While I’m not usually afraid of trying new foods, there are certain types I generally avoid. Brains, guts, and intestinal parts of animals usually remain on the menu and off my plate. There’s something scary about the culinary unknown.
I still remember the first time I tried liver and onions when I was working as a waitress at a retirement village. It was drenched in gravy and tasted slightly different from other meat. I ate more than a few bites which is a big deal when you’re 17 and tasting new cuisine.
Living in Toronto surrounded by thousands of new foods and styles of cooking was daunting at first to a girl from the midwest who grew up on meat and potatoes and the most ethnic food consumed was spaghetti and pizza. During those five years, I tried new food weekly and ventured out of my comfort zone on a regular basis.
There’s something invigorating about stepping out and eating something you’ve never had before. It’s also an incredibly uncomfortable and nerve wracking thing to do in a restaurant these days because with kids eating out is rare and I want to enjoy the experience fully. So this time around I tried cooking with a new food: anchovies.
These salty fish kept popping up in recipes I was trying and I kept leaving them out of those dishes. This challenge in the Year of Spring came up and it was time to embrace the discomfort of trying something new. One jar of anchovies made it into a veggie lasagna, a few were added to homemade caesar dressing, and a couple more landed into a new pasta recipe.
I haven’t tried one by itself, but I’m no longer fearful of them as an ingredient or the fishy smell, and that’s a win in my books. One thing is certain, I’m in a zone to try new foods again. Maybe next time I’m at a restaurant I’ll just go for it and order something completely unfamiliar to my palate and diet.
Jean Piaget, a famous developmental psychologist, wrote about the necessity of discomfort in the learning process. He describes how new “situations create disequilibrium, a sort of mental discomfort that spurs [learners] to try to make sense of what they observe.” Even something as small as trying new food teaches us something about ourselves and the world around us. The discomfort of new tastes and textures is one simple way to continue learning and growing in a tangible and continuous way.
Eating anchovies was adventurous this time around. Maybe in a few years I’ll be up for trying sweetbreads or something even more out of my comfort zone because discomfort in the moment is worth it for lifelong learning and longterm growth.