The Terrifying Scent of Curry: Confessions of a Formerly Picky Eater
A bowl of yogurt and some sort of yellow curry dish with raisins was put in front of me at the dinner table. I stared at them both for a split second, then burst into tears.
JESUS, MAN, WHAT IS THAT? INDIAN FOOD? WHAT THE HELL IS INDIAN FOOD?
"I want to go hoooooooome," I wailed pitifully. My outburst silenced everyone at the dinner table. But I couldn't contain myself. I was crying with every muscle in my body, my chest wracked with sobs and my face aflame with tears and humiliation. Embarrassed doesn't begin to plumb the depths of the shame I felt at bursting into tears at someone's dinner table, even at seven years old. I wanted to disappear into a puff of smoke and flame. Oh, did you hear about Katie? She spontaneously combusted at Bharat's house last week!
The food in front of me was just too unfamiliar, too impossibly bizarre to comprehend. Yogurt for dinner? Raisins in a main dish? And is this where that awful smell is coming from? I cried and cried while Bharat's mother attempted to comfort me and her father picked up the phone to call my mother at her office, throwing confused glances back at me as he tried to explain the situation to her.
I was inconsolable. I must have looked the way a small, hairless dog does when it's beside itself with panic at the sound of thunder, hackles raised and pupils dilated, rocking and shaking and petrified beyond all rational thought. And finally, my mother came for me.
She stood stoically at the front door as she tried to apologize, as I hid my face in her skirt and took deep, shuddering breaths of the Eternity she always wore. She led me to the car after Bharat's parents shut their front door, thankfully shutting out that deep curry smell and allowing me to slide my jelly shoes back onto my feet.
"So, you were upset...by the way dinner smelled?" my mother asked as we backed out of the driveway. I had already rushed hysterically through the list of reasons it had been imperative that she immediately leave her desk, drive across town and pick up the ball of snot and tears and frayed nerves that was her miserable excuse for a daughter.
"No," I sniffled back. "I just didn't know what it was. I was scared of it."
"You were scared...of dinner..." she trailed off. I looked blankly back at her. How much more did I need to explain the deeply off-putting situation out of which I had just come? They cooked curry, Mom. They made me take off my shoes.
We drove home in silence. I think my mother was both concerned for and annoyed with me, with a hefty dose of embarrassment on her own end for having raised a child who was afraid of the way curry smells. She cooked me dinner resignedly. It was tuna mac. I passed out after eating it from the sheer stress of the evening and the dozy comfort conferred by a casserole dish of canned fish, green peas and Kraft pasta.
I was never invited back to Bharat's house, and we quickly lost touch after elementary school. I sometimes think of her and wonder what her mother and father must have thought of me, of how rudely I acted that night. I think of how this evening eventually colored the way I view food from different cultures: as a bridge to understanding something that may initially confuse or even frighten you. I think of how my over-the-top refusal to share a meal was an insult to a kind family, and I am ashamed of it often.
I think of her and I want to tell her, "I'm so sorry, Bharat. I love curry now."
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