There was a time in my life when I had not yet tasted tempura. This seems odd, since it is a moderate favorite of mine, and I tend to enjoy most things that have been battered and deep fried. But there was a time, primarily before I ever tried things, that