Why I have No Reservations when it comes to food (and how I got this way)

Do you know that I love food? Betcha didn't. I can't cook at all (though I can microwave like nobody's business), but I love trying new cuisines. I wouldn't say I'm super adventurous when it comes to food (Zimmern I'm not!), but I definitely have come a long way in my food-ventures.

I wasn't always this way. I used to be the kind of person who would rather stick with the tried and true - grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate milk were the staples of my diet growing up. This made me a virtual pariah in my family, growing up American in a Cuban-born family who were used to feasting daily on rice and beans. And don't forget the lechon. My grandmother would just shake her head over my untouched plate, calling me "una Cubana repentida." That meant literally that I repented my Cuban-ness. As if refusing to eat rice and beans meant giving up on one's heritage.

Perhaps she was on to something, though.

What does to mean to claim your heritage? Can it be boiled down (pun intended!) to speaking one's language, eating one's cuisine? Being proud of your background? I think that these are all important components of it.

Now that I am in the third decade of my life (man, I'm old), I have come to appreciate my grandmother's argument. I have come, also, to appreciate Cuban food for its subtle variances. Bistec empanizado y tostones are new favorites. But my newfound appreciation of food goes beyond even my own culture's cuisine - I am a big fan of Thai and Vietnamese food now, and you can thank two people for that: my boyfriend, Ricky, and the host of "No Reservations," Anthony Bourdain.

When I started dating Ricky at the tender age of 21, my palate was untested. I used to sweat while eating so much as chili. Indian food was out of the question. Mickey-D's and Burger King were constants. I used to see food as nothing special; eating was just part of my mundane routine, like waking and sleeping, and as a consequence, I was rail thin, barely 120 lbs at five-nine. Ouch.

Ricky began his mission slowly. It started with a Valentine's Day trip to House of India, an Indian food restaurant in Miami. Yes, I did sweat and there may or may not have been stomach cramps. But I survived, and what is more, I was now curious about food. From there, he took me to this restaurant near his house in Miami Lakes called Thai Cafe. I'd never eaten Thai food before. Chinese, yes, but who hasn't, really? I was scared of Thai food at first, but now I love chicken pad thai like nobody's business and we go to Thai Cafe so often, the waiters practically know us by name. And I have Ricky to thank for that (not to mention the extra pounds!).

Anthony Bourdain was the second big influence in my newfound appreciation for food. When I began watching his shows, first "A Cook's Tour" on the Food Network and then the (infinitely better) "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel, I began to see eating for what it should be - a celebratory experience.

Who is Anthony Bourdain, you ask? Well, Bourdain wasn't always a TV host - he began as a humble dish washer, and then worked his way up the ladder to become a chef. He has since opened three restaurants, all called Les Halles, in New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami, and made his way to the TV screen. I have been to the Les Halles in Miami. My first time trying what is arguably his most famous dish, steak frites, was practically a religious experience. If you have a Les Halles in your area or ever happen to travel near one, go! Trust me, you will not regret it.

The shtick of "No Reservations" is that every episode, Bourdain travels to a new location in the world and gets to know the people of that locale and their culture. Food isn't the star of the show, but it's definitely a supporting actor. My favorite episodes are the ones in Paris, Tokyo, and the Pacific Northwest (click on the links to see a YouTube snippet of each). Reader, if you haven't yet seen Bourdain in action, I must caution you, he's not for the faint of heart. He sometimes curses, he is anti-vegetarian, and he is very bitter. A typical New Yorker, in other words. But he is also intelligent, well-read, and a great writer. He regularlarly posts about his travels in his blog, which you can access from my blog roll.

Thanks to Bourdain, my boyfriend and I have been inspired to try Vietnamese food, we no longer leer away from street vendors, and his episode in Tokyo even influenced us to take the plunge and venture to Japan on our own - this past April, we flew to Tokyo and spent an amazing seven days enjoying sakura*, sushi, and the unforgettable Japanese people. We have yet to try kuidore, something Bourdain experienced on his show, but there's always next time! (FYI, kuidore is a style of Japanse eating that requires eating until you can't take it anymore. If I'm not mistaken, "kuidore" can be literally translated to "eat until you fall down." Sounds good to me! :p) I am even thinking about taking cooking classes now (and if you know me at all, this is a big deal!).

If you are a "No Reservations" fan like me, or just curious, enjoy the sneak-peak video of his new season below. The new season starts on January 5th, Monday, 10 PM EST on the Travel Channel. Stay tuned to this blog for more information about the show and be sure to add his blog to your blogroll!

*Sakura, as in cherry blossoms, not horse meat sashimi. Thanks to Abel for the heads-up on that!



4 comment(s):

Abel said...

If it makes you feel any better, technically you're still in your second decade until you turn 31!

I love your post though, makes me feel real hungry! For Italian- I'm not one for the majority of Cuban food, unfortunately. Also, when you say sakura, do you mean the cherry blossoms or what Wikipedia says is horse meat sashimi? (lol!)

Ana Cristina said...

LOL, sakura as in cherry blossoms. Guess I should clear that up in my blog.

And I love Italian, too!

Lauren said...

I loved this post! I love trying new things! But I didn't develop this love until Ted forced me to order something different everytime we go out to eat. Mmmm food.

I was thinking of you yesterday, hoping you had a happy Christmas! :)

Hannahkin said...

wow! this is a blogpost after my own heart :) i L-O-V-E food and am desperate to try out some good different stuff. i've only recently been getting a little more daring with my choices, though!

my favourites have to be Italian, Mexican, Indian (i go crazy for curries, as long as they aren't TOO spicy!) and basically anything Asian (as long as it doesn't involve seafood... bleugh!) my favourite thing about most Asian food establishments is that everything is shared - i'm mildly indecisive so i'm always sharing meals with people! hmm, maybe i'm part Asian...or maybe not :)

i think the word cuisine is the coolest. not only is it about food, but it also sounds a bit like "cushion", which makes me think of sleep! two of my favourite things in life - food and sleep. good times! ;)