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don’t be afraid of “ethnic” cuisine

Posted by on Nov 18, 2011 in Blog Posts | 10 comments

M and I recently watched a cooking demo at our apartment complex. She so enjoyed the steak and beans from Tony, the Chef at Caribe restaurant that we went there later in the week.

I have to admit, I have avoided Carribean cuisine, as I thought it would be too spicy for M (and me, I’m a bit of a spice wimp.) We had a great dinner, none of it was too spicy, but it all had delicious flavor. M loved the grilled onions and skirt steak, and the saucy beans and rice. She did not like the “local” watermelon soda however. The tostanes (fried plantain slices) were yummy, but pretty heavy. A good appetizer to share.

My point is, I limited what I exposed her to because I was afraid she wouldn’t find anything to eat. If you have a picky eater, that sounds familiar, I bet! What made the difference was when I talked to Tony and said, “we love flavor, but not hot spice,” and he assured us we would have options.

Similarly, Japanese, Indian and Chinese have been some of our most favorite dining-out experiences. Nervous about a new food? Check out the menu online, ask a friend for a recommendation, hit the buffet, where you are likely to find something you can eat Don’t be afraid to ask the wait-staff for a less spicy recommendation as well. Order several appetizers instead of an entree or two so you have more options. Usually there is bread or rice or potatoes or some other option. If you are really nervous your child won’t find anything to eat, plan on allowing dessert to fill in the spaces, perhaps an ice-cream. Also, consider trying new food at lunch-time when you know you can have a snack soon, and kids won’t go to bed hungry.

It’s too easy to fall into that trap of familiar foods. I was getting tired of Pho and Pad Thai and Chinese buffet every time we ate out and am thrilled to add another restaurant and cuisine to our choices!

What do you think? What has worked for you to introduce new places and new tastes?


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  1. Trish

    Our family joke is that our son A has never met a Middle Eastern or Asian food he doesn’t like. It’s interesting – while I would call him somewhat picky (never to his face, although at 2 he doesn’t know what it means yet), he does have a pretty wide-ranging palate as far as different ethnic cuisines go. It’s kind of a weird range/mix of adventurousness and pickiness, and goes to show why I hate categorizing people (adults & kids) on this front. I think calling a kid “picky” can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    I do find that A will often try a food at a restaurant that he will turn up his nose at when we’re home. So I do think that moving mealtimes to a “neutral location” like a restaurant, a picnic, etc., might be good when a family is struggling with such issues. Of course, this is assuming a family can afford & has the time to do this.

    • katja

      totally agree about the label being a self-fulfilling prophesy…It is so common for kids to try more when they are eating out! I hear that all the time!

  2. Camilla

    A friend of mine swears that being taken to Ethiopian restaurants at a formative age made her into an adventurous eater; she really liked the novelty of scooping food with fingers and pieces of flat bread.

  3. Jenny Islander

    My 5 year old and toddler and I found ourselves at loose ends one afternoon while their older sister (my picky one) and father were doing something else. So we went to the new restaurant even though I had no idea what it was. I didn’t realize until I sat down that it was Thai food. (The sign said “Noodles.” It may be a chain well known off the island for all I know.) The staff had the perfect idea: they simply put the hot stuff in a little bowl on the side for us to sprinkle to taste. I usually get a chicken basket or something else that I know the kids will eat and offer them bits of what I’m eating without pressure, but that wasn’t possible at this restaurant. Instead, I got a couple of small items and extra plates for each child. They could examine one bit at a time and decide whether they liked it. We got the vegetarian noodles and the beef-on-a-stick; my son demolished about half of the noodles except for the bean sprouts and celery and my daughter got most of the beef-on-a-stick, which was too much for my toddler’s teeth. Rice came with and they each had some of that too. I explained to both of them that if they didn’t like any of it, I would take them somewhere else when I had finished my lunch, and luckily I did have enough for a Happy Meal just in case.

  4. Leila

    Not completely about what kind of food is served but HOW… I love going to Dim Sum with small kids. You sit down, someone wheels up a cart, there is FOOD right away, no waiting.

    • katja

      YES! We often go to places with booths and buffets. Ruby Tuesday has a decent buffet that we also enjoy. The waiting is the hardest part… (isn’t that Tom Petty?)

  5. Twistie

    When my brothers and I were kids, we had ‘birthday’ outings. See, the family had season tickets to a theater company, and each production came along sometime within the birthday month of one of us kids. So whoever’s birthday was closest to the show got to choose the rest of what we did that day and what restaurant we ate at. Since the theater company was in San Francisco, every couple years our parents would buy a restaurant guide to the City. As the time for our birthday treat came closer, each of us had the option to choose someplace we already knew and liked or to leaf through the guide book looking for something interesting.

    Once the birthday kid had picked a place, well, everyone else had to simply shut up and find something to eat there. As a fairly young child, I got exposed to Indian, Hungarian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Vietnamese, Brazillian, French, Italian, German… all sorts of cuisines. Part of the reason for this is that our parents offered us the guide books to seek out things that seemed interesting to us. Part of it was that if someone chose something unfamiliar, we were all expected to find a way to be polite, even if we weren’t excited by what we saw on the menu. I think another big part of it was that Mom and Dad treated every new cuisine as an adventure and an opportunity to understand another part of the world. I think it also helped that they had adventurous palates.

    To this day, if a restaurant with a new style of cuisine opens in my town, I want to eat there. I still consider it a chance for adventure and understanding. And yes, that started with my parents’ attitude. They assumed we would all be able to find something to eat on nearly any menu, and so we assumed it, too.

    • katja

      i love this story! Such a great example! I thought we did Ok, Japanes, Vietnamese, Chinese, but I think we were in an “asian” rut without realizing it. This was a great excuse to branch out. The part about being polite is key!

  6. KellyK

    Another thing that I think helps is making sure that something at least familiar is available. With most ethnic restaurants I’ve been to, that’s just about guaranteed, though maybe it’s not everywhere.

    What I mean is, it’s easier to be adventurous if part of the dish is something you’ve had before, or it’s at least *like* something you’ve had before. Like, the last time I went to Aladdin’s (a Lebanese chain), I got a lamb pita wrap. Not too different from a gyro, really, except very different spices and it had some different veggies. And I already knew I like lamb. Or, for someone who already likes sesame chicken, a lot of Indian curries with chicken are a little like that. It’s just chicken over rice, with a different sauce. The flavor’s very different, but the basic concept is familiar.

    I definitely think buffets are a great way to try food, or eating with a group and getting a bunch of different appetizers. With a night out with kids, what about stopping for a familiar dessert or snack on the way home?

  7. Sarah

    We’ve had some luck with ethnic food at tapas/small plates restaurants. Just having a wide assortment of choices where there is really no other option besides just trying a little bit of something seems to go over pretty well and encourage adventurousness.