Dino nugget girl

Examining the consequences of my picky-eating

Gauri Manoj

Illustration | Gauri Manoj

It was a race.

My mother chased me around the house, a plate of rice and sambar in her hands as she tripped over furniture to catch me. I really didn’t want sambar rice for the third time that week, and I was willing to run forever if that meant I could eat something else. Our race was interrupted, however, when we crashed and the plate of rice collided with my head, the mess of sambar and lentil soup soaking intk my unruly hair. My mother, who at this point understood our fight was not worth a broken limb, gave up and accepted her defeat — that night, I was served a plate of dinosaur chicken nuggets instead.

Embarrassingly, many of my childhood nights ended with a plate of dino nuggets, my true comfort food. My parents forfeited the food wars in exchange for a fed child, one who only ate nuggets, un-sauced pasta or microwavable chicken tenders. I feel bad, honestly, that they had to curate meals for a child with the most horrendously bland taste palette I’ve ever witnessed. 

To be clear, I did try very hard to be a good child and eat my mother’s food, but the spices in her chicken curry were just too jarring and her syrupy gulab jamun desserts were far too sweet. Hours past dinner, I’d stare at my still-full plate of cold beans and rice, drawing circles with my spoon instead of embarking on the painful journey of actually eating it. So while it must have been extremely difficult for my parents to cater to my picky-eating habits, it was a pretty big struggle for me too. 

It didn’t really help that so much of our cultural food was packed with intense and diverse flavors, both of which didn’t really sit right with me. Though my reluctance to eat my mom’s food was merely a product of my underdeveloped taste buds, my mother instead saw it as a dismissal of her heritage and was (rightfully) saddened whenever I traded her homemade roti for a microwavable Lean Cuisine meal. 

My brother, who is ten years older than me, eventually told me that there was so much missing in my meals that was necessary for a growing child like proper proteins, carbs, vegetables and more. More importantly, he told me to be nicer to my mom, who cooks us the foods she was raised with and pretty much the only meals she has ever known. He was definitely right, but now I was faced with the challenge of overcoming my limited taste palettes and trying new foods that truly scared me. So, we faced that journey together — my brother, a big foodie, and me, the dino nugget girl. 

My first fear was tomatoes, hence my original penchant for un-sauced pasta. According to the BBC, our taste buds are always subject to change and can be trained to accept certain flavors through repeated exposure. So every day for a few weeks, we ate dosa, a thin pancake-like dish, accompanied by tomato chutney to see if I really disliked it. I often missed the simplicity of my bland dishes, though I eventually began to appreciate the tangy-sour flavor that the tomatoes brought to my plain dosa. My next few fears included garbanzo beans and cardamom, which were respectively overcome by incessantly eating chana masala and biryani until I grew accustomed to the overpowering spice — a particularly intense few weeks. 

A lot of my food-phobias were debunked in a short period of time, which helped me realize that I truly cannot knock it ‘till I try it. Even now when I stumble upon a new dish at a restaurant, I’ll opt to at least take a bite, which has fortunately led to my love for sushi and carne asada. 

I know my mother is excited to see me eating her cooked meals, yet I’m more thankful to have explored a new world of flavors that I was originally so closed off from. And now, she can teach me all these yummy Indian food recipes that eventually my own children will learn to love, even if it takes a few tomatoes to get there.