Thursday, June 01, 2006

Trying to Raise Kids Who Love Spicy Food

If a child doesn't like to eat spicy ethnic food, does that somehow diminish their ethnicity? Does eating a particular type of cuisine or food define your ethnicity in any way? I think not. If you saw what kind of foods my kids love to eat, you would definitely label them as Italian or Chinese children, not Pakistani-American. They love anything with pasta and noodles, and could literally live off fried rice and chinese curries. But when it comes to Pakistani food, which always has a touch of green or red pepper, they can't handle most of it. This has been bothering my husband alot lately, who fears our kids are losing their culture. Hearing the war stories of his friends' kids doesn't help much either, most of whom brag about their kids' abilities to eat spicy foods like it was some badge of honor or degree of desiness.

Here's a sample of the words these "proud" parents have to say about their kids:

"My kid only eats desi food"

"My kid asks for extra red pepper, it's not spicy enough"

"My kid has been eating spicy food since he was 8 months old"

"I don't need to make a separate meal for my toddler, he eats whatever the rest of the family is eating, even if it's spiced up your ass Nihari"

Or here's the best one:

"My kids don't have a problem with spicy food, they're desi" (Good for you, now pardon me while I find something non-spicy from the buffet for the Italians I gave birth to.)

It's not that I haven't tried introducing Pakistani food to the kids. They actually enjoy mildly spiced lentil curries and the non-spicy rice pilaf dishes I make for them. Their favorite Pakistani dishes are dal chawwal (lentils and rice), kitchri, mattar pulau, chicken pulau, and parathas (I buy the frozen ready made kind, you think I have the time to make these breads from scratch???) So I think it's fair to say they are giving the Pakistani cuisine a chance, but they like the spices to be mild to none. They do not like food to be spiced the way my husband likes it, food so spicy it makes your nose run. I've tried to feed them these spiced up foods, but they can't manage it, and after guzzling down glasses of water, refuse to eat it again. Then I end up having to make pasta and sauce (again) because they are still hungry. As long as I make the food mild, the kids will eat it, the husband will just have to deal with the hot chillies on the side.

Also, the kids deserve a break, they are only 4 and 2 right now, they have the rest of their lives to eat spicy food. Just because they are rejecting spicy chicken curry before they've entered pre-school doesn't mean they will never try it, or love it. My kids used to hate cheese and now they love it, tastes change throughout a person's lifetime, but certainly enjoying the cuisine of a culture other than your own doesn't mean you're a sellout. As for those "Super Desi Moms" (I'm sure you all know at least one), I used to let them get to me, making me feel like I seriously messed up because my kids can't manage a seekh kabob, but I brush it off now. If bragging about your kids' abilities to eat spicy foods is your high point in life then more power to you. My kids are already very picky eaters, I don't want to complicate my life further by trying to get them to accept chillies when it's not essential to their nutrition.


Ameet said...

I am one of the desi freaks who does not like palate-burning food. It confused the hell out of my folks, and I grew up tragically skinny - to the point where there's no photographic evidence of a certain phase of my childhood.

Becky said...

It seems like the method of droppinng them into the deep end of spicy food is a nice way of applying aversion behavioral theory (as you've already seen). Kids have more taste buds and better working taste buds than adults do so, the younger they are, the stronger the taste is. You sound like you have a fabulous plan with introducing them to the milds and working your way up to the spicy. As they get older, they make like to have some of the hot stuff on the side so that they can add it as they like and have control. For now, they sound like wonderfully adventurous eaters that many parents would be happy for. It almost sounds like you're having to be a short order cook for your husband, rather than your kids, since your kids will try things but when the food causes pain, they don't want to eat it- your husband is actually being the pickier eater. And, it's not like they aren't eating traditional foods.

Chic Mommy said...

becky, you nailed it. The husband is the pickiest eater of all. He likes eggs, but eggs can't be an ingredient of any other food I make, even cake. I make mostly Italian food at home now and order out Chinese. Occasionally I make Paki food, but it's only the mild stuff. Husband is getting used to having his chillies on the side because I give up on making separate meals.

I remember I didn't eat really spicy food when I was growing up either. Neither did my parents force it on me. Eventually, around the time I was 12, I started tasting spicier foods and developed a liking for them myself without outside pressure. I think the same will go for the kids. They'll be ready for it when they're ready for it.

August Sunshine said...

I can't stand really spicy Desi food. Ugh, drives me insane. Really spicy cow brains for example? As spiced as they can be, they might as well be eggs for all you know--they look like it anyway!

I've noticed I come home really hungry after Desi weddings. The food is usually so spicy, I can hardly eat any of it. Last time I went to a wedding, I ate beforehand so I wouldn't starve later.

Oh, but I love Nihari at Sabri Nihari in Chicago. :-( And, it was some of the most spicy food I've ever eaten. I kept ordering tomatoes on the side to help neutralize the taste of spices. I also took breaks every 2-3 minutes and went back to eating. That delicious.

Ya'know, no wonder I like my own desi cooking better than most auntie's cooking. It may not be good enough to serve, but it's great for myself and the Husband.