Are You a Couch Foodie, Garden Foodie or Stove-Top Foodie?

Jack's homemade crepes with rhubarb, blackberry and raspberry compose are always a crowd pleaser.
Jack’s homemade crepes with rhubarb, blackberry and raspberry compose are always a crowd pleaser.

Recently in a cycling forum, a question floated over the Internet: “Do you have a discerning palate?” That got me thinking about foodies, people who pride themselves as food connoisseurs, worldly arbitrators of food dishes from a dizzying array of cuisines.

Just a Stove-Top Foodie: Homespun Knowledge
I fancy myself as a foodie. Not a complete foodie addict, but more a casual stove-top foodie than a Food Network TV couch foodie. In fact, I’d rather not be part of the cursed couch foodies that sparks the ire of some Vancouver chefs. According to the restaurant industry, the Food TV Network, has changed the culinary scene. As one local chef opined:

“.…What makes Vancouver restauranteurs’ and chefs’ jobs challenging is today, everybody believes they’re an expert when they don’t have enough background.”

Indeed, this is the challenge or problem, these days for big city chefs anywhere in a competitive restaurant market.

Guavas on a tree at a guava plantation. Big Hawai'i Island 2002. Photo by J.Chong
Guavas on a tree at a guava plantation. Big Hawai’i Island 2002. Photo by J.Chong

Growing a Foodie
I’m a stove-top foodie, because my culinary palate was stoked decades ago, long before Food TV Network, and before I knew how to read cookbooks. As any Asian kid raised on a traditional Asian cuisine, will tell you, babies and children learn to eat all sorts of weird, mostly wonderful stuff without even knowing the English translation for every ingredient or the cooked dish itself. Sometimes I still don’t even remember the proper Chinese name for the dish. But I eat it anyway.

Dinner at one of many Chinese-Japanese restaurants. Toronto, ON 2011.
Dinner at one of many Chinese-Japanese restaurants. Toronto, ON 2011.

It wasn’t until my teens I realized I was eating rehydrated lily buds in steamed Chinese meat dishes, bird’s nest soup at wedding banquets and wood ear fungus in Mom’s stir-fries. This was the early 1970’s, not today, when weird food reports have now penetrated globally via the Internet, tv and celebrity cowboy chefs, like Anthony Bourdain storytelling their culinary discoveries.

Children: Equal Partners in Food Discovery
It is children who sit equally at the table with their parents, at a feast or restaurant and gobble down, course after course, of less familiar foods, minus the tea and wine. These

Duck with berry red wine sauce and bowl of spaetzle on side. Strasbourg, France 2010. Alsace regional cooking has German influences. And vice versa also: southern German dishes are more delicately in taste and execution.
Duck with berry red wine sauce and bowl of spaetzle on side. Strasbourg, France 2010. French Alsatian regional cooking has German influences. And vice versa also: southern German dishes are more delicate in taste and execution because of French influence.

children are not food-ghettoized to their own table of bland adult food versions.

This is how a child becomes a stove-top foodie: they are expected to try a food dish, be a teachable guest, learn over time by taste, what makes the dish enjoyable or dull. Not by how a food dish looks. How else do you think very young children can happily eat tofu, hot curry or sushi?

As I had explained in an earlier blog post, my palate and knowledge of cooking techniques was confined narrowly to Cantonese style cuisine until I left home. It was the regional cooking that my parents grew up and knew. That was my “restricted” culinary world living 100 km. west of Toronto.

Georgia Cannery, Richmond BC. A historic site where there was once several major salmon canneries that employed aboriginals, Japanese and Chinese Canadians. Part of understanding local food heritage.
Georgia Cannery, Richmond BC. A historic site where there was once several major salmon canneries along the British Columbia coast that employed aboriginals, Japanese and Chinese Canadians. Part of understanding local food heritage.

I didn’t scratch the surface or even know about Malaysian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese as well as South Asian fare, until I earned enough money to eat in restaurants. I actually considered (and still do) cheaper just to cook Chinese food at home.

Later, I layered my stove-top palate, with a few seminal cookbooks and literary foodie books on long, diverse gastronomic history of Chinese cuisine, lore and technique. Fuschia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Chinese Cooking, as well as  books by Chinese cookbook authors from disapora, — U.S. and Britain, who went to visit motherland to document and photo -shoot their culinary connections and discoveries.

