This story is part of a series of stories written by student journalists who participated in UB’s Foreign Reporting study abroad program in Berlin, Germany this past winter.
One of our last group activities in Berlin during my January winter abroad trip was a dinner in the dark. The restaurant is pitch black and all the waiters are blind. The idea is to challenge your senses, experience blindness, experiment.
It sounded intriguing – not to know what I was eating, not to see my friends and professor at the table, not to rely on my eyes for information for a few hours.
The only problem was, I was terrified.
That’s because I’m a picky eater.
I am the person you dread inviting to a birthday party or over for dinner. I essentially spent 18 years of my life eating pizza, grilled cheese and dessert. As a teen, I had a “no vegetables and no meat” mantra. When I started UB, I added chicken after a neurologist insisted I was getting headaches because I didn’t have enough protein.
Being a picky eater is a lifestyle choice. And it did limit me socially – very few sleepovers, barbeques, holiday meals. My mother secretly rejoiced when I moved into my dorm my freshman year of college. Sure, she missed me, but definitely not at mealtime. Finally, she and my dad could cook Thai food, steak and lamb curry.
I never wanted to change my habits or felt limited by my bland diet.
But then I went to Berlin in January. Being in a foreign place, surrounded by people who didn’t know me or my weird history with food emboldened me. It made me want to try being someone else for a little while.
Plus, the food options dazzled me – Turkish, Spanish, Lebanese … everything really. And cheap.
We often ate as a group and I didn’t want to be the difficult one. So I went and I ordered and I tasted. And I was thrilled with how much I liked.
But the blind restaurant was different. It was perhaps too extreme for me. As we walked to the restaurant, I could feel my pulse quickening. I was so scared I doubted I could even eat. When we got there, I held onto my now-good friend Alex Blum’s shoulders as the blind waiter led us into a pitch-black room buzzing with chatter.
The door shut behind us. We moved forward conga-line style. I tried, but I couldn’t see anything. The waiter led us to our table and helped us each get seated. I felt around for my knife and fork, which were right where they always are in a restaurant, on either side of my plate.
Once I was seated, my pulse slowed. Amazingly, I felt more excited than scared.
But I still didn’t think I’d be able to eat.
The good thing was, no one would be able to see if I didn’t.
I had asked for a meal without red meat. Since they restaurant doesn’t serve fish, I had assumed that meant I would get chicken. But, as I talked to my friends and professor at the table, I realized I could also get duck or hen or possibly rabbit or deer. I swallowed hard and ate a piece of bread. I also accidently stuck my pinky in the garlic dip.
The first course was a salad. Nervously, I picked up my fork. I’ve never been more conscious of what I was eating. I took my first bite. It tasted salty and seasoned and was chewy like chicken, so I took another. I didn’t eat all the lettuce and green-tasting stuff. But I did eat some.
When the entrée came, I secretly used my hands to feel around on my plate and try to figure out what I had. No one could see and I thought it would be easier if I knew. Sadly, my hands didn’t help. Although it did make it easier to connect the food to the fork.
I poked for several minutes as my classmates happily guessed at what they were eating. Coconut? Curry? Peanuts? Pine nuts? Someone thought it was fish and my stomach flipped. But my professor reassured me it wasn’t.
I decided to be brave. Eating a duck wouldn’t kill me, after all.
I took a bite and something came alive inside as I chewed that unknown entrée in the dark. It didn’t matter what it was. It was delicious. I kept eating and no longer cared what it was. Pride filled me. I felt brave. I felt like I’d achieved something I’d been working toward my entire life. I had eaten cauliflower and loved it.
The blind restaurant was the peak of my eating adventure in Berlin, but overall I tried loads of new food, including asparagus, mushrooms and broccoli. My personal war was over.
They say that studying abroad changes you. Going abroad and living in a different country – even for a brief time – can expand your horizons, increase your cultural awareness and cause you to think about question and ideas you never would at home.
Berlin gave me much more than that. I was scared to go because I feared I wouldn’t find anything to eat. I wasted the seven-hour flight worrying about how to find pizza and grilled cheese.
On the flight back to Buffalo, I marveled at the new me. I fantasized about my first trip to the grocery store. I got giddy thinking about all the new restaurants to try and all the adventures I would have this year at UB.
I wonder if Wegmans sells okra.
Cathleen Draper is a contributing writer. Any questions or comments about this story can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.