Strange Food or Not? It’s All Relative

Sandwich wrap with falafel patties, tomato, onion, parsley and tahini sauce.
When I mentioned John once thought sandwich wraps were strange, my friends were surprised (photo by Muy Yum)

“John actually started eating flatbread wraps with me, for the first time.” I mentioned this over tea yesterday at a sidewalk cafe. The way my one friend gaped at me, it was as if I just told him John joined a Satanic cult or something.

“He didn’t eat them before?”

“Of course not, he thought they were strange.”

“Strange? But they eat strange things in China.”

Cue the obligatory dog meat reference, which I nearly rolled my eyes over. Seriously? I wished they could sit at my inlaws’ table one day — beyond the heavy dose of offal in their diet (which wouldn’t cause most Europeans to raise an eyebrow), they ate pretty tame Chinese fare that mostly revolved around lots of vegetables, tofu, whole fish and pork.

But there was a more important perspective to this. “You know, strange is relative,” I said.

I should know. The “strange” seaweed that I finally came to love as an adult was standard on John’s kitchen table growing up (seaweed soup was a perennial favorite of his). And the “strange” salads that John believed would give him diarrhea, well, I ate them with dinners growing up at least half of the week, if not more.

Maybe we’re so used to slapping the “strange” label on everyone else’s food that, sometimes, we forget that everything can be strange if you’re not used to it.

Even a simple piece of flatbread. 😉

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28 Replies to “Strange Food or Not? It’s All Relative”

  1. When I was dating my Korean ex he introduced me to a lot of Korean food and even taught me to enjoy spicy food hehe. One time when I was hanging out at his apartment, he made spicy noodle soup and there was a jar of homemade kimchi on the table. I recall wanting a better taste and putting kimchi into the soup. He laughed and said I was very Korean when I did that. I introduced him to English No.1 Tea and sandwiches he and I would make together which he liked. Probably both of us found one another’s food strange, at least I did at first, but I’d like to think that we enjoyed eating it.

  2. Our household hasn’t had too much of a food transition problem, as I cook a lot of different regional Chinese food. It was quite funny that my Cantonese wife didn’t know how to make dim sum, but I did. She assimilated to a good dose of our better food, and came to love mozzerella cheese, (good) pizza, salads, and a number of other things. She doesn’t like much sweet or fried foods, though, so that is better for her. For my part, I drink strong medicine soups with ginseng and tian qi root, and I eat a variety of new things. I’m still a very picky eater, so no mustard greens or the loads of pickles she makes, but we get along very well on our love of all things soy/gluten, and our insanity for good (EDIBLE!) wild mushrooms.

  3. Yes, what food is “strange” to some is “normal” to others. Seaweeds make nice soup if you know what to cook them with. Can be yakky to the uninitiated though. Still, chicken legs are not my preference and certainly not dog meat. Not many Chinese people like nor eat doge meat. But to some they may be standard fare. The Indian flat bread or roti canai is nice dipped in curry or dhall. And I love mushrooms too, all kinds.

  4. I find the food aspect one of the most fun things about being married to someone of a different culture. Of course, I was lucky that my husband’s food isn’t what I would consider “strange” for me… just “different”. I’ve learned a lot of new flavors, ingredients and food combos that I never had tried before. My husband still fails to see why the dumplings in chicken and dumplings are so delicious to most of us or why Americans love to eat things that are ultra sweet, but all-in-all it’s been a great culinary adventure.

  5. I’m kinda spoiled by the culinary diversity of California. Imagine IHOP for breakfast, dim sum for brunch, curry for lunch, tapioca for tea time, molcajete for dinner, and pho for supper. In fact, I would be a bit uncomfortable with the culinary monotony anywhere else in the world. Yes, even China pales in comparison to California.
    BTW, “tame” stuffs like tofu, algae, & whole fish would seem a bit strange for most Mexicans. And most Chinese visitors (as opposed to immigrants) I met absolutely refuse to eat cheese. Sometimes, we forget how isolated the rest of the world really is.

