I ate the same thing almost every day throughout middle and high school: pancakes for breakfast, pasta for lunch and any chicken, fish or steak dish for dinner. I was scared to try new foods because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate it and insult someone’s cooking or culture.
I’m surrounded by European culture and cooking at home, where my dad cooks German food and my mom cooks Italian food. They both teach me about our heritage by telling stories about my grandparents and their cultural traditions.
I was always so fascinated by our background’s food, but I also wanted to learn about other cultures. Gaining knowledge and experiences excites me because I can grasp a better understanding of the world and myself. However, I didn’t have the courage to fully branch out and expand my palate because I was intimidated by the thought of doing it alone.
My hometown, Port Chester, New York, is predominantly Hispanic and throughout high school, I gradually tried specialty foods from Colombia, Peru and Mexico but I’d only order dishes I’d already eaten before.
I was playing it safe, I thought that if I liked something, I’ll order it again because I’m guaranteed to be satisfied.
I dropped this mindset by pushing myself to gradually try new foods in college because I wanted to embrace my interests in all cultures and delicious food, and doing that meant I had to try new things.
When I moved to Philadelphia, my goal was to take advantage of what the city had to offer, specifically the wide selection of authentic food from Asian, Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean and African cuisines. I gradually pushed myself to get comfortable with trying new things on my own, which was unfamiliar but fulfilling; then I found other people to do it with.
I’ve found friends to try new foods with through having meaningful conversations about the joy of trying different foods. Since then, I’ve had special encounters trying Israeli, Moroccan, Lebanese, Soul, Indian and Korean because of the incredible flavors that are unlike any other food I’ve had before.
I’ve found the best way to expand my palate is by sharing plates when going out to eat with everyone getting a taste. I’m able to break down what I’m eating down to the particular ingredients by trying a variety of seasonings and spices.
I’ll never forget my dinner at a Moroccan restaurant called Marrakesh. We ate a five-course meal consisting of an eggplant appetizer, a sweet chicken pastry, a lamb entree and baklava for dessert. Sitting on pillows surrounded by tapestries on the walls, I was blown away by the restaurant’s belly dancer who danced around everyone at the restaurant.
I’ve also tried home-cooking from other cultures, which was just as delicious and fulfilling to be a part of. I love being involved when my friends and family cook because I can learn about how specific ingredients used in dishes can vary by cuisine and affect the overall flavor, making me more informed about cooking.
I got more involved with Korean culture on a personal level when my Korean boyfriend’s mother cooked Japanese curry, galbi and budae jjigae for me. I expressed my appreciation for Korean food and culture and that it’s now one of my favorite cuisines.
Instead of viewing going out to eat as a way of just feeding myself as I used to, I now care more about the overall experience, which is immersive and enriching to be a part of because of the food, ambiance and cultural elements.
When eating food, I ask those who prepare it questions about their culture to help further my understanding of traditions, customs, arts and language. When I tried Lebanese and Israeli food for the first time, I researched the restaurant’s background and asked the server about what makes the food unique in terms of cultural practices and food preparation, allowing me to make comparisons and learn something new.
I’ve discovered the various meals that I like or dislike are constantly changing and evolving because of branching out. I’m a curious person who believes I can always learn more about the world, and my strongest level of appreciation lies in food.
I continue to expand my palate and learn about cultures because I can create opportunities for special experiences, become more knowledgeable and simply eat really good food.