I’m anticipating the day when the waitperson serving my chicken pad thai sits down and wants to talk about eating. I guess I’d have to start off with the one thing I don’t like:
It’s papaya, the fresh luscious tropical delicacy my granddaughter can eat halves and halves and halves of until stopped by her mother, the jewel of the farmer’s market offered to me by my late mother with the query, “You still don’t eat papaya?”, the papaw, "fruit of the angels" according to Christopher Columbus and “deliciously sweet with musky undertones and a soft, butter-like consistency,” according to Whole Foods.
Some people don’t eat some things for health reasons, some for religious reasons, some for philosophical reasons. The list of what one doesn’t like to eat is hopefully shorter than the list of those things one will eat, because it will be hard to find that McDonalds Happy Meal or KFC chicken while in India, Peru or Mongolia, not to mention in Hana or Lopez Village.
I’ll eat just about anything. Well, not the fermented soybeans called natto prized by many. I’ve seen it eaten with relish in mochi cakes, on hot rice and even served on pasta.
The island comedian Frank DeLima had a stand-up routine where he said that every group that came to Hawaii brought some kind of “stink food.” The Japanese brought natto, the Portuguese brought bacalhau, the Koreans brought kim chee, the Filipinos brought bagoong. And, Frank said, every one thought that their stink food was the best kind of food.
That’s probably true around the world. In Sweden there’s surströmming (source of a near-international incident when British Air demanded that a Swede not bring a can of the delicacy on board). Go to Iceland and natives will tell you about the sublime pleasures of eating their fermented shark, hákarl. Like cheese? Like Limburger for its smell?
There’s a popular reality television show hosted by Andrew Zimmern called Bizarre Foods. “Bizarre” seems a bit overblown since foods in their cultural context don’t seem that unusual.
My mother would soften the dried, strongly fragrant bakalhau just enough to get pieces of it into jars of pickling sauce with pieces of green and red peppers and chunks of onion. We’d vacation spear fishing and shore fishing on Kauai and my aunt would immediately clean and pickle the young goatfish, oama, after getting home from the beach—and we couldn’t wait to eat them whole, head, tail and all. When Mr. Dan from Maui visited, he’d bring the Hawaiian waters version of the puffer fish and clean the fish free of its venom sack and prepare the rich, oily fugu soup. Not stink and certainly not “bizarre” by my tastes.
“That will put hair on your chest,” my father with hairless chest used to say to me, who to this day is without a hairy chest despite eating most everything.
Now, let’s eat—together.
You can have my papaya.