Daddy always loved bragging on my hearty appetite: “Kimmie never met a meal she didn’t like.”
It was true. In the past, my list of “Foods I Don’t Like” has been a short one. I could count them on two fingers and have eight to spare.
Now that I’m in my tender years, not only has my bucket list become longer, my list of “no-likes” has dwindled to a finger-and-a-knuckle. While some gourmets might recognize the following foods as delicacies, my daddy, a long-time fisherman, had a better name for them: bait.
The first was caviar. I’ll set the scene.
A new graduate of University of Texas at Arlington, I was feeling thankful for my Bachelor of General Studies degree. Following commencement, a week before Christmas, Daddy decided we needed a party. Prowling the aisles of Winn-Dixie, he perused the gourmet food selections for the most exotic — smoked oysters and caviar. Yep, you heard me right. On our holiday table, into a festive cut-glass bowl, Mama had spooned a generous mound of fish eggs.
Now, those accustomed to this fare know to offset its fishy taste with a sprinkling of hard-boiled eggs or a “dollop of Daisy” on their crackers. The recommended beverage, Champagne.
But, since both my parents were teetotalers, the ice bucket on the Terry table contained a two-liter bottle of Coke Classic. Try though I did, there was just no love connection between caviar and me. So, add one more to the list.
On to the next adventure: sushi.
I can just feel my daddy shaking his head on this one. He might even be so shocked that he drops his harp and falls off his cloud.
After working up a robust appetite from touring the streets of Manhattan Island, my son, Tam, and I turn down a side street.
“Hey, Mom, what are your thoughts on sushi?”
“Sure. I’m game.”
“Excellent! I know a great little sushi bar down the street. Malin and I meet for lunch here often.”
Tam has never steered me wrong. After all, he’s my tour guide, my protector, in the sprawling cosmos of New York City.
The minute we enter the hole-in-the-wall sushi bar, I’m greeted by octopus, squid, eel, and other deep-sea critters.
At that point, I collar Self.
Get over it, Kim. You didn’t fly all the way up here just for a seafood platter.
A waiter soon approaches our table, waiting patiently with pen and pad.
With a slight smile, Tam places our order: “We’d like to try your salmon and some of the red snapper.”
The waiter bows and disappears behind the bar. Soon, he emerges with our order, accompanied by bowls of sticky rice and two chopsticks.
Having eaten with chopsticks before, I position them, like wooden knitting needles, among the fingers of my right hand and baptize into righteousness a slimy sliver of salmon in a pool of soy sauce, lift it to my lips, and struggle to swallow as it slithers down my gullet.
Soon feeling like a pro, I maneuver the sushi from plate to mouth and revel that, not only am I trying new tastes to boast about back in Cowtown, but also that I have lived to write about the experience.
Still, as we leave, I feel relieved to scratch the sushi-eating experience off my bucket list and move on to others the Big Apple has to offer: the Empire State Building, Indian cuisine in Greenwich Village, Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, and — oh, yeah, New York’s biggest attraction — my one-month-old grandson, Harald, a blue-eyed tow-head with healthy pipes. The image of his dad.
Little can I predict, at the time, what and who awaits me six years later.
Over the next year or two, I’m surrounded by choices. My fiance, his face beaming, watches me sample Rainbow Rolls, California Rolls, and a smattering of other delights at Kampai, Piranha Killer Sushi and Nagoya Japanese Restaurant.
My courage increasing, I prepare my palate for Delicacy Number-Three: Calamari.
Miriam Webster Dictionary defines calamari as “edible squid.” My own definition of it? “Deep-fried rubber bands.”
In 2005, my other son, Terry, and I were dining in a local Italian bistro when I watched waiters carry out spools of what looked like onion rings. Always open for something new, I asked him if we could try them. After all, something that looks like onion rings can’t be all bad, can it?
I soon found out. As I dunked the ring into the spicy sauce, I thoroughly expected to like it. So I took a big bite of it and chewed… and chewed….and…gagged. Spitting it discreetly into a napkin — a little bonus left for the busser — I added one more food to my no-like list.
A year later, at a dance club, I agree to give calamari another whirl. After all, a friend splitting the order has offered to buy. Still, the texture makes me gag. As I leave the second restaurant, I’m surer than ever that I don’t like calamari.
Fast-forward to October 2010
One Sunday after church, my fiance places an order for calamari at Rockfish Grill in Arlington.
“Good calamari isn’t rubbery,” Von explains, sensing my skepticism.
“If you say so,” I quip. Although willing to give it one more shot, I have stung twice by biting into the bad kind. Why should this time be any different?
Amused at my screwed-up nose, he adds, “Babe, you’ve just never had it fixed right.”
I smile. We’ll see about that.
Still, during the four years that we’ve been together, I have grown to trust Von’s word. If he says something’s good, then I’m willing to try it.
Surely enough, when the server brings our food, I’m in for a happy surprise. This calamari is tender, tasty, and, best of all, non-rubbery. In fact, this kind tastes like popcorn shrimp. By the end of the meal, I finish not only my share but most of Von’s, as well.
So, now that I have sampled caviar, sushi, and calamari, I wonder what other next delicacies await down the pike.
That remains to be seen. For now, a heaping plate of Gorton’s crunchy fish sticks with extra red sauce and lemons sounds mighty good.
Now, back to you. What’s the most exotic food you’ve ever tried?