It’s funny just how drastically and rapidly your taste for something can change. If, just a year ago, someone had told me that I would be sitting on an ivory-painted bench in front of the Shanghai Centre, spooning ricotta cheese into my mouth straight from the container (like a lady, naturally), I would have made a face and called them a liar. And yet, there I was, trying to finish the New York Times Sunday crossword and eating a breakfast of ricotta and stone fruit jam. For years (since elementary school in fact), I’ve avoided ricotta: on breakfast platters (it looked like pasty baby vomit), on white pizza (it would have tasted great with spinach), and inside pastry fillings (but then again, nothing can ruin a pastry, right?).
Since I came to Shanghai in July, so many things have changed. The temperature has dropped over 20 degrees (which still leaves it at a balmy 75º). My color is back to a shaggy blonde (or maybe it’s a caramel brunette, either way, I love it lighter). And with that, so has my taste in food that I once so vehemently hated:
- I’ve started eating ricotta, pumpkin, and squash.
- I’ve started drinking espresso.
- I’ve entirely lost my ability to eat bread, pasta, and ice cream.
- I still don’t really like celery.
In October of 2013, back when I still wasn’t quite sure what this blog was about, I even wrote an entry about just how much I hate squash. And yet, last night, I willingly ordered a pumpkin-wasabi salad (which, to be honest, was a little disgusting, but for reasons of under-seasoned wasabi mayonnaise, or just the fact that something like wasabi mayo exists)
So why the sudden change? I’m not entirely sure. For years, I avoided squash for and ricotta and in retrospect it all seems so silly. If something is well-made and my dietary restrictions let me eat it, then why limit myself? Which brings me to my next (and much more crushing) point.
Last week, I was diagnosed with an allergy to wheat. Yes, I’ve become one of those gluten-free people that I used to make fun of, though not entirely of my own volition. Over the last year, I’ve started having issues with pasta, but in China they’d gotten so much worse. In my effort to acclimate to the local cuisine (part of being a Westerner in Shanghai involves eating the grossest food possible, if only to put our lack of squeamishness on display) and because I didn’t quite know why exactly my stomach acted upset after eating bread, I hadn’t been watching what I ate with the same vigilance as I had back home. Health-wise, the last month was a little miserable: I’ve felt bloated, my face and arms covered in a red keratin rash, my entire face swollen, and my stomach in sharp pain.
Since confirming the diagnosis with a doctor, I’ve felt much better, but It’s also resulted in my being afraid to eat anything around me. So many unexpected things (soy sauce? blue cheese?) have wheat and I’ve finally understood why US food packaging puts gluten-free labels the most inane objects (tea? milk? pumpkin puree?). Seriously, I am terrifying of eating anything. There was a time when I used to hate people who obsessively checked labels, and even now, writing this entry, I hate myself just a tad. I’ve never been a not a huge fan of the paleo lifestyle of gluten-free ‘gurus’ (how one gets the title of guru, I”ll never know). Yet, like it or not, this is now a part of my life and somehow I’ve chosen to start it in the entirely wrong country (though, was it really a choice?)
A few weekends ago, I decided to spend the afternoon in Central Perk, sipping on a marshmallow cappuccino, while watching two and a half hours worth of Friends reruns. And the craziest part of that sentence? No, not the the fact that some Chinese millionaire decided to replicate a cafe from a 90s American show in the middle of Shanghai. It was the cappuccino. For the first time in 7 years, I started drinking coffee. I hadn’t had a single sip since high school. Not a single one. And (much like the ricotta), it hadn’t been for any good reason. But I figured, my diet is already complicated enough: no meat, no milk, no gluten, no soy sauce. Life was starting to get kind of miserable. So I decided to add caffeine back into the equation.
And maybe it was the caffeine headache that was starting to get to me. (I had had two cappuccinos and a Diet Coke by the time I sat down n the cafe), but suddenly, I felt very displaced. Watching the dirtiness of New York in the 90s really reminded me of the grimness of Queens and Astoria boulevard in mid-February. These are the sorts of commonplace things I miss the most about American interactions: the stupid puns, the 90s fashion, the snow plows. I’ll chalk it up to the caffeine.
p.s. I’m experimenting with a new blog theme. Yay or nay?