Typical home-cooked meal- stir fried veggies that includes fresh water chestnuts, daikon and wood ear fungus
Typical home-cooked meal- stir fried veggies that includes fresh water chestnuts, daikon and wood ear fungus

Refined Tastebuds Discern Gastronomic Nuances and Innovations
A well-tuned palate for at least, one complex cuisine, can quickly distinguish between the canon of restaurant cuisine and home-cooking, along with nuances of quality and inventiveness.

Now, with East-West fusion cuisine, it does tease your tastebuds out of complacency. But there are some no-no’s to me, no matter how innovative: raw bok choy just is so …wrong.

Ice cream sandwich vendor pedals her handmade goodies by bike. Farmers' market by Vancouver railway station. 2012 Photo by J. Chong
Ice cream sandwich vendor pedals her handmade goodies by bike. Farmers’ market by Vancouver railway station. 2012 Photo by J. Chong

But last year, for the first time I had raw, fresh kohl rabi slices. It was delicately crisp and lovely. I was more familiar with kohl rabi soup from childhood or Jack’s German dish of sautéed kohl rabi with a white sauce.

Happily my stove-top palate is enriched with exposure to finer German cuisine. I don’t mean just beer, bratwurst and sauerkraut. I’ve written about my cycling adventures on spargel (white asparagus), multi-layered cake tortes and dumpfnudel, the German cousin of Chinese bao.

No doubt, I have yet to fully know, the spicy nuances for all regions of India or miso differences favoured in Japanese and Korean cooking. But I could tell you that won ton or gyoza like wet dumplings shares similarities with Ukranian perogies and Italian ravioli. It’s differences in cooking technique, fillings and sometimes sauces and dips.

Café sign beckons with beer, meat dishes and kugelhof cake in heart of Strasbourg, France. 2010. Photo by J. Chong
Café sign beckons with beer, meat dishes and kugelhof cake in heart of Strasbourg, France. 2010. Photo by J. Chong

As for ever becoming a garden foodie, nah. I’ll leave it to the patient gardeners and farmers.

Some of My Favourite  Foodie Blog Posts and More: 
Come and Get Your Dumplings: Some West-East Comparisons.

Cycle-Adventuring for Fun, Low Cost Food at Ethnic Grocery Stores and Supermarkets.

Easily Drunk on Cycle Touring in Wine Regions.

Home baked salmon fillet wrapped in phyllo with leek in white sauce on side.
Home baked salmon fillet wrapped in phyllo with leek in white sauce on side.

Growing Up and Cycling Through the Years to Farmers’ Markets Home and Abroad.

Kicking Up Schiacciata Con Frutta: Grape Focaccia My Way with Ginger Root and Spices.

Lotus Flower: From Root to Flower to Seed, It Feeds Our Senses.

Romanticizing the Best: Asian Craze for European Desserts.  See under Site Index at the top of this blog for more foodie blog posts.

Da Silva, Michelle. How Food Television is Changing the Way We Dine. In Georgia Straight. Mar. 12, 2012.

Bike tire garden trellis at Mount Pleasant community gardens. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J.Chong
Bike tire garden trellis at Mount Pleasant community gardens. Vancouver BC 2012. Photo by J.Chong
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30 Comments Add yours

  1. What a great post, Jean – you covered a lot of ground (or tables, should I say?) I didn’t appreciate different foods until I began traveling in Europe – what a palate expander that was! After traveling in the US for a few years and suffering through bad hotel food, I came home and learned to cook just so that I could eat well again. Love the fact that you used a Community Garden photo at the end, looks yummy and creative!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      I couldn’t resist the trinity of cycling, gardens and food, composer in the garden. And a credit to folks like yourself who revel in tending gardens.

      Like

  2. Ray Colon says:

    Hi Jean,

    I’m afraid that I’m no foodie at all. I’ve always been a picky eater and not at all adventurous when it comes to food. I remember going on a trip in high school to a French restaurant with my french class. While my classmates drooled over the menu, I pouted because nothing looked good to me. The waiter noticed my dismay and after telling him that I didn’t like anything on the menu, he left and came back with the chef. The chef was very understanding, so he agreed to make me the biggest hamburger that I had ever seen — hold all the trimmings. It was fantastic!

