I have heard that some parents struggle to get their kids to eat a variety of things. Many parents simply don’t have a strategy. I used one I learned from my grandfather.
When I was four, I stayed many weeks with my grandparents. My grandmother was an excellent cook, and my grandfather a very good gardener who dearly loved his food. He especially loved eel. In fact, I often shopped with my grandmother at the fishmonger and I was given the responsibility of choosing the live eel from the tank which would eventually end up on my grandfather’s plate. He took educating his grandchildren very seriously, and on this occasion used eel as part of his strategy. He had invited an old army friend for lunch who was quite excited about these eels himself. I had never tried them, and never wanted to, but suddenly all this anticipation of eels made me curious. I was given a bowl of noodle soup, but all I remember wanting that afternoon was some of that eel stuff. When the casserole of the eels came out of the old wood-fueled oven, the guest’s eyes lit up. My goodness, I thought, these things must really be good. My grandma basted them with the tomato-based sauce, finished them with a few drizzles of olive oil, and brought them to the table. They were shiny, piping hot, cut into chunks. There was nothing else to accompany them. They looked magnificent. Was there enough for me? I was shy, too afraid to ask my grandfather if I could have some. These were made especially for him and his war buddy. I ate my soup quietly but stared at the eels and mesmerized by the gestures of incredible pleasure made by the old guest. His eyes, his nose, his brows, his chin, his hands, even his feet expressed a pleasure I had never seen before by someone eating food. Can food do this? My soup is good, but it’s not doing the same thing for me. Soup is for babies. I wanted what they were having. I absolutely had to know what those eels tasted like, but not courageous enough to intrude on their eel-tasting bliss.
Luckily the old guest noticed that I coveted his eel. He asked me if I had ever eaten eel before. I simply replied, “No”. I could have pressed, but obviously not brave enough. However, the kind old man then asked me if I’d like some. But I ruined the opportunity by turning to my grandfather instead of jumping to the offer.
He’s not ready for something like eel yet, my grandfather said. My disappointment was almost unbearable, but I knew not to make any scene. And then came the lesson: Eel is an acquired taste. First you acquire the taste for chicken. Then you acquire the taste for rabbit. Then you acquire the taste for carp. And only then are you ready for eel. I knew exactly where he was going with this. I often refused to eat rabbit, which my grandfather likes to eat at least once a week. And I simply disliked the smell of fried fish, especially carp, which he also loved. In order to eat the eel, I had to graduate to it. And it worked. I ate rabbit and carp to my grandfather’s delight, eventually to mine too. I did eventually graduate to the eel. I remember the day I chose the eel for my plate, a day as special as when I bought my first pair of hockey skates. The eel was delicious. Today I describe it as a combination of rabbit and carp.
Culinary Instructor, NWCAV