Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Blogger: Rachel Park, Strategic Facilities Planning Principal | Princeton, NJ, USA
August 07, 2013

Food is so much a part of one’s culture and upbringing. From early on a child is labeled as a “good” or “picky” eater. According to a study published American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August 2007 and republished in the New York Times, “Researchers examined the eating habits of 5,390 pairs of twins between eight and 11 years old, and found children’s aversions to trying new foods are mostly inherited. The message to parents: It’s not your cooking, it’s your genes.”

Luckily, I am a product of very adventuresome eaters. So are my siblings. Except for some dietary restrictions due to religion I eat almost everything. This translates well when travelling abroad. Having spent much time recently in Beijing our team has had the opportunity to eat and try new foods or combinations of foods. Most of us are not picky eaters and relish the possibility of eating sometimes very exotic, spicy and/or traditional foods. 

We try not to ask what is in each dish. Menus are almost always in both Chinese and English and have a lovely picture of the dish. This helps us when ordering as we often point to the picture when we are not able to communicate with the waiter/waitress.

We have also learned that in China, it's polite to order more food than you can possibly eat. At first we thought this was wasteful, as we were all brought up with the “clean plate club” custom. We then learned from our Chinese team members that it is more important to leave food over than to eat everything as it shows the host that we really liked the food and their cooking. Luckily the cost of the meal is relatively inexpensive. 

The other custom in China that many of us have trouble “stomaching” is eating every part of an animal, or eating insects, or unusual creatures. This includes intestines, feet, eyes, etc. If we are true to our “don’t ask, don’t tell philosophy” of adventurous eating, we often find that we enjoy the flavor and go for seconds. Dishes are often presented in a beautiful manner, so if you ignore examining the ingredients you can still enjoy the atmosphere, the company, and the conversations. 

By the third or fourth dinner we sometimes opt for a more western menu such as meat and potatoes, pasta or pizza. These meals bring us a moment of comfort when we are so far from home. We all appreciate this respite, but are happy to go to back to trying new food and having new experiences. 

I haven’t asked, but I'd be interested if these food experiences have encouraged the team members and their families to try more unique restaurants when they return home...

Images courtesy of Rachel Park

Reader Comments (3)

I love trying new food and find that my kids mostly enjoy it too. Have tried bugs in Burma and grasshoppers in Hong Kong, and was not really a fan. We called the curry chicken in Thailand "cartilage chicken" because there wasn't much meat, mostly knuckles and such. While some would consider this silly, I will say that I like to seek out the western restaurants in foreign countries to see how they do things differently. In Spain the McPollo (McChicken) was deep fried in olive oil with a white cheese and spicy mayo. It was actually fantastic. And of course, served with a beer! Enjoy your travels and fun to hear about!

The Clean Plate Club! My parents used to use that expression. Interesting to hear that is not the tradition in China. Across the sea in Japan, it's good manners to finish all your food; I remember reading a story about how Japanese aristocracy used to hide food in their kimono sleeves if they were too full to finish.

It is always good to try new flavours specially when a kid but I have to say that with the ageing i am willing to explore different new cuisines and i tried dishes i would have never tried as a child.

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