The dessert portion of today’s school lunch was a “mango stick.” A thin slice of almost frozen mango in plastic-wrap. God it was good. Hoping to shock the fourth graders I was having lunch with, I asked them to guess how old I was the first time I had mango.
“I was twenty-four.”
Cue the shock, disbelief, and questioning of everything they had ever learned about how the world works. (Which, to be fair, is the reaction fourth graders have to damn near everything. It’s just part of being a fourth grader.)
Aside from generating a cute-ish anecdote and exploding some young minds, the whole thing got me thinking about other fruits I haven’t tried. There are dozens, if not hundreds I haven’t tried and it is all my own fault.
I’ll admit I’m not a very adventurous eater. I’ve had bouts of being willing to eat anything that was put in front of me, especially when traveling about when I was younger. These days, though, I’m tired. I’m busy. And I don’t want to risk the disappointment that is too often part and parcel of experimentation. I mean, I’m a middle-aged adult. Life is disappointing enough without willingly indulging in yet more disappointment.
On the other hand, mangoes are really, really good.
Let me tell you about that first mango. I grew up in Arizona. Aside from the standard American fruits in the grocery store (bananas, apples, pears, plums, pineapple, other things that start with p) I grew up with citrus fruit of just about any variety you can imagine on the trees around my grandparents’ house. Or at school. Or down the street in the neighbors’ yards.
Not that I would eat a lot of them. I mean, oranges are good. And tangelos are close to ambrosia. But grapefruit? Lemons? No thanks. I had enough bitter, acidic fruit to last a lifetime. As soon as I got old enough to be responsible for my own food choices, I stopped choosing fruit that wasn’t in the safe and comfortable apple-banana-pear grouping.
Oh, I should also mention that, for most of my life, there was only a single Asian food restaurant in town: Gene’s Chinese.
Sometime after college, I was living in San Diego. My friend Renee came to visit. You should understand that Renee making me do things I didn’t want to do was, and is, a huge part of our relationship. But, you know, sometimes we need those kinds of people in our lives. Anyway, Renee wanted me to go to a Thai restaurant with her.
I protested, caved, sulked, and eventually ate at a great little place in La Jolla that I have since forgotten the name of. For dessert, they brought out Mango and Sticky Rice. I appreciated the unpretentious honesty of the name. After all, this was in the late nineties when un-pretentious anything was as rare as hen’s teeth. (This is during the end of the cynical years, when the only way past cynicism was to gussy everything up as something new. Anything familiar could only be liked in an ironic way. I’m so glad those years are done with.)
So, even though I had no idea what sticky rice was or why I would be served it instead of, you know, rice, I will admit to being curious as to what dessert would be. Imagine my surprise when half an icy cold mango, peeled and pitted, was served on a bed of white rice that clumped, er, stuck together. So good. So, so good.
When I moved to Japan, I spent my first year eating anything someone put in front of me. Try anything. Don’t ask what it is, just try it.
After a decade or so, I decided that I knew what I liked and didn’t like and I was done trying new things. Except that someone put a kiwi in front of me and I was hungry so I ate it. I had maintained for years that I didn’t really like kiwi. Whoops. I really like kiwifruit. Who knew?
Which brings us back to mango. Kind of. In my local supermarket, they have a section for non-Japanese Asian fruits. I’ve never been brave enough to buy any of them. I know what I like, remember? Plus, I don’t know how to prepare them. Or even what they’re called. Or if they should look like that. Obviously, buying one of them would be a horrible idea. It might result in my house burning down or my dog running away and those would be bad things.
But, consider the mango. And the kiwi. And being open to new experiences. I think I have to go shopping.