The biggest cultural difference between my husband and I is food. I grew up in a food paradise with all kinds of international cuisines available on every street corner. Mainly I grew up with Cantonese cuisine, which focuses on poultry, pork, seafood, and plenty of cooked vegetables. He is from a small farming town in the Midwest, and the only exotic restaurants are Americanized Mexican and Chinese food. His limited diet included dairy, pastry, pasta, and beef, and he was highly allergic to vegetables.

At first, we both had a lot of confusion with each other’s food preferences. He was baffled when I bought tomatoes and onions for a soup. The more time I ate with his family and friends, the more confused I became with raw salad or mushy vegetable casseroles. I am used to flavorful stir fried leafy greens or braised vegetables with meat in Hong Kong. I also realized my husband is not that picky compared to most Midwesterners. One of his high school friends strictly lives off of the same diet, and he lost 15 lbs when he visited Hawaii because he refused to eat local food.

After the first year of dating, my husband and I visited my family in Hong Kong together. I was jumping with excitement to stuff my face with Cantonese food all day every day. He was imploding inside because he had gag reflex with food he dislikes, but he never told me any of this. Therefore, my family and I went all Chinese on him. During a family dinner, my cousin was considerate enough to ask if my husband would eat pig intestine egg rolls, and I insisted she ordered that. I did not let him know of the pig intestines until he finished it. As he ate the egg rolls, the entire family stared at him like a hawk to make sure he liked it. Then they piled more food in his bowl to create a food mountain. Fortunately, he approached the food with an open mind and enjoyed all the food he ate.

During the trip, he cut out dairy dramatically and ate so much vegetables that he felt less sluggish. He went from drinking 2 gallons of whole milk per week to no milk at all. In Hong Kong, the biggest size milk is sold in a quart. People are more likely to buy an 8 oz milk instead. After the trip, he has become more open to vegetables and different cuisines. We can now go to a tea house for dim sum, and he would clean his plate.

After being together for almost a decade, he still begs me to make burgers and tacos when I only cook Cantonese food. At first, I had a hard time understanding his loyalty to burgers and tacos after being exposed to different cuisines. However, the more I cook for his mom and him, the more I realize their food preferences are all from their childhood. Even though he is very open to trying all kinds of food, he still finds more comfort in a bacon cheese burger than a steamed sea bass. For me, fried chicken will never beat a bowl of wonton soup noodles.

I now try to understand someone’s palates first before introducing anything new. I am more patient when I introduce a new ingredient or cuisine, and I try to find the common ground between their food preferences and the new cuisine or ingredient. I recently introduced Korean barbecue to Dan’s friend who lost 15 lbs in Hawaii. He enjoyed the marinated beef and rice, but it would be too much of a stretch for him to eat the beef and rice wrapped in lettuces. Hopefully, with different ways of preparing lettuces, he will eat them one day.

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