Mouthing Off

Picky eaters – I used to dislike them, until I realised I am one too 

  • Do you not eat veal because of the cruelty? Or maybe you avoid carbs? Andrew Sun would have had little time for you before
  • But then he realised he avoids shark fin and picks onion out of his noodles
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 8:49pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 7:36pm

The last words you want to hear when dining out is for someone to start a sentence with, “Sorry but I don’t eat …”

Nothing good can come of the next words that come out of that person’s mouth, whether you’re eating at someone’s house or at the best restaurant in town.

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Of course, there are people with legitimate allergies and health issues preventing them from enjoying certain foods. Despite their condition, these folks usually want you to have a good time anyway and enjoy the delicacies that they are not able to. This is the difference: they “can’t” eat, as opposed to the fussy nags who “don’t” eat due to some neurotic compulsion.

It could be a militant vegan who won’t eat meat and then moralises at the table when you order veal. Or perhaps it’s the picky health nut who is taking forever to order because he or she doesn’t eat carbs or anything too fatty (but has no problem asking for another glass of wine).

Another human appetite suppressant is the boring white-bread who’s afraid of anything ethnic or exotic. This can cover entire Asian cuisines as well as ingredients ranging from tripe, liver, tongue and smelly cheese to any sushi “that has fish on it”.

I’ve met idiosyncratic people who won’t eat foods of a certain colour. Some have a problem with anything red – so no tomatoes or even red apples. Others have a phobia about black foods. In those cases, I will purposely order a squid ink pasta and eat it while smiling at them.

Some people say they eat anything but have such strange quirks that they give the whole table a weird vibe. It includes obsessives who deconstruct their fish and chips, removing the batter from the fish. I’m thinking, “Really, why not just order a poached fillet instead?”

I’ve seen compulsive eaters individually cast out every green pea from a dish. Others meticulously scrape sauce and dressing from their food instead of just telling the restaurant to not put it there in the first place, or to serve it on the side.

I am now more tolerant of folks who are intolerant towards gluten. I give the benefit of doubt to those who think black pepper is too spicy

I used to be even more dismissive about odd behaviours until I realised I sometimes engage in such kookiness too. Confession time: I remove the large chunks of onion in my fried noodles. I know they’re edible and if cooked properly they’re soft and flavourful from absorbing all the sauce. But too often the onion is still too raw to enjoy.

Upon reflection, I try to be more sensitive because I’ve said the exact words I find abhorrent. At Chinese celebration banquets I’ve let it be known that “Sorry, but I don’t eat … shark fins.” When I made this moral stand, it could have been awkward and embarrassing for the hosts but they remained gracious and understanding, not making a big deal. They appreciated and accepted my personal stance and we both gave each other face while not making a scene. That’s the mature, adult way to behave.

In general, I am trying to be less discriminating in every way now. I am more tolerant of folks who are intolerant towards gluten. I give the benefit of doubt to those who think black pepper is too spicy.

I don’t even wince when Westerners who have lived in Hong Kong for a long time suggest their stomach is just too sensitive to eat any Chinese food at all. Okay, if you say so then maybe our foods are just too crazy, too rich and too Asian for ethno-cultural snowflakes. Oops.

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I guess this is what open free speech is all about. I can express my eco-ethical beliefs. You can maintain your strange kooky diets.