eye fell on "Andouillette." I thought, "Ooh, sausage! Like in Louisiana!" (This story is also an illustration of why you really should try to learn some French before you go ordering stuff in a restaurant in France.) So when the waiter came back, Kim ordered mussels, Andy ordered… something, Roland ordered steak tartare, and I blithely said, "Andouillette, s’il vous plait!" Andy and Roland both looked at me in some surprise as le garçon walked away.
"Andouillette, I had that in Paris," said Roland. "That’s tripe sausage."
Whuh-oh. My mind began to race."Well, we’re not in Paris. Maybe that’s just a Paris thing. What I ordered is that awesome spicy sausage, like what they put in gumbo. We're far away from Paris. It’s fine."
Kim, Andy, and Ro all looked at me with a bit of challenge in their eyes. So I took a breath and said, "You know what, I'm gonna try it. I'm in France, right? Gotta try new things!"
Our food came, and I took a look. Didn't look too alarming—looked like a sausage, and there was a boiled potato on the side and a little ramekin of that kickass French mustard.
The other three all watched as I cut into my andouillette. The smell hit me first. I don't know how to describe it, except to say that it smelled like "No." All right, fine. Some things that smell gnarl can taste divine. Look at all those stank-ass French cheeses, for example.
I cut a piece and was not encouraged by the innardsy-looking interior. I put it in my mouth and chewed. "Hmm. Kind of tastes like 'no' as well." Andy was watching me from across the table, fork poised above whatever he had ordered. I cut another piece and thought, "Maybe with some mustard. French mustard covers all manner of sins." I gave the piece a generous dunking and put it in my mouth. Nope, still not happening.
One more try, this time with a bit of potato and even more mustard. The third time was not the charm. I looked at Andy, and he very sympathetically held out his hand and said, "Do you want me to take it?" I handed over my plate with a pathetic, "I tried, I really did!" He said, "I know, and I’m very proud of you." Kim smiled and passed me the bread, and Roland offered me some of his steak tartare to help me recover.
The wine helped, too.