Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cultural encounters of a culinary kind

The splendors of a Himalayan market can do wonders for a child's imagination. Last night, the Travel Channel was alternating episodes of "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern" and "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain. The emphasis was on China -- not the one gussying up for the Olympics, but the one that has existed in lore and legend for two millennia.

As the tours unfolded, there was certainly the unusual and odd -- ingredients even I wouldn't eat. But the dominant them of both shows was the role food plays in society and the home. From the street food, which is a veritable sidewalk buffet, to an open-air restaurant run by monks, the experience of a people unfolded through the nourishment of their bodies.

My husband and I have tried to raise adventurous eaters. Not because we don't want to have picky children, but simply because one day, if they're lucky enough to see this big world, we don't want them locked down if they can't find an American meat-n-three in the middle of a village halfway 'round the world.

Some of the dishes we could never make. I mean, our access to yak meat is nil. But the flavors and inspiration took hold. As did the curiosity of what something tastes like and the desire to know how other people live.

That goes on the menu any day.