My picky palate is my mother’s doing.
Growing up my mother always prepared two meals. One for herself and another for my father. Strange as this sounds, it was because my parents had opposite tastes.
My father’s family were rooted in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During World War II, my father’s father and mother just happened to be in Edo (what Tokyo was historically called) when the atomic bomb was dropped, wiping out their entire lineage. My grandparents were the only survivors and started a new life in Tokyo. Tokyo or the Kanto area, as the Japanese call it, are known for bold tastes. They use more soy sauce, salt, condiments, etc. than other parts of Japan. So my father preferred things with huge tastes.
My mother’s family is a bit of a mystery. They didn’t speak much of their past and from the little understanding I have, were originally from Southern Japan (Kansai-ish, I think), and somehow ended up in Yokohama. I was always too scared to pry but looking back, I should’ve asked my grandmother more questions. My mother grew up with delicate tastes. She was extremely sensitive to taste and smells. Super picky about what she consumed – complete opposite from my father.
Why my parents married is a bit of a long story but this flashback is from the days they were still together and what we endured as a family.
My earliest memories tie into details. Likes, dislikes, scents, visuals and tastes of all foods. My mother was a food snob and I emulated her. We turned our noses at the slightest hint of imperfection when dining out. When she cooked at home, we would go grocery shopping in the late afternoon for the evening’s meal. We nit-picked the quality of foods at the supermarkets, wrinkled our noses and made rude comments at anything below her expectations. This was me at 4-8 years of age, can’t believe I vividly remember this. As soon as I became aware of my vile behavior, I quickly learned tact. Something my mother had problems with when it came to food until her last days (She died from cancer – don’t be sad for me, it’s ok).
In the Japanese home, food and dining is a huge part of a family’s bond. Dinner time is the best time and in theory, where we enjoy each others’ companies. I know, for many of my friends and relatives’ dinner tables were exactly what I longed for growing up. Good food. Good conversation. Laughter and more good food.
Our family was a bit different. My father never made it home in time for dinner, so the only time we sat as a family were on weekends. Our dining table was always split in two – my mother and I’s side, my brother and father’s side. Everything was separated. My father and brother’s side of the table meal. My mother and I’s side of the table meal. We drank separate drinks and even our conversations were separate. It was awkward, really. So the only happy childhood memories I have of dinner time, is when I was in Japan with relatives.
Fast forward a few years, my parents (finally) divorced and my mother introduced me to the new man in her life. His palate was refined as my mother’s – perhaps even more so – and we enjoyed many dinners with plenty of wine for many years. I finally had the happy dining table, every evening, I longed for as a child.
So a huge part of the reason I choose to eat with people who enjoy food as much as me, is because when I dine with people whose eating habits are opposite as me, I go back to that awful place when I was a child, wishing I was anywhere but there.