The Lonely World of Acquired Tastes

A page from Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook

Oysters, caviar, anchovies, sea urchin, tripe, bone marrow, pâté, testa, blue cheese, chicharrones... My affinity for acquired tastes definitely comes from my mother, who I would say is my original #singlegirldinner muse. I remember very vividly catching her make her own #singlegirldinner for the first time as a child and this has always made an impression on me. 


It was an odd hour for my mother to be cooking. It was late in the afternoon—much too late for lunch and way too early for dinner. I was in my room doing my homework when I smelled a buttery and garlicky perfume waft down the hallway. What is she cooking? I wondered, and trotted down to the kitchen to investigate. 

There she was, hovering over a sizzling frying pan on the stovetop, nudging its contents gently with a wooden spatula. She spooned a steaming scoop of rice into a small bowl and scooted her secret dish onto a plate.

"Is that steak?" I asked, with my mouth watering.

"No, it's something else" she responded, carrying her little meal over to the kitchen table, "Do you want to try it?"

I examined the plate, She had cut the liver into strips and seared it with caramelized onions and crispy garlic. It looked like steak that was perfectly charred around the edges and still pink in the center. I had never had liver before, but I wanted so badly for it to taste like steak. I nodded.

She put a little bit of everything onto a fork and fed it to me. I grimaced, "Yuck! The texture is so strange! What is it?" I had expected to chew and instead it just became a paste in my mouth. I was weirded out yet intrigued.

"It's liver," she said, with a sigh, "See? I could never make this for dinner. Nobody would like it except for me."

You might protest: "But she was married! And she was a mother! She wasn't a single girl!" Oh, but it doesn't matter, you see—it doesn't matter where we are in our lives, if there is a moment to steal to ourselves to have our cake and eat it too... We will! 

It didn't stop at liver with my mother. She had her own stashes of things, like jars of homemade kimchi, blue cheese dip (which, to my own dismay, I once confused for ranch dressing) and papaya (which looks so much like cantaloupe to a child when it's all sliced up). I thought it was marvelous that she preserved her own little world, in spite of having a troop of five children.

Her snacks were particularly quirky. She would pair bananas with Laughing Cow cheese, dip grapefruit segments into chili salt, and mash soft-boiled eggs into stinky tofu so that she could dip sprigs of watercress into the mixture. I've even caught her sautéing ramen noodles with garlic and French's Yellow Mustard, which—believe it or not—became a hit with her friends. Many of her acquired tastes eventually became mine. But I draw the line at pickled chicken feet. That, I can't do. 

Now I understand why she had all of the #singlegirldinners that she did. It's not easy to find dining partners who share the same craving for those off-the-beaten-path tastes; the pungent, bitter, sour, unctuous, mineral sorts. And that's fine.

More for me.