I have a controversial palate. It is sensitive and has been the subject of derision, eyerolling, and mocking by friends and family. My husband looks at the grocery list and says, “People are going to assume I live with a hummingbird: sugar, Splenda, chocolate.”
My late sister used to tease me, saying I had an “immature palate.” When I was a child, my father tried to make me eat vegetables — or really, anything that wasn’t sugar-laden, starchy, or some kind of meat — by forcing me to sit at the table until my plate was clean. It was a stand-off. I usually won, content to sit at the table as long as it took for him to give in. Because I was the youngest, and presumably he fought these battles with my older siblings, he would walk into the living room and I would be free to dump the offending food in the trash. Wipe my hands. End of subject.
My approved foods: honey sandwiches, poptarts, hotdogs, hamburgers (plain), chicken noodle soup, spaghetti, baked potatoes, goulash, applesauce, ice cream, potato chips. Unapproved: all vegetables, pot roast, duck, Spanish rice, dumplings. Approved: roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, cranberry sauce, donuts, pizza. Unapproved: eggs, oranges, tomatoes, pot pies.
When I went to college and had to eat cafeteria food, I became instantly self-conscious about my immature taste buds. Half the food in the line was on my unapproved list. Friends rolled their eyes over my fear of anything new, green, or naturally sweet.
Slowly, I began experimenting. I had no choice. If I was going to live in the world, I had to grow up. My brother taught me to like eggs by putting them on toast. It was a breakthrough.
I discovered that cheese, especially cheddar cheese, could mask any bitter vegetable. Trying pierogies prompted a love for onions and sour cream (I know, I can’t believe sour cream wasn’t on the approved list either).
My father laughed and laughed when the Alka Seltzer ad came out in 1969. For days, he’d say, “That’s-a spicy meat-a-ball.” He understood heartburn, being a lover of spicy foods. I still haven’t acquired that taste. Spicy foods make my head explode. I have a sensitive palate, I say. Just like I can smell everything, everything I taste is stronger — bitter is more bitter, tart is tartier, spicy is spicier. (Of course, sweet is sweeter and I’m ok with that.) Menopause’s hot flashes are plenty spicy for me. I don’t need to experience them voluntarily by eating Indian food.