  6. The “strangest” food to me is general tao chicken. I never heard about, let alone tasted it, in China, until I settled in US for a while 🙂

  7. I don’t know anyone who eats dog meat and I don’t understand what the fuss is about. If we’re allowed to eat chicken, beef, and pork, what’s the big deal about dogs and cats? If we’re going to make a big deal out of this, maybe we should all become vegetarians. Here in California, foie gras and shark’s fin are banned. I can care less because I don’t eat them. Yeah it’s hard to get a traditional Chinese to try Western food. It took me a few years to get my mom who grew up in China to eat pizza.

  8. I basically eat anything and everything my husband gets me to try. I might not always like it, but I tried it. xD Some of the things I like may be considered “strange” to some. When I was a kid, I did not have a sweet tooth. I was all about black olives and mussels. The one thing my husband’s family found strange about me is that I eat the skin of the potato. My family would say, “Eat it. It’s healthy.” I’m simply used to of it.

    I said to my husband while looking at peanut butter, “I can see how somebody may find this strange. The colour isn’t so appealing to look at and the texture….so sticky.

    I got my husband to really like my spaghetti….but he wont eat it anywhere else. 😀

    Now I’m officially living in Taiwan, I am trying so many unique foods that are now becoming my favourite.

  9. This is SO my boyfriend and me. We actually were JUST talking about this last night. I was always told not to eat the green stuff in crabs or lobsters b/c it was “poisonous”, and he was so perplexed by this statement as he had always eaten it. It’s funny how a cultural difference can have such an impact on what you eat. My boyfriend is Taiwanese-American, and grew up right down the street from me, but the foods we were raised with are SO different.
    Of course this led to a long talk on things I would and would not try…I am pretty open minded about food, but I can’t wrap my head around thousand year old egg! It’s an egg marinated in lime…the stuff they use to keep dead bodies from stinking! On the other hand, I cannot wait to taste test different types of 臭豆腐…and I guess that could be considered weird, huh? 🙂

  10. Traditional northern Chinese diet is least `strange’ type. Northerners are horrified about their southern compatriots diet including many strage stuff.

    In northern han mindset, any raw food like sushi or undercook beef is considered primitive since only animals eat raw food. Any cooking with direct contact with fire like baking or roasting is for cave men or barbarian since primitive people had not invent cooking pot yet. Northern Chinese have so evolved from our hunter-gatherer ancestors so long and most of them had lost taste for roasted meat.

    Indeed, roasted meat or backed food is most likely the most primitive way of cooking. But it tasted good to me since I might still have primitive genes in my body. BTW, I also like `wild’ women too.

  11. “In northern han mindset, any raw food like sushi or undercook beef is considered primitive since only animals eat raw food.”

    And undercooked meat can change your personality.

    Above link of research finding shows that undercooked meat or raw food is related to change of personality into out going (extroversion). I certainly became more out going since I came to USA. I always thought it was due to adaptation into western culture. Now it might not be entirely due to cuture. I do eat like most American now with rare or median cooked beef, raw fish in sushi, ect. When I visited China, I often found myself in awkward situations because of my “extrovert” behavior. I thought I was too wersternized. But it might be result of toxoplasma infection.

    Advice for shy Asian guys: Eating raw or undercooked beef to be infected and changed into sociable person. In the new study, a pattern appeared in infected men: the longer they had been infected, the less conscientious they were. But you might also have higher rate of traffic accident.

    A bargain with the devil. Make you choice.

  12. @ Bruce, thousand year eggs go well too with porridge. I don’t know about lean pork because I don’t eat pork for a long time since.

    @ AG, not too certain about the finding. But if true, what a poor bargain if being extrovert also being being more prone to traffic accident. The devil can keep the bargain to himself, no thank you. But to each his/her own.

