As the years pass, my culinary taste has changed and I realized I have gained different habits, and fallen in love with new dishes or ingredients I never thought I could stand. When I was a teenager, for instance, I found sushi quite repellent. Raw fish surrounded by rice and rolled up in seaweeds? A dish like that made no sense to my Italian palate. Wasabe? How could anybody find pleasing to burn up their mouth with a green paste? And then, when I turned twenty-five, my boyfriend at the time (and now husband) took me to a sushi restaurant in Washington DC. Could I tell him “I hate sushi please take me in some Churrascaria instead!”?? That was a very cold winter night, but despite I would have rather eating a warm dish and definitely not a raw piece of salmon, I started to realize that sushi wasn’t so bad, at least drowned in soy sauce.
But ginger! No, I really couldn’t stand ginger. A piece of soap would have been better! (That was the taste I compared ginger to…) Sushi AND ginger was too much for my discriminating taste.
So when did I start to enjoy ginger and find its flavor so enjoyable? Just very recently, and I had to go to another continent to learn, once again, that even little things that seems so odd and senseless can be instead very lovable.
“Do you want some ginger tea?”
I can’t actually recall how many times I was asked this question in Myanmar. When I landed in the country, I thought I was just going to live a new adventure, to see new places and take the usual thousand pictures I like to take. I would never have expected I was going to bring home a new culinary habit---using ginger in my daily life and actually falling in love with an ingredient I had thus far kept at distance.
The story is that, while in Myanmar, I got sick for a couple of days. I had very high temperature and there was no western medicine that helped me feel better. But I didn’t want to miss a day. After all, Myanmar is not around the corner, and the chance I’ll visit it again isn’t granted. So I behaved as I was feeling great---while my face was red and burning, my spirit was in fabulous shape. But our guide, a very nice woman called Kin (not sure it is spelled this way!), had the solution (yes, she was much wiser than me and thought there was no way I could enjoy my time like that). She asked for ginger tea in every house, shop and temple, and no kidding I was offered about ten cups in ten hours. And please keep in mind that drinking tea brings other consequences, too! But anyway, by the next morning I was feeling great, filled with energy and strength (and purified!). I am still not sure if I felt so good because of the tea or because of all the attention I got. It is nice when total strangers take care of you so generously.
How weird is the taste of ginger? Hot, fragrant, explosive, peppery, and somehow also sweet. Ginger doesn’t have too much space in Italian cuisine. My mother rarely used ginger in her cooking, and I've never heard of pasta with ginger something in restaurants, haha!, so the taste was pretty much weird to me. Now I find myself searching for new recipes online and trying them out in my kitchen. I discovered ginger doesn’t discriminate. It crosses cultures and culinary boundaries and makes its way into every cuisine and type of specialty food, from Fiji to India, Jamaica, Nigeria and China. So I learned that Chinese consider ginger a yang, or hot, warming food, which, when blended with a cooler yin food, helps balance and harmony. And surprisingly ginger can even be found in some bars crushed into a Mojito! Also, ginger’s spicy flavor is a big hit in both chocolate and cheese.
But most importantly, if someone will ask me what the best cure for cold and sore throat is, from now on I will give him a piece of fresh ginger to chew.
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life---and travel---leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks---on your body or on your heart---are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” Anthony Bourdain
One more short story about Myanmar and a village with no name at www.alicepluswonderland.blogspot.com