The Sliver Palate

I love the work I do as a tourism writer. Telling people where to go and what to do is particularly satisfying. Alas, as I perused the menu of a restaurant for which I was doing a write-up (www.nightanddayguides.com/coolcities/sanfrancisco/outdoordining.html), I came to the realization that my quirky food issues might be a slight impediment to my career as a restaurant reviewer (rest assured, I do bring along wider-palated foodies when necessary).

I am a very picky eater. You’d think, given all the limitations on what foods I will eat, I would be thin. Petite, even. (OK, never petite.) Alas, again, I eat A LOT of the foods I do like. When I am dining at wonderful restaurants, and I ask them about their house specialties, we run into problems: Lamb yaddyadda? No thanks. Duck ragout over blahblahblah? Um, no again. Innards with special sauce? Not on your life. The official list of foods I won’t eat is long, odd and, well, written in stone:

• anything with a bone or that looks like where it came from or that can look at me (no faces)
• anything that comes from a Disney or similar character (no Donald, Bambi, Kermit, Thumper, Babe [bacon OK])
• any non-vegetable item preceded by the word “baby”
• extra slimy things, such as tofu and escargot
• weird fish, such as octopus
• weird animal body parts, such as kidneys or brains or cheeks
• strong fish, such as tuna (unless in a can with a cartoon on the label)
• lamb
• veal
• sushi (faux sushi, such as California rolls, OK)
• Indian food or spices
• raw onions
• peppers (any color)
• chile peppers or anything too spicy
• walnuts (actual allergy)

The word “bland” is one of my favorite descriptors of food, as it pretty much guarantees I will try it — and probably like it. I am the antithesis of an adventurous eater. I will not try anything unless I know exactly what is in it (and can confirm it’s not on my no-no list). I went to Brussels, the food capital of the world (pipe down, Frenchies!), a few years ago with my best friend, a vegetarian. As neither of us speaks French or Flemish, we ate nothing but lettuce, tomatoes, fries, waffles and chocolate for three days.

Of course, I married a person for whom the weirder, the stinkier, the spicier the food, the better. He’s not satisfied unless his food makes him sweat. I don’t really find this endearing. My marriage would benefit from the invention of armor-plated tupperware, so the hideous stench of his foul cheeses and onions would not permeate my delicate Kraft singles.

I did not grow up with exotic spices or far-flung flavorings. I never had actual Mexican food until I was in college; Thai even later. Chinese was as exotic as we got in suburban New York, and my mother opted for moo goo gai pan, which, I’m fairly certain, doesn’t even exist in China. My mother was a big influence on how my palate developed. She, too, is a bit picky and won’t eat fish or seafood of any kind — unless it comes in a can with a cartoon on the label. This has always led to restaurant-planning conversations that began, “Is there anything on the menu Mom will eat?” and resulted in many steakhouse dinners.

A recent conversation at my parents’ house probably explains everything:

Dad: “These franks (hot dogs) are spicy.”
Mom: “No, they’re just salty.”
Dad: “Well, salt is a spice.”
Lauren: “Only if you’re Jewish.”

1 Response to “The Sliver Palate”


  • You probably don’t even like okra, huh? Too slimy?
    Like you, I grew up eating only the narrowest range of “American” food. So, how do you s’plain me? I didn’t even have “Chinese” food until college.

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