Boundaries blur in the food world as the adventurous embrace strange fare

There's this fruit they sell in Singapore — durian. Based on who's looking at it, it comes off as either a kiwi fruit after a gamma ray blast, or a bonsai jackfruit. The Singaporeans hail it “the king of fruit”. They even have a huge building shaped like it. As an afterthought, someone whispered almost out of earshot, “It's an acquired taste.”

I find it highly suspicious when someone uses that phrase. Especially if the food or beverage you're about to taste is inches from your mouth. But those few seconds that follow, of intense speculation on your part, and pure evil anticipation on that someone's part, is the secret spice of life.

At this point in my ruminations, I considered some serious Googling to find a list of exotic and strange foodstuff s from around the world, replete with combustible comestibles and dishes that wink at you. A list that repeatedly resists the tag ‘edible'. After all, doesn't adventure food imply foreign stuff? Does it now?

Let me run a few things by you, and watch you react. Bitter gourd, seafood, stomach, mushrooms, game, cheese, brinjal. I am supremely confident atleast three items made your upper lip curl and tickled your gag reflex. Our food boundaries are personal. While we embrace radical cultures with one food group, we fence off stuff our mothers tried to raise us on. And adventure, lies in crossing those boundaries. Or testing/tasting them, at the very least.

Research shows that most cases of “I could never eat that” have a childhood story behind it. A particularly spicy preparation or early exposure to cooking process might've put someone off one kind of meat; paranoia, conditioning and texture might have kept many away from the delights of cheeses and mushrooms. I don't even want to go into the ‘green leafy vegetables' horror stories. But you're grown up now. Watching a million people wolf down something you think you hate must make you wonder occasionally and strongly enough to nick an experimental morsel. There are other reasons too.

Unless you've checked off locally available foods as ‘been there, tried that', you're at a disadvantage as a culinary explorer. You're the emotional equivalent of an athlete who can't leave home without an inhaler. You'll always be scared a new food might make you regurgitate old meals, and memories. If adventure food's about proving something to yourself, there are boggarts under your own bed you need to fight first. And if it's about fun, there's great stuff in your backyard you're missing.

Back to the durian tale. This fruit is extremely pungent in taste and smell, concentrated jackfruit, really, with a pasty texture. I loved it. My family, staring at my face, couldn't tell what I was thinking. They were still watching me eat it as we got into the car. I finished the fruit, smiled, and with all the windows up, let out a satisfied little belch of durian fume. They were marked for life, and I'd had my adventure.

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Anand VenkateswaranJune 19, 2012