Or, “How I Ate Pizza in Naples and Thought it was Gross.”
Thinking about my food choices on my very early trips abroad make me shudder a bit. Although they weren’t as bad as when I went to Orlando, Florida in seventh grade and ate hot dogs for almost every meal (after which I couldn’t eat hot dogs much again for a couple of years). I still stuck with ham and cheese sandwiches in France, and Western style pizza in Italy (supplemented with gelato, of course). I had the chance to try escargot in Paris and turned it down.
Needless to say, I was a picky eater. You could barely get me to eat citrus fruits (I didn’t like the texture). Broccoli, asparagus? Forget about it. I was not a vegetable person. Just a cheese person. And as a child, I was content eating Kraft slices as my source of cheese.
A travel anecdote that I have often thought of (in some horror) is eating pizza in Naples. Naples was the first city I visited in Italy. I tried gnocchi there, and I remember that the garbage collectors were on strike, so I didn’t get a great impression of the city. On the day that we visited Pompeii, I committed some terrible food-related crimes to myself. First, I turned down a fresh, just picked blood orange from a fruit cart just outside the ruins. And second, I ate real Neapolitan pizza at a well-regarded restaurant (no idea of the name, but we were told it was a good one), and hated it.
My memory of the event is strange, because I can remember how I felt about the pizza, but I also keep imagining how delicious it must really have been. At the time, I disliked the thin, slightly burnt crust, the small amount of sauce dabbled around the pizza, the fact that it had olive oil on it, and the fact that the toppings were sparse. What kills me about it is I know that that pizza was a perfect Neapolitan pizza, and if I ate it now I would melt with joy. But back then, my ideal pizza was from Pizza Hut, and I required a pizza to be drowning in sauce and cheese and grease.
Photo by Aaron Landry
Oh, how terribly narrow-minded I was about food.
Happily, college helped to change that. I met new friends with new tastes who pushed me to try new foods. I was able to sample things I wasn’t sure about in the cafeteria, which may not have had the best food but at least I didn’t buy it, right? So I felt like I could try more things.
Even today my tastes are slowly changing to accept new foods. Just the other day I was eating some kimchi bokkeumbap (kimchi fried rice) topped with a sunny-side-up egg, and thinking about how divine it tasted. I told Jeff that I liked sunny-side-up eggs best for topping my fried rice, then quickly said, “who am I?” because I used to not like eggs – I don’t know if it was the texture, or the idea. Partially cooked eggs seemed gross to me until very recently.
Here’s a partial list of foods that I like now but didn’t like before: broccoli, asparagus, eggs, any cheese but cheddar, grapefruit, oranges, clementines, and even peaches.
Foods I’m still working on include mushrooms. I’m partially there (and of course truffles are amazing). I still don’t like most shellfish, though. I haven’t been trying too hard with that, either.
What foods did you only like later in your life?