I might harp on it a little too much, but it’s only because I think it’s important, ok? Trying new foods – getting out of your food comfort zone – is simply good for your soul. Whether you are fighting your own picky eating, preparing for an overseas trip or simply working to expand your horizons, making an effort to try new foods will encourage an overall rut-busting habit. You have more personal control of the food you eat than you do of many other aspects of your life, so it’s an easy and safe place to take risks. And unlike, say, skydiving or telling people what you really think of them, the worst consequences of taking risks in your food life are generally mild and/or digestive.
So while I could bore you with (yet another) soapbox rant on WHY you should try new things, instead I’ll give you four easy ways to incorporate a habit of experimentation into your food life.
Make it a party.
Here’s one I tried last week: invite friends over for a blind wine tasting. Each friend brings a bottle of wine – maybe even one they’ve never tried before! Sounds good already, right? Upon entering your home, that bottle of wine goes into a paper bag. Each person tries each wine, and you can compare opinions and/or pretentious tasting notes – one wine at my party offered “a blast of fruit with the first sip.” You can even offer a prize for the person whose wine is the party favorite! You can find lots of instructions online – and even a game you can buy – for exactly how to do this, or you can wing it, like me. Rest assured, each bottle is more fun than the last, and you might even find a new favorite. (Possible negative side effect: hangover.)
Make it a side dish.
So you’ve never tried polenta and you’re a little scared? Although it would be brave, it might not be smart to order your new food as your main dish. Instead, try it as a side dish. That way, if it’s not to your liking, you won’t go home hungry. I tried polenta for the first time at Dish, a fantastic little restaurant on Pittsburgh’s South Side. I had a phenomenal pork chop as my main dish, so even if I wasn’t a polenta fan, I would still get my money’s worth. Luckily, the polenta cake was fantastic.
Join a CSA.
The easiest way to make yourself try new foods? Take yourself out of the equation. If someone else is doing the picking, you can expect to end up with items you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself. CSAs also work to assuage your food fears, since many of them will provide recipes for how to use unfamiliar foods. You’re also guaranteed to receive each piece of produce at the height of its season, so you won’t have the misfortune of trying a new squash in March. My CSA starts in April, and I am really looking forward to the new varieties of produce that will be coming my way in April.
Have the server decide.
So you’ve taken the momentous step of going to a new restaurant with an unfamiliar style of cuisine. In this case, relying on your server’s knowledge can be even more useful than normal. Go for the wild card, and ask your server to surprise you with the restaurant’s best dish(es), in his or her estimation. I tried this at Abay, an Ethiopian restaurant. I was there on a first date with a guy some time ago, and neither of us was familiar with Ethiopian cuisine. The menu was daunting and we couldn’t figure out how to decide… so we just asked the server to bring us her favorites. We ended up with a dramatic and tasty sampling of the restaurant’s best dishes, and were totally satisfied. While the date didn’t work out, dinner definitely did.