We like exposing our toddler to a wide variety of foods. Having an open gastronomic mind creates so many opportunities to appreciate the world, but it doesn’t just happen on its own. Kids have a natural tendency to shirk away from foods that they perceive as unusual. I believe that this has something to do with our primitive survival strategies back when we were still learning to play with fire. Early exposure to a wide variety of nutritional experiences in a supportive environment help plant the seed for the future.
One of the staple celebratory foods in our household is sushi. From an early age, we let our boy have some of the rolls. We are careful not to give him any of the raw fish to avoid picking up parasites, but he is otherwise happy to munch away on the veggie rolls, wakame salad, and other assorted goodies that make up a great sushi dinner. He is extremely fond of the pickled ginger, and would be happy to drink a bucket of the soy sauce all on its own. Thankfully for his health, we are thoroughly grossed-out at the prospect and limit him to a few drops of the dark ichor.
We had assumed that he would be overwhelmed by wasabi, so we never bothered giving him any. I can barely survive the mighty punch a tiny dollop of the green stuff. When I muster up he courage to indulge in a bite, my sinuses instantly combust, and my eyes water almost as profusely as my nose do, sending me scrambling for the closest glass of milk to quench the burn. I am left with a feeling that someone swung a sledgehammer at my head, and my tongue dangles lifelessly from my mouth. I could scarcely imagine what a dose of the nuclear goo would do to a toddler.
A few days ago, he finally noticed the verdant dollop gracing the takeout platter. He stood up on his chair and pointed at it insistently.
“Quoi ça? (What’s that?)” he asked pointedly.
“It’s wasabi. It’s a got a lot of kick. It is spicy.”
“Wasabi!” He pointed at it again.
“It may be a bit much for you, dude.” I try to talk him down from what would probably be one of his biggest mistakes that week.
“WASABI!” He insisted.
“I’m not sure…”
“WA-SA-BIII!” he interrupted.
“Ok, you asked for it. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.” I reached out and poked a tiny speck onto the end of my chopstick. My wife cocked one eyebrow up in the universal spousal signal for “is my boneheaded husband really going to do what I think he is?” She curled her lip, instantly freezing the chopstick’s progression towards my son’s mouth. I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.
“WAAAA-SAAAA-BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!” our child bellowed. That’s it. He’s in for it now. I popped the chopstick in as he was taking a big gulp of air to power another scream. His lips closed tightly around the stick. He held it in his mouth for a moment and then closed his eyes. It was almost as if the little fellow was savouring some flavour that I could not even begin to guess at. I slowly pulled the chopstick out of his mouth.
He beamed a huge smile. “Wasabi!”
I was now thoroughly confused. How on Earth was my son still standing there, not a care in the world? He should have been a babbling mess on the floor by now. Maybe it’s a delayed onset wasabi? Seconds ticked by. Nothing. My confusion began to grow exponentially.
“Papa! Wasabi!” He pointed once again to the platter. Meh. I guess this is an impotent batch. Whatever, knock yourself out. Here’s another scoop, kiddo. I hefted on a slightly larger glob onto my chopstick and nonchalantly placed it on his extended tongue.
I am not quite sure what happened next, but the larger quantity of wasabi must have crossed some sensory threshold, since he started hopping up and down energetically on his chair.
“PASABI” He exclaimed, almost in tears. He had just invented a new word, a mashup of “pas ça (not that!)” and “wasabi.” He had concisely articulated his displeasure in such a novel and memorable fashion that we shall never forget it.
Needless to say, he is much less fond of the green paste, and politely refuses it when we offer it to him. For some strange reason, though, he loves offering me some every time we get sushi. What a little bugger.