    The only exclusions to my finickiness are the Spanish dishes of my own “restricted” culinary world, but only when prepared by my Mom. I’ve tried those dishes in restaurants and they just haven’t been as good.

    I understand the annoyance that the popularity of food network shows have inflicted on chefs. It’s similar to what web designers must go through with clients who have some knowledge on the subject, but think that they are experts.

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    1. Jean says:

      What a great chef to please a kid with his gourmet hamburger. There must be some reason why you are picky…it does start when we’re very young. One of my sisters is a doctor and mother of 2 young children. She and hubby don’t have a nanny to help look after children. Her mantra is: parents should try to introduce a healthy veggie, etc. and try it 8-10 times in different ways before they give up. Gentle encouragement and not making a big fuss at the table/over the kid. Maybe even walk away to give kid time to digest.

      My mother didn’t give us much of choice: we’re were just poor and knew there wasn’t going to much else food choice. Tantrums over food were not allowed but she didn’t punish us nor reward us with food. A good thing since food should not be associated with good vs. bad behaviour. Food is really…”neutral”. However an animal activist might argue otherwise.

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  3. I’d have to say all of the above, plus we forage in our local parks as a lot of early settlers planted things like Indonesian Jambu fruit and lemon grass! We also combine our bike ride with a yummy breakfast with friends on Saturday mornings; a 20km round trip but worth it to over indulge and then work some off!!

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    1. Jean says:

      What is Jambu fruit? Maybe Canadians call it something else. Sounds so exotic to us Canucks, that lemongrass grows wild! Biking friends and stopping for breakfast is always a wonderful thing –no matter what the weather may be. Working off the breakfast is just a bonus. 🙂

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      1. It’s Indonesian so we don’t see it in the supermarkets (though specialised stores do import some), took a while to get it identified. The tree is enormous, not indigenous or planted by council so it had to be someone living here at the time. Jambu is pinkish red, white on the inside, tastes like a watery apple and shaped like a small pear. When the fruit fall and carpet the ground it looks beautiful. My friend told me in Indonesia they use it as a fruit to pickle for savoury dishes.

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  4. Jiawei says:

    I also considered myself a casual stove-top foodie. I love to cook but my cooking is mostly limited to Chinese. Trying to step out of my comfort zone, I tried other cooking, too such as Indian, and Japanese (before I became a vegetarian), Italian, etc, but I always come back to Chinese cooking. I am very adventurous when it comes to eating different foods. I love all kinds of food, vegetarians that is. Our recent trip to Japan taught me how important food is, just to sustain us. Vegetables and grains feel right on the palate.
    You must be a good cook yourself?

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    1. Jean says:

      Well, like you tend to naturally fall back on preparing dishes that follow what I learned from my mother. Non-Asian stuff has been sporadic and tends to be based on just few recipes memorized over the years and are very easy for me now to prepare because they are uncomplicated or I can be creative to make variations. ie. homemade focaccia, couscous with sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, etc. My partner injects it with his wonderful salads that he invents and spur of the moment invented vinegarettes. Those salads and dressings just don’t come naturally to me!

      Food in Chinese restaurants if one eats it several times per week, isn’t necessarily the healthiest. So my cooking style at home, tends to be less oily, salty than the restaurants. But hopefully, healthier long term (for me). Some of the problems with increased obesity particularily among more affluent Chinese, is eating more processed foods, oils, fats, sugars and fast food. I guess now, seeing the effects of healthy Chinese cooking, does naturally predispose me to keep on eating this — along with injections of daily skim milk for breakfast, etc. and other non-Asian dishes here and there. There is profound evidence in my own family that this is the way to go. My father has prostate cancer at 84 but what is surreal, is that he has no cardiovascular, no respiratory problems. He doesn’t exercise much at all. A walk around the neighbourhood for 20-30 min.

      Most definitely it is attributed to his diet, of which my mother since she plans the meals, has been responsible for this in their marriage. Most definitely I attribute the foundation of my health, body size to my mother’s cooking.

      But yea, I eat desserts outside of home. My partner tends to be the one who bakes or prepares that for special home based events.

