I have always found the question, “What is your favorite food?” to be utterly ridiculous, for how could anyone be expected to choose just one? Each season brings a crop of delectable options, a host of new exciting flavor combinations to entice the senses, a plethora of textures and tastes that leave you licking your plate, manners be damned! All food is my favorite, and nothing turns my stomach more than the thought of eating the same food over and over again just because it’s a so-called “favorite.” Some foods taste better in different places, in different climates, at different times, and I could not bear to miss out on possibly the best meal of my life just to eat the same dish yet again. And I always believed those thoughts to be common to everybody, until recently, that is.
This summer, I ate my way through Spain. From cool gazpacho to the mouthwatering specialty Tortilla Española, I tasted it all, savoring each, fattening bite. I was determined to eat as authentically as possible, sampling, for the first time in my life, traditional Spanish food. It is only natural, then, that I was shocked when, at a tapas bar in Barcelona, I noticed several of my travel companions ordering a caprese salad. I was appalled: a caprese salad in Barcelona, the very heart of Spain?! Blasphemy! While several of my friends were whining about their sub-par salad of mealy tomatoes and tasteless mozzarella, I was nibbling gooey croquettes and smoky fabada. I noticed several jealous glances in my direction, and couldn’t help but think that their stomachs deserved to growl.
I have grown to detest the ubiquitous caprese. Although it has the potential to be pleasant at times — when the tomatoes are ripe, red and in season and the mozzarella is creamy and subtle — it is certainly not God’s gift to food, as many of my friends believe. And while I am sure this will shock many of my fellow Angelenos, that bland salad is unremarkable at best; it certainly is not worth wasting the energy of lifting fork to mouth when ordered at any place other than an Italian restaurant. Yet it seems as though every restaurant in LA has this safe crowd-pleaser on its menu, regardless of the type of cuisine.
And the public is lapping it up, despite it tasting, well, tasteless. “But it’s caprese. It always tastes good,” they insist. “I could eat it for every meal of the day, everyday, anywhere, and never get tired of it,” one of my friends once proclaimed, mouth open and poised to take a bite out of the sandwich version. Yet tomatoes cannot possibly taste good when eaten in January, and an Italian salad is bound to be disappointing at an all-American diner. These torturers of taste buds delude themselves into believing it’s delicious, determined to stick to their old stand-by rather than try something a tad unusual yet undeniably more tantalizing, as well as authentic to the cuisine’s culture.
These caprese consumers are the same people who purchase nectarines in the dead of winter and then complain when they are harder than the stones at their core, or order steak at a sushi bar and send it back because the meat was not cooked to their exact liking. And while I would like to think that these murderers of taste are anomalies, I am coming to recognize that they are the norm, and that I, food’s greatest fan, am the outcast. Many of my fellow Americans could be at the finest Parisian restaurant, with all that French cooking has to offer at their fork-tips, and still lament the absence of cheeseburgers on the Michelin-starred menu. It seems as though anything even remotely outside the realm of the familiar (and by my standard, boring) is off-limits. And this timidity is infecting more and more people, to the point where it seems as though everybody is living their lives in repeat, eating the same foods, going to the same places, simply going through the motions of their daily routines without actually living or enjoying themselves.
And while some may be content to eat caprese for the remainder of their monotonous lives, I plan on enjoying every calorie the vast world of food has to offer.