When traveling with two children under five, a few popular tourist activities are more or less off limits. Gone are most historical tours and many of the long hikes. There is no lingering over coffee. There are no prolonged shopping trips. Time for quiet contemplation at churches and shrines has pretty much evaporated. So, too, has the idea of going anywhere after 9:00pm. But what remains, what blessedly is still available to us, is food.
It’s no accident that our itinerary takes us to some of the world’s best-known eating locales. Food is a shared passion of Derek’s and mine, and many of our best memories are linked to meals we’ve shared. We’re willing go the distance for a good dish, whether that’s to a Kurdish restaurant on Nolensville Road or, this evening, to a sukiyaki shop in Kyoto. Whether they like it or not, the kids are often along for the ride. “Or not” has turned out to be the more operative phrase here.
We used to think we knew what it took to be good parents. In those halcyon, naïve days before our kids were actually born, Derek and I decided we would raise them to eat whatever was put in front of them. We would not be short-order cooks, prepping a tray of chicken nuggets because junior won’t eat paella. They would like chutney as much as Cheerios, souvlaki as much as spaghetti.
Enter our actual children. Despite having been exposed to all manner of ethnic foods since before she started eating solids, Harper has promulgated her own food code. Listed as “unacceptable” are vegetables, sauces of any sort and any food served in combination with any other food. In the “strongly preferred” column are sugary snacks, dairy products and white bread. Walker is more adventurous on his own, but when he’s eating with his sister, he shows his solidarity by sticking to her dietary rules. Finding a meal that satisfies each member of this traveling party has been, in a word, difficult.
In San Sebastian, Derek and I ate pintxo, a Basque form of tapas, with reckless abandon. We devoured bite-size versions of stewed peppers, grilled fish and all manners of crustaceans. Harper ate white bread. In Arcachon, we slurped down dozens of the world’s greatest oysters. Bread again for Harper. In Saint-Emilion, we ate duck at nearly every meal, in nearly every form—from foie gras to confit. Harper stuck with white bread. In Madrid, we had the best paella of our lives. Harper had, you got it, white bread.
White bread was no longer readily available once we moved to Asia, but Harper found a solution. We ate our way through the tasting menu—papaya salad and shrimp curry and so much more—at one of the best restaurants in Bangkok. Harper began her love affair with white rice. In Tokyo, we gleefully slurped up katsudon—deep-fried pork and eggs in a savory broth. Rice again. In Kyoto, we’ve dined on ramen, udon and soba noodles. Harper has had rice, rice and rice.
Though we’ve been tempted to just pack the kid a sandwich and a banana for every meal, we’ve resisted. Thankfully, both for our sanity and for Harper’s nutritional intake, our persistence is paying off. In each new country, we’ve found a non-bread, non-rice food that has earned Harper’s highest compliment: This tastes American!
Harper’s been getting more adventurous with her meal choices lately. Today, she ordered seconds and then thirds of salmon sashimi. Hopefully that’s a good sign that, by the time we get to Bhutan, she might be willing to try some of their national dish. It’s called ima datshi, and it’s apparently a “fiery concoction of green peppers and cheese.” On second thought, I hope they have lots of rice.