      Like

  5. Malou says:

    Great post, Jean! Food is something that I always like to talk about. I love anything Asian given my origins but I’m also open to trying new dishes. 😉

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      What would be some Dutch dishes Malou that you’ve tried but never heard of before living overseas? I was told by my German partner that it was his impression Dutch food was plainer. He comes from southern Germany where their cuisine is not as heavy as northern Germany and is influenced by French cuisine.

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      1. Malou says:

        Dutch dishes are very simple, oftentimes meat, potatoes and vegetables. That’s also the reason why I love going on holiday to France. 😉

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  6. Alice L says:

    Ahh, the line where you talk about growing up Asian and eating cuisine without knowing the English or Chinese name and eating it anyway! That resonates so much with me. It’s kind of terrible since I can’t name the food in either language, but it’s also nice because it’s not about what you’re eating, it’s about the taste and flavor. Thanks for the great post!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      That’s what I call adventuresome: I’m like you, I will eat something and not necessarily know everything that’s in the dish. Much less the name of the dish. Wonder how our parents convinced us..

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  7. What a delightful post, Jean! Makes me realize how impoverished my own palate is, however. When’s dinner tonight? I’m definitely coming over!! : )

    I laughed with delight to see the “ice cream bicycle”– I shoulda known there’d be a bicycle in here somewhere! I thought. Then I saw the bike wheel trellis and laughed again. Beautifully composed post all around, loved the way you laid it out, mixing text and photos. Great job, thanks for sharing! : )

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      I’m sure your taste buds become awakened when you travel, Mark! Happy (healthy) eating and explorations in travel, drawing too. 🙂

      Like

  8. timethief says:

    Hi Jean,
    I really enjoy your posts and how you develop and illustrate each theme. The two bicycle inclusions Mark referred to above made me smile too.

    My mother was not a great cook. My relationship with food was a gardening one when I was very young. I have good memories of fresh from the garden meals at home but the meals we ate were not adventurous. They were typical North American fare. As time went on and more children were born my mom took to serving processed foods. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that my relationship with food changed. For many years thereafter I was the primary cook but then my hubby and I changed places. He is far more gifted than I am when it comes to cooking interesting dishes. I make a smaller contribution primarily by creating salads and soups. Neither of us have a clue what the various Asian veggies are and how to prepare them.

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    1. Jean says:

      That maplink of recipes was a thoughtful blogger there! Thank you.

      For our mothers, who raised 6 children or more, it’s unfair to expect them to be cooking saints with the stress and energy required just to be a.. mother. We had bits of processed food often –Kraft peanut butter, Cheese Whiz, Miracle Whip. My parents just doled out the soft drinks only for special occasions. I don’t think my parents even understood the concept of frozen pizza. Frozen peas from the store was as far as it went. Frozen pre-made dim sum had not hit the markets outside of Toronto, where I grew up..120 km. west of Toronto (1960s-1970s). Besides frozen meals from store was just too expensive for our family budget. My mother was/is an okay cook. My earlier comments in this thread (especially to slice of shanghai commenter) gives more detail. She did occasionally freeze batches of food. If there was room in the fridge. We only had 1 fridge.

      As for Chinese veggies like: bok choy, Shanghai bok choy, gai lan, yu choy…all you need to do after washing them, cut up in large rough pieces, sauté the veggie in abit of oil and jot of soy sauce. You can start off with some ginger root and chopped onion in the oil. Should be done under 10 min. or less. Just see if it’s slightly wilted with still some bright green leaf. Voila, fini! There’s your side dish with something else for supper.

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  9. Lo and behold! Thank you WordPress Reader for not telling me about this post 😀

    I’m not a foodie at all as I don’t even like the word. As you know from my blog/s I’m a) vegetarian, and b) keen on growing my own veg. I dislike pretentious cooking which is probably why I don’t identify with being a foodie. By pretentious I mean combining what to me are off the wall ingredients eg a smattering of chocolate fondue with caviare on an escarole base with a drizzle of walnut oil. OK I made that up but you get the idea.

    I’ve written about non-veg food from time to time on Clouds because most if not all my readers are not vegetarian.

    I was brought up on basic (but extremely good) local and fresh British food. My mother started dabbling with French food and that was seriously excellent, so I still have a French slant to a lot of my cookery. Now it’s tempered with the Spanish Andalucían recipes learned from my neighbours – extremely healthy.

    I do like plain food though. The idea of salmon in pastry just leaves me cold, although a beef wellington or a veg version of it (using chestnuts) does work well.

