Sunday, January 20, 2013

Trying New Food Is a Little Difficult When You're an Asian Food Science Student Who Works in Restaurants

As one of my New Year's challenges, I'm trying to introduce new foods into my diet by buying something I've never eaten each time I go to the store since the same foods tend to occupy my refrigerator every single week. (Scroll down for the TL;DR)

To decide which grocery store earns my business each week, I look through the ads dropped into my mailbox every Tuesday. And it's almost always Sprouts Farmers Market that beats Stater Bros., Smart and Final, and the little bodega two blocks down the street. Not only do they have a great bulk bin selection and friendly workers, but you get 5 cents off your total bill with each reusable bag you bring to carry your groceries home. It think its worth the extra driving time.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Sprouts thinking it would be easy to try out a new food considering that the typical grocery store has about 50,000 SKUs. But I failed to remember, that that accounts for multiple brands of the same food as well as their different flavor variations. And since this challenge isn't about trying every kind of potato chip, nut butter, or cereal, my selection is narrowed down to the produce section, which fortunately, is my favorite part of going grocery shopping. I love browsing the display cases to see what the store carries or doesn't carry, where it was grown, the price per pound, why its so expensive/cheap, etc. I'm weird, I know.

So there I am in the produce section, looking at all my options until I realize that I have almost none. Each of the leafy greens, roots, melons, stalks, crucifiers, and fruits are familiar to me. Bitter melon? My grandma used to make it. Kale? Kale chips. Napa cabbage? I serve it at the restaurant I work at.

This challenge just became harder than I thought since I've been fortunate enough to have eaten at Asian restaurants (where if its edible, they'll serve it) and exposed to different cuisines while working at various foodservice establishments. Not to mention the cooking class I took recently and the many samples we get while attending food expos. Theres not a lot that I haven't tried.

Discouraged, I went on shopping as normal, putting my usual picks into my basket until I looked up and saw the light squash. Chayote, to be specific. This funny looking pear-shaped vegetable on the top shelf called out to me, begging me not to choose the gigantic horseradish root in my desperation to find a new food. So I grabbed only one, just in case I didn't like it.

After sitting at the bottom of my refrigerator for far too long, I took the poor guy out and Googled ways to prepare it. Chayote soup, chayote stew, stuffed chayote... Sounds good, but sadly I don't have time for  all that prep work. So I kept it simple and sautéed it with some garlic, onions, and oregano so that I could taste it instead of having it lost in a soup. The only problem was, it had no taste. I tried some before cooking it and while it had the crispness of a cucumber, it was much more bland. After cooking it with the onions, it only provided a crunchy texture. Big disappointment.

Does anyone here like chayote? Is there a better way to cook it so that it's not just a blank canvas? Where can I go to find food I've never tried??

TL;DR: I tried chayote squash. It was crisp and crunchy but had no flavor. Could be good to scoop dips and hummus with, but it wouldn't be my first choice.