The US TV dating show, The Bachelor came to Singapore, supposedly to eat our local food (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/voraciously/wp/2019/01/29/the-bachelor-goes-to-singapore-and-perpetuates-nasty-stereotypes-about-asian-food/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bf148e1627e3 ). Unfortunately, most of the contestants found our food not only not appetizing, one actually vomited.
I don’t blame them. Many local kids I know may just turn out to be like these blond Americans if what I observe continues.
Just in my own extended family, the younger generation grimace when presented with unfamiliar food. My half-German niece and nephew will ewe and urgh at what I eat or what I feed my own sons whenever they visit. I don’t blame them. They live in a culture where the food is presented in dull, boneless, equal dimensional shape, processed and unrecognizable from the source of origin. The adults perpetuate and encourage by insisting on serving or ordering the same familiar food, instead of trying new cuisines, especially when traveling.
Adventurous eating is a skill which must be trained from young and can be richly rewarding when traveling, especially around Asian countries. How else can you learn about the culture and heritage of a country if you insist on eating spaghetti or burgers in Hanoi or Chiangmai? Local street food is rich with flavours and texture (ensure they are well cooked and served hot, and you should be fine.) I train my sons to eat chicken feet, their juvenile tongues learning to separate the many bones from the flesh even before they started primary schools. Intestines, gizzards, pig ears are some of our favourite must-have when eating kway chap or Teochew porridge, so much so that one kway chap stall owner commented to us that my young sons ate like old men two decades ago. Although these items are cooked the same way – braised in dark soya sauce – the textures as we gnaw and chew are simply heavenly. Vinegar pork trotters – fatty and sinful – just think of it as a rich source of collagen. Twelve-year-old Andreas, my eldest, gamely tried fried scorpion in Beijing fourteen years ago and declared it like unflavoured chips. I declined because I generally don’t like deep fried food.
Recently, two of my sons visited Hanoi on separately and raved about the food there. One disappointment Ivan, my second son had, was the curdled pig’s blood, which he had often heard his parents reminiscing because it can no longer be found in Singapore. ‘It was bland and tasteless,’ he complained. Perhaps it was, but I’d still like to see the red cubes floating in our bowls of piping noodle soup in Bangkok or KL.
The same reason I love traveling in Asia could be the reason why others avoid – the food. Believe it or not, I know of people who visited Penang and avoided the street food as they deem them unhygienic. My eyes went wide upon hearing it – what else is there to eat there if not street food? I love visiting markets and eating alongside locals, slurping and sweating in the heat.
So how do you cultivate a more adventurous tastebud in kids? Don’t give them a choice. Eat whatever is served. Like how I had been brought up. For tonight, the menu is chicken feet and peanut soup, vinegar pig’s trotter, petai with sambal and oyster omelet. Ooh lala – yummy.