    We had tofu earlier on. Just floured and done in the oven, with some boiled potatoes and a caper, mustard, olive oil sauce. I’ve run out of tamari so need to buy some or that would have featured too. I did have lemon juice and vinagre de jeréz.

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    1. Jean says:

      When my partner cooks in a creative way or even his son, who is a chef in Toronto, I don’t even see it as pretentious. Just being creative without artifice to me. Especially when it’s cooking for family –anything can happen!! I’m just endlessly fascinated how my partner can throw in a swig of white or red wine at the right time for a non-recipe food dish and it does taste right/great. And I can’t seem to do the same thing with wine for cooking.

      Depending on one’s upbringing and what they ate as a child, there are different interpretations of “basic” cooking. To me, basic cooking examples which I do draw upon for home and what I grew up with are:
      * Steamed savoury egg custard with meat or not, flavoured with a tiny bit of soy sauce, minced ginger root, blanched spinach on the side with rice or light noodles.
      * Rice with Chinese sausage cooked in the rice with an egg broken over the rice. Steam cooks egg. Very healthy.
      * Any stir fried veggie. To me, it’s actually basic Chinese cooking.

      I know all of the above might appear pretentious. But actually the dishes I described are what poor Chinese rural people eat. Area where my parents come from. Some of these dishes are not offered much in North American restaurants.

      What would you consider very tasty, basic British food dishes?

      Like

      1. I do the wine thing, but it needs to be in moderation and for the right recipe. And the right wine too. The only wine I would put in a stir fry would be a dry sherry, but I would probably go for sherry vinegar instead.

        I like eggs less and less. I tend to hard boil them and curry them for preference.

        Now, stir fried veggies, absolutely. Possibly some of the best basic cooking there is.

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  10. jbw0123 says:

    Oh man — I mean woman! DROOLing. Well, maybe not over rehydrated lily buds and wood-eared fungus, although, if rephrased as essence of lily and mushrooms — but the duck with berry wine sauce! Auch. Definitely time for lunch. Fun comments, too. Didn’t mean to spend much time here, but got sucked (excuse the pun) right in. Cheers!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Good to see you jbw. Well, yes maybe I should think of some euphemism for wood ear fungus. Do you like calamari? Well, the texture is a bit softer and thinner in texture and of course, not fishy at all. It’s just textural and very mild in flavour. Really mild.

      Like

  11. I love food, all kinds. But my small children will hardly eat anything and I’ve exposed them to everything. Well maybe not wood ear fungus. I don’t know how the Asian parent do it.

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    1. Jean says:

      A sister of mine is a doctor with 2 young children. She doesn’t have a nanny. Her advice to any parent: Try preparing a food in several different ways. And try it 10 times or so. Don’t give in too easily. I also think that some parents make such a huge deal when the child fusses/cries. Sometimes it’s best just to walk away (from the messy table) and let the grumpy kid, eventually eat it. She and her husband do make serious effort to teach their children to eat a variety of foods.

      Honest, my mother let it be known gently that there wasn’t going to be much choice for her 6 children. We were poor anyway (in Canada). When I first went to a friend’s house for dinner, I found roast beef….boring. If you think of some of the dynamic stir-fries and seafoods, I was bored as a kid with British-style meals.

      Like

  12. zestyjazz says:

    I love it when I meet kids who have varied palates. I’m at once jealous, but deeply respectful of the home environment which fosters such culinary appreciation!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      So where does your food palate fit? Mine was evolving after university. I actually started eating curry for lst time in life after graduation when I started to earn money. My mother doesn’t use curry in her cooking. At that time Kalamata olives and olive oil didn’t agree with me. Now I like the stuff.

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      1. zestyjazz says:

        I am definitely an experimental eater! I love going to people’s houses and eating what is in their fridge etc. I love eating meals from different cultures and prefer to enjoy :local must-haves”. I was delighted to eat lots of high quality sushi in Vancouver! I at nigiri for the first time ever and fell in love 😀 I used to not like olives, now I will devour them! Haha. I wouldn’t consider myself a foodie, I would say that I eat whatever is presented to me. I’m an experimental eater I guess.

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        1. Jean says:

          Experimental eater is a good thing. Especially when travelling abroad.

          Like

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