We’re tired of making hot dogs, chicken tenders and grilled cheese sandwiches for our kids. We’re tired of scanning menus looking for something — anything — we think our children will eat. Isn’t it time they expand their horizons? Shouldn’t they be more aware of what’s out there? Shouldn’t they know about the different cuisines from around the world?
We decided to take our daughter and son on a global eating tour around Austin, where we would taste (and learn about) cuisines from around the world, but stay right here in town. It started out grand — Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, South American, Indian, Italian and so on — but the task proved more daunting than expected. In fact, we ran into some fierce opposition.
In the end, though, we managed to check off a few cuisines from our list — and have fun at the same time. Here's a look at where our global eating tour took us.
We’ve tried suggesting mole, tacos al pastor or camarones adobados — delicious interior Mexican food specialties — but our children refuse to extend themselves beyond what they absolutely love: yellow cheese on some type of tortilla (preferably soft corn).
So testaments to interior cooking such as Polvos and Fonda San Miguel, a beautiful hacienda-like spot that serves pescado veracruzano — a broiled fish filet in Vera Cruz sauce with capers, onion and Spanish olives — are not even on their radar. For them, queso is king, along with quesadillas, nachos, chalupas and chips — lots of chips.
My son’s favorite restaurant right now is Romano’s Macaroni Grill. We’re not really sure how that happened, but it did. Perhaps it’s the combination of paper tablecloths that lend themselves to Tic-Tac-Toe and the extra-creamy macaroni and cheese, which is what our son orders every time. Regardless, we’ve never had a difficult time getting him to eat pasta.
In fact, at a recent meal at Siena Ristorante Toscana, while we feasted on Cacciucco alla Livornese — a delicious Tuscan dish of shrimp, scallops, fish, calamari and mussels sautéed with red chile, oregano, garlic and stewed tomatoes — he devoured a bowl of penne dusted with Parmesan.
Our daughter is the meat eater, and she’s fond of the spaghetti with meatballs at Buca di Beppo (the boisterous atmosphere makes it very kid-friendly). We haven’t quite made the leap to gamberi e prosciutto grigliato (prosciutto-wrapped Gulf prawns) at Vespaio, but she has no qualms ordering her own gelato at Mandola’s Italian Market.
My daughter and I had a lovely girls-only outing to Komé on a recent Sunday afternoon. My son refused to go, adamantly stating that he didn’t want anything to do with sushi, rice or noodles. We pleaded and begged, but he wouldn’t budge. So, after we fixed him a few crackers spread with peanut butter (his ultimate comfort food meal), we headed out on our big adventure.
We snagged two spots at the sushi bar and watched the chefs get creative. Our meal started with the negi-hama-maki roll (yellowtail with green onions), and we both gave approving nods. Next we split a bowl of the delicious (and wildly popular) tonkotsu ramen noodle soup — a pork bone–based milky broth topped with a variety of offerings, including pickled ginger (it was pink!) and homemade gyoza (pork potstickers).
My daughter liked everything she tasted, although I wasn’t too surprised. She is a fairly adventurous eater and is proud of the fact that she ate a raw oyster when she was only five years old.
Rating: 4+ (not counting the child who didn’t go)
Neither one of our children had every tried Indian food, but that was about to change. We were on a mission to educate their palates and introduce them to other cultures of the world. My daughter knew where we were headed, but we tried to keep it a secret from our son for as long as possible for fear that he would go on strike.
We were pleasantly surprised — shocked, even — when we walked in the door of the Bombay Bistro, a nice Indian spot in a strip center up north, and he said it smelled good. We ordered the Taste of Bistro, which proved a bit of everything: vegetable samosas, tandoori chicken, salmon tikka, tandoori prawn, lamb korma, saag paneer, chicken tikka masala and more.
We put a dab of rice, chicken tikka masala and tandoori chicken on our son’s plate alongside a huge piece of naan. It took some coaxing, but he dutifully began tasting each item — never making a face, slowly nodding his head. One bite of the chicken tikka masala and he said, “Oh, this is good.” He began sopping it up with his naan. He had seconds. He mixed it with another sauce and dipped in his rice.
We couldn’t believe our eyes. In our frenzied state of excitement, we texted the good news to the parents of his best friend, and they subsequently began plotting a family dinner party. Life was good. Our meal came to a close with a bite or four of mango ice cream, saffron ice cream, rice pudding and rasmalai (cheese in cream). Our son wasn’t as thrilled with the desserts, as he loves Blue Bell, but our daughter loved the mango.
As for us, we gave the saffron — and our evening out as a family — a big thumbs-up.