By Skye Kriger
Food is a huge part of my life.
I know what you’re thinking. Of course it is, food is essential to life. It tastes good, and it gives you energy to get through the day.
But it’s more than that to me. Growing up both American and Japenese, my mother made it a point to make sure I was exposed to a wide range of foods. I experienced all kinds of cultural foods from a young age and quickly developed a refined palate (for my age, at least) and a love for exploration and experimentation with cuisine.
One of my favorite things about being well-versed in food, aside consumption of the food itself, is that nearly anyone can talk about it,and everyone has a different experience to share. We all grow up eating different things, passed on to us by our parents, depending on their own upbringing and cultural backgrounds. Just like celebrating culture-specific holidays, the type of meal you eat for breakfast (in my case, cereal on American days and rice, fish, and soup on Japanese days) can shape your childhood and, by extension, your appreciation for other foreign food in adulthood.
A close friend of mine, for example, was brought up in a very stereotypical American household, and had little exposure to cultural cuisine growing up. He is an extremely picky eater, and is not the most adventurous with trying new things–once he decides a certain food is outside of his comfort zone, it’s nearly impossible to get him to try it out.
Now, trying to explore good Los Angeles dining with someone who has a narrow scope of food can be quite the challenge. So I made it my mission to expose him to at least a small scope of the huge range of global cuisine available here in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse cities in the world. The first challenge? Indian food. “It tastes like dirt, and smells so strong,” he resisted. But I dragged him along to one of my all-time favorite Indian buffets, a tiny little 5-table restaurant called Bawarchi Indian Kitchen. This was going be an extra challenge, since I knew my friend would automatically reject the hole-in-the-wall vibe of the place.
The buffet style meant that both of us could try small portions of everything, and if we (and by “we” I really mean “he,” since I’ll eat nearly anything) didn’t like something, we could power through the few bites of that particular dish we sampled and move on to something else. The spread was vast. There was lamb biryani (a fried rice dish), paneer tikka masala (an eastern cheese stewed in a spicy cream sauce), potato samosas (triangular fried dumplings filled with spiced mashed potatoes), multiple types of naan (an Indian bread), and many more dishes with which even I was unfamiliar.
Without getting into too much detail about the dishes we had (a little bit of everything, from spicy to sweet), I can say that I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed my meal. My friend? After timidly taking the first bite and carefully chewing before finally swallowing, he nodded and admitted, “Wow, not bad,” then proceeded to clean off his entire plate and go back for seconds. And again for dessert. I should mention: he’s one of those stubborn kids who hates admitting someone else is right, so any admission of wrong from him was a massive victory on my part.
But it wasn’t about me being right about Indian food. That day marked the first of many food excursions. We went to Kanda Sushi in Westlake Village, one of my favorite sushi bars in the States, where he boldly attempted to stomach eel! Imagine! Being already a huge achievement, I decided to hold off on the sea urchin until another time. During a late night study session, we explored casual take-out Thai food from the infamous TG Express (late-night delivery is a definite lifesaver), ordering the classic pad thai, green curry chicken, and thai iced tea to share. We even went for Persian cuisine at Shekarchi Restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles, where we learned that ghormeh sabzi, an herb stew, wasn’t his cup of tea, but the meat stew, gheimeh, and the crispy saffron rice known as tahdig are now contenders for his all-time favorite foods. Nor could he stop raving about the saffron and pistachio Persian ice cream.
And while he wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of every single item we tried, he now has a much greater appreciation for foreign cultures and culinary traditions than he had just a year ago. Now, when friends invite him to go out to eat, he doesn’t worry anymore about not being able to eat anything, because he’s overcome the fear of trying unknown things.
I’m not saying that you have to like everything you eat–I’m one of the least picky eaters I know, and I still have preferences when it comes to food. What I’m saying is that with a little bit of an open mind (and an empty stomach), you can vastly widen your world appreciation and become more connected with other cultures that you may not otherwise have had the opportunity to experience. Bon appetit!
Featured image from Wikimedia Commons
Skye is a Junior studying Human Biology. Though she mostly grew up in Los Angeles, Skye lived in Japan for three years during her childhood. She is fluent in Japanese and also took 4 years of Chinese in high school. She loves the ocean, is on the club rowing team at USC, and is also passionate about food and different cuisines from around the world. She loves sports and working out and can often be found at the Lyon Center. She hopes to find a career in Physical Therapy or Athletic Medicine.