Food Essay | Written by Nathan Mattise
Hasn’t the idea of eating bizarre foods gotten a bit stale (no pun intended)? I’m sure there is some small bit of hesitation from a Zimmern or Bourdain when they get offered rare animal genitalia or 10+ year old liquids, but ultimately they close their eyes and eat it. It’s tolerable, sometimes even good. These oddities seem to often be just absurd in name or preparation, but you don’t taste name or preparation. The important elements of what qualifies a true food challenge (in this sense, not the Adam Richman sense) should be dealing with taste, texture, smell, etc.
Which is why I want to see a show where these chefs eat the foods they hated most as a child – the lingering idea that compelled me to reach for a Starbucks’ “Perfect Oatmeal” tonight.
My history with oatmeal is brief and blurry. I ate it as a child. A lot. My grandmother’s shelves were littered with creepy quaker-faced cylinders and I remember cinnamon far and away being her most used spice. I affectionately referred to them as “mother’s oats” and put down countless bowls. I bet at times I even did it multiples times in one sitting.
But as a child you have no control over what you’re eating. This is fine. You haven’t really tasted enough to know what’s good and what’s bad and you’re force fed things like pureed squash and bologna (not to mention there are kids whose taste is so disjointed that ketchup becomes a viable topping for everything from pizza to macaroni and cheese).
I don’t remember when I was old enough to see oatmeal for what is was, but I estimated that it’d been over 15 years since I willingly ate the stuff (generously saying my last bowl was at 8). During my culinary puberty and young adulthood, oatmeal never once crossed my mind as appealing. My little sister would eat the stuff all the time. My obligatory older brother moments of cooking it left me with limited impressions. The smell was bland, maybe like over-saturated wood that warmed in the sun. The texture appeared to be like mashed potatoes drowned in water with dried out melon seeds mixed in. The oats pre-cooking looked like a tiny combination of sawdust and similarly colored pine bark.
Then Starbucks came out with the “Perfect Breakfast” deal of a Latte (a similarly bland drink I’d discover) and this oatmeal for just $3.95. The post-college health drive in me wouldn’t let go of the idea this could be a great breakfast for me. The ignorant food enthusiast in me wouldn’t give proper credit to the taste buds of an 8-year-old.
I probably sat with this oatmeal for 45 minutes and got through 2/3 of the container (which is about the size of a cup of soup at any respectable deli). Shockingly – it just validated all my old thoughts on oatmeal. I can’t handle the smell. The mush texture seems to taunt my gag reflex. The lack of taste is so drastic that I scramble to bite the raisin immediately and hope that its juices seep throughout the rest of my mouthful (yep, raisin juices are what my hopes for liking oatmeal relies on. I realize they are a dried out fruit). I tasted the oatmeal about 3 hours after I bought it out of curiosity. I think it’s almost better as a lukewarm to cold food just because some of its liquidity is gone.
The next time I watch parts of a goat or a mysteriously fermented mushroom eaten on the Travel or Food channels I will continue to only be moderately impressed. When Bourdain finally musters up the courage to eat a 10-piece Chicken McNugget however, that will be the truly awe-inspiring stomach conquest.
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