Do you remember the first time you tasted something that had you instantly hooked? Or, sometimes more viscerally, the first time you tasted something that was the worst thing you ever put in your mouth?
My first “holy crap, this is amazing” taste moment was raw oysters. I got a job as an oyster shucker in college and had to taste each new variety as they came in so I could accurately describe them to patrons. As nasty as they looked at the time, my first taste of a malpeque was purely mind-blowing, briny, sweet, watermelon-hinted bliss. (The worst first taste, since you were wondering, was an amateur stab at baba ganoush, which I made with reeeaaaally old eggplants when I was 23. Before I knew about soaking eggplants – especially old ones – to remove the bitterness. Thankfully I was cooking by myself. It was so horrendously nasty that, to this day, I can barely look at the spread when it’s included on Middle Eastern mazza plates.)
As daunting or delightful as it may sound depending on your level of food adventurousness, tasting new foods is the only surefire way to become more familiar with your local food landscape. Maybe it’s a crazy-looking watermelon radish, whose bright fuschia flesh and pale green skin make it a tinier, spicier doppelganger to its vine-ripened namesake. Maybe you might try a grass-fed pork chop, which is so rich and flavorful that it seems completely unrelated to the pale, flavorless cuts in chain supermarket coolers. Or raw jersey milk, so buttery and soothing that it’s easy to see why a glass of warm milk at bedtime was the stuff of dream-making decades ago.
Handily, Burlington is a no-excuses food lab where it’s easy to get adventurous and taste something new that was grown or created right here. A good place to start is a farmers’ market. Farmers often put out samples, tell you what it tastes like, and share a few delicious ways to prepare it. A friend of mine re-discovered tomatoes this way. She thought she hated them, but after trying a small hunk of an heirloom variety at the market, it turns out she just hated hard, orange, supermarket tomatoes.
Look for other places where sampling is offered; the co-op is an unexpected example. Last fall, I walked into the produce section to find dozens of wooden creates filled with an entire cast of apples including lesser-known antique varieties with romantic names like Cox Orange Pippen, Roxbury Russet, and Northern Spy. The produce guy came right over, asked what qualities I like in an apple, pulled out a knife, and cut me samples of at least six that matched my preference perfectly.
Open your mind and your mouth when you walk into restaurants, too. Especially when you travel; resist the urge to order a fish fry everywhere you go and instead try (or share) an unexpected dish that features ingredients or prep methods that are unique to the area you’re visiting or the ethnicity of the restaurant. If it sounds like a strange flavor combo, order it. Someone who makes good food for a living tasted it, and it’s probably awesome. Go find something you’ll love.