  13. Haha. A funny story about “strange” food… I hosted an exchange student from China for a couple of months a few years ago. He came to us on the day before Thanksgiving, so we got to show him a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. He ate the turkey, stuffing, and cornbread willingly enough and avoided the cranberry relish. Once dessert rolled around, he got excited at the prospect of eating pumpkin pie. He promptly took a bite and gagged it out before proclaiming, “It was a bit different from what I had seen in my textbook…”

    As for dog meat… I spent the fifth day of Spring Festival (Po Wu) at a friend of my host family’s house. They had prepared numerous dishes for the occasion and one of them was braised dog meat. Before that moment, I always that it was gross and strange to eat the meat of a domesticated animal, but everyone around me didn’t think it was weird at all. So, I ate some. (For those curious, it tasted like dry, pulled beef. Not very good at all…) It’s all relative. It’s only “strange” if you think it is.

  14. Food is an awesome way to understand each others cultures and know ourselves better! 🙂 I fell in love with a lot of very native food from my bf’s part of China and ditto for him. In the end, our relationship really evolved around food and mixing cooking habits from each others cultures, which we still do. Of course it can involve hilarious moments like the time when my bf and chinese friends waited with bated breath as I tried chicken feet (I cannot eat meat if I can tell what animal it came from, so basically nothing body part looking). Or how it amused him when he found I was crazy about ja gao and other northern delicacies.

    A recent funny incident was around the mid autumn festival. I LOVE lotus seed paste mooncakes but dont like it with the egg yolk (and those are the only mooncakes i like), and one of my very close friends was laughing at how I liked the least expensive of all mooncakes and the pricier they got the less I seemed to appreciate them. She said I was missing out on the best part… haha. Maybe I was a chinese peasant in my past life or something.

  15. In the Americas, people seem to have an aversion for eels (that is being slowly overcome thanks to the popularity of Sushi) that is not found in the rest of the world. Eels are traditionally eaten by White people in Europe, even England.
    One explanation might have to do with Christian fanaticism that is associated with the lower socio-economic class (who made up the majority of immigrants), in that people were taught to loathe snakes (for Bliblical reasons) since an early age. Today, religious fanaticism is waning, but that stupid tradition lives on.

  16. My parents came to Australia some 42 years ago and as a child I would feel embarrassed and get picked on by other kids due to the food I was eating for lunch; back then a salami sandwich was strange, unusual and quite different to the lunches the other kids were eating. I’d also get picked for my garlic breath and I would beg my mother not to cook with garlic but to no avail. However Australia is now diverse and multi cultural that garlic, salami, olives and prosciutto has become “typical” every day food.

  17. Mira,

    Garlic is good for you . I love garlic breath :). Rotten shrimp paste breath is worse lol. My dog’s breath is like that.

  18. Ordinary Malaysian,

    I think it’s better if John stays behind the scene. I will give you a few days to think about it on why I say that.


    1. @OrdinaryMalaysian, it’s an interesting thought, though I doubt I could really get John to post anything here. He’s a very busy guy and and to be honest, he’s far better as my inspiration for the writing I put out on this site.

  19. You know if John writes here , I think a lot of things will change. I don’t want to say what because I’m a very dumb person :). We really don’t want to spoil everything that you have here so far. I’m the person with the lowest IQ and I figure out within secs.

    My wife used to brag to friends about how wonderful a husband/person I am. Every sentence seems to have my name on it. Finally, they met me and they said ” your wife speaks highly of you”. They were impressed in person but once they saw me, the inspiration was not intense like better.. My advice is just keeping this intensity forward.

    Bruce 🙂

  20. These food posts from Jocelyn and everyone else have been fun to read. My boyfriend (Chinese) actually recently told me, sweetly, “Honey, I know you think bread is good for a meal, but I really need some rice and meat.” I just started laughing. I’ve been on a bread kick recently, making sandwiches (with meat in them, though), and stuff like biscuits and gravy (with bacon in it) thinking there’s meat in there, and bread is carbs, rice is carbs, no difference right? Now I know better. 🙂

  21. Being with my boyfriend from China has just taught me that what you think is strange and uneatable is just in your mind. I eat a lot more now and I don’t care so much anymore what it exactly is I eat, as long as it tastes good (and even there you can get accustomed to new tastes and come to love them). Although, of course, we do have the occasional “salad”-situation. 😉

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