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Eating life

(post, Aliza Wong)

One of the things that brings me the most satisfaction in my life is watching my son eat. Like other mothers and fathers in the world, I think my son is beautiful. Brilliant. Hilariously funny. Good-hearted. Destined for greatness. My husband laughs at me as I enumerate the ways in which I adore my son, even though I know he agrees with me. 

But whatever else my son is (and whether or not anyone else agrees with me), he is a good eater. And I am proud of him.  

My husband is not a good eater. Or at least, he wasn’t. Maybe he was just more stubborn than my son, but until I met him, my husband was a very picky eater. He still is, but in relative terms, he has opened up his culinary vocabulary immensely. 

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="She's a firm believer in tasting the journey."] My husband does not like fish; this includes all fish, shellfish, bivalves, and other creatures of the deep. My husband does not like offal or organs; no tendons, livers, kidneys, hearts, or sweetbreads. My husband does not like bones; no wings, thighs, ribs, or oxtails. My husband does not like citrus fruits; no oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, or tangerines. My husband does not like tropical fruits; no papaya, mango, starfruit, passionfruit. My husband does not like herbs; no mint, fennel, basil, or cilantro. My husband does not like spices; no star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, or coriander.  

I know it sounds like he doesn’t eat about 80 percent of the world’s foods, and trust me, we’ve had some heated discussions about this. 

My husband is Italian and grew up in Milan, so he will eat all manner of stinky cheeses, pastas, risottos, and breads. And now he will also eat such exotic foods as creamed spinach, fried chicken, pecan pie, and snickerdoodles. He will now eat steamed fish with ginger, green onion, soy, and a splash of hot oil. He will now eat all Chinese vegetables — the bitter broccolini gai lan, the sweet baby bok choy, yau choy, and ong choy. He will now eat tikka masala, saag paneer, gyros, pupusas, pho, and shabu-shabu. 

My husband is not a good eater. But he is a better eater. And I am proud of him as well.

But it’s my son who does me most proud. He asks for sushi rolls at school. He wants homemade panzerotto in his lunchbag. He eats jellyfish (“slurp!” he says), chicken’s feet, Shanghai soup dumplings, carpaccio, linguine alle vongole, cow’s tongue, salmon roe. He loves hamburgers (buffalo, medium-rare), hot dogs, fried clams, and pizza. He’ll eat almost any vegetable, from asparagus to zucchini. Fruit — well, we’re working on fruit. 

But most importantly, anywhere we have traveled — and we are travelers, my husband, my son, and I — he has never once asked for McDonald’s, he’s never once begged for mac and cheese and Coke, he’s never once whined for fries and ketchup.  

And I’m glad, because I’m a firm believer that traveling means not only seeing, hearing, smelling, walking the sites, and meeting the people. It means also tasting the journey, rolling it around on your tongue, enjoying the bitter, the sweet, the sour, the salt, the umami of life. I’ve been lucky to be able to take him on a tour of boulangeries in Paris, deciding which baguette has the best chew. To have been able to take him to Beijing, to dip different mystery meats into myriad hot-pot sauces. To have been able to take him around Texas, smelling the smoke on the best ribs. 

And I consider myself so fortunate, so fortunate, that my son is learning about his world, about his home, in a million different bites.

reference-image, l