I grew up in a large-ish small city on the Canadian Prairies, but it was actually quite adventurous and global in its food scene, even more so now. My parents were
big foodies and introduced my siblings and me to authentic Indian, Ukrainian, Greek, Ethiopian, Nepalese, Filipino, Jamaican, Thai, Mennonite, Austrian, French…oh the list is endless and filled with delicious food memories. My mom was an immigrant women's employment counselor so she was often invited into the homes of her clients for meals and I willingly tagged along as her +1.
Imagine my surprise when I got Chinese take-out for the first time in Nashua when I moved to NH. The man behind the counter handed me my beef & broccoli as well as a small paper bag that I kept closed until I got to my car. I opened it up to see what treasures lay waiting for me to discover only to find 2 dinner rolls, duck sauce and Chinese mustard. Whaaaaaat? What was this trickery? I looked back at the restaurant to make sure it was Chinese and yes, it was. And yes, those were lukewarm, pillowy dinner rolls staring back at me from the bottom of the bag. And what was I supposed to do with this duck sauce? And what the heck was Chinese mustard? Apparently culture shock came in little packets.
My next huge disappointment came when I ordered Thai take-out for the first time after seeing a newspaper ad for the restaurant. I was thrilled to see that I could get “authentic Thai” (per the ad) and drooled in anticipation. I got Pad Thai thinking that would be hard to mess up. Nope. Wrong again. I had never had anything like it in my life and I was sure the food gods were playing a cruel trick on me. It was wet and gloppy and sickeningly sweet and … there are no more words to describe it. It was just not good. I called my mom and dad, almost in tears because it was so bad. What was this thing they told me was Pad Thai? I don’t know. I still don’t know. My parents had no words of comfort to offer me as I heard them smack their lips and dig into my dad’s Thai green curry with beef. Savages.
That same year I went on a date to a Mexican restaurant that is still operating to this day. I had just graduated from a school in TX and had some mighty fine Tex-Mex while there so maybe my expectations were a little high, but I didn’t expect what was in the bowl – actually no, it was a plate and I can still picture it in my mind because one simply does not unsee what I saw. I ordered chili and it was sweet. And it came with carrots. And snow peas. What the – ??? This same person took me out for dinner at a favourite Chinese restaurant of his youth. After that first enounter with dinner rolls, I braced myself for the unexpected, but nothing could have prepared me for this. Thinking he might impress me, he introduced me to the pupu platter, a delicacy unheard of by me before that evening to which I replied, “Huuuhh????” And I still married him.
So, that year was a year of dreadful firsts for me and sad to say, I have had many more similar experiences since then when it comes to ethnic cuisine. If it weren’t for the fact that I had a student loan to pay off and a career to get off the ground, I’d have packed it all up and flown home to my mom’s chicken adobo. But, slowly I got out of my way and began to to see the riches of the Monadnock region. The locavore movement is strong and has been for as long as I remember here. I can still taste the first time I bit into that tender sweet asparagus fresh from the garden. A revelation! Or my introduction to bean to bar chocolate. Or the gallons of sweet, juicy berries we’ve plucked by hand every year. Heck, after years of listening to my husband sing this annoying jingle, “Brown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh!” I finally get it.
I learned that sometimes you just have to readjust your taste buds, accept that some things will never live up to your expectations and appreciate the food for what it is. Good food doesn’t have to be authentically exotic or pack a punch. Sometimes good food is subtle and quietly sinks its hooks into you and catches you unawares. And sometimes good food comes with jingles that annoy you into seeing the error of your ways.