I heard that phrase a lot as a child, mostly from older siblings. As I grew up, I learned to like more foods, as most children do. But living here in North Africa, I have come to a deeper understanding of “picky eater.” North Africans are the pickiest eaters I have encountered in my limited international experience.
Why? Well, that’s the question I have been asking myself since I arrived.
In my opinion, most of the answer can be found in the pride the people have for their own cuisine. On my last trip home from Spain, I sat beside two men on the plane–one from North Africa and another from South America. This was the conversation:
South American: Is the food here good?
North African: It is the best in the world!
They hadn’t asked my opinion, so I sat, pondering the unmasked pride of the North African. Granted, the food here is good; I love it. But I also know that there are other flavors out there besides cumin, olive, dried fruit, lemon, and garlic. And how many other cuisines had this particular North African tasted?
In fact, how many ethnic restaurants does my city have? The few scattered here and there have to be sniffed out by a detective. Unless the three fast food restaurants count as American. There is also a pasta place in the mall. Italian, I suppose?
But the other restaurants seem to have exactly the same menu. It’s like the few things they do, they do well…but they remain few. And that’s all the people have ever known. So anything foreign is unwelcome because, of course, it could never measure up anyway!
When I make food for local friends, I select recipes with care. Something North African would not suit because as a foreigner, I wouldn’t prepare it correctly. Therefore, I must try something American but with the prominent North African flavors.
But once, a friend came to visit me unexpectedly. Although hesitant, I offered her some of the stir-fry I had just made. She tasted it and has been talking about that “salad” ever since, hoping to replicate it in her own kitchen.
That gives me hope that with more globalization will come more exposure to various cuisines and hence fewer picky eaters in North Africa!