Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On being an acquired taste

Have you ever eaten Korean food?

It was a cuisine with which I was almost entirely unfamiliar (with the occasional exception of supermarket kimchi, which I didn't like) until I reached adulthood. My friend Jim Wright, who served an LDS mission in South Korea, had developed a real fondness for Korean food, but he warned me that it was "not user friendly" -- I would encounter unfamiliar vegetables, fermented dishes, lots of garlic and chilies, mysterious bits of seafood, etc. Being the food geek I am, this description just spurred my curiosity, and Captain Midnight and I ended up going to a little Korean restaurant in Salt Lake City for our first foray into the cuisine.

Right away the hostess brought us a half-dozen little starter dishes full of -- what? Some of the shapes looked familiar, but had an unexpected taste; some were just wholly foreign. But we tried everything we were given, and found several we really enjoyed, including a "mystery" plate full of a crisp, bright yellow, tangy vegetable. (The hostess, whose English was very fragmented, was still game to answer our questions; she described our mystery plate as "a diddishuh" -- which we finally puzzled out as "a radish." It turned out to be pickled daikon.) Our main dishes on that trip -- bulgogi and japchae -- wouldn't be that strange to Western palates, but as we discovered other Korean restaurants and found out more about Korean cooking, we found that even -- maybe especially -- the more unusual-looking dishes were delicious. To my taste, a lot of Korean dishes qualify as comfort food cooking.

Kimchi-jjigae photo by miyagawa, from Wikipedia
Although I've developed a love for Korean food, I haven't taken many friends to Korean restaurants. Some of my friends have adventurous tastes and would probably enjoy themselves, but I realize others might not appreciate the experience. And to be fair to them, Korean food is not going to be everyone's favorite thing.

I've been considering the joys of Korean food tonight, because I think I must be an acquired taste.

A good percentage of the people I meet don't "get" me. You can see it during conversations; they adopt this particular polite, frozen, slightly nervous expression that says We just picked up a weirdo! And half the time I can't even identify what I said or did to bring it on. It's just something -- could be my voice, could be my face, could be my personality, could be the cleft in my chin, who knows? -- that grits their gears.

Sometimes this doesn't bother me. If it happens with someone I'm not likely to see ever again, or if it's someone whose opinion is of no importance to me, I can easily recognize that I've been judged and found wanting, and let it go. But sometimes -- if it's someone I really like, if I'm trying to make a friend, if I'm doing my best to create a positive first impression -- it can cut at my heart a little bit, and after the attempt I walk around for a while feeling like someone stamped SOCIAL REJECT on my forehead.

In the past, I've envied people with the kind of personal magnetism and social intelligence that allows them to make friends easily, almost effortlessly. Such people, like the sun, always seem to be surrounded by clouds of friends and acquaintances. I've wondered what it must be like to have that experience, not to have to worry about whether anyone will "get" you, never to worry about suffering through another awkward frozen-faced conversation. To be able to present yourself like the social equivalent of a burger and fries -- familiar, fun, easy for most people to enjoy. Instead I guess I'm more like a bowl of kimchi jjigae -- people tend to stare at me and wonder about my contents.

But here's the thing, and it's something I forgot yesterday when I was having a little pity party about not being good at making friends. I may not have the know-how to make friends, nor do I have gobs and gobs of acquaintances -- but the friends I have managed to acquire are exceptionally high quality people. They tend to be friendly, funny, intelligent, curious, imaginative, kind, generous, nurturing, forgiving and intensely loyal. And if I were to post here that I needed a kidney, I believe at least one of my friends would step forward with an offer to donate one. (For the record: NO, I do not actually need a kidney! Mine are functioning just dandy for now, thanks.)

So yeah, maybe I'm a bit of an acquired taste. But maybe, just maybe, some tastes are worth the effort to acquire. That's all I'm saying. (And if you agree, remind me to take you out for haemul pajeon sometime. My treat.)


Cailean said...

I'd rather have kimchi than a boring ol' hamburger any day! I've also been in wonder of those who just freely are confident in their friendshipping. I'm a lot more reserved and cautious and always have introvert who can fake being an extrovert sometimes. I have always admired you in so many ways! Still so grateful for your birthday visit!

Soozcat said...

I'm glad your birthday came around and gave me a reason to come by! :)

Douglas Cootey said...

I guess I acquired the taste so long ago that I can't imagine why anybody wouldn't like being around you. Let's meet up at that Korean restaurant next time you're in SLC.

MarieC said...

I totally agree! You're definitely a taste worth acquiring. :-) (It didn't take me long to figure that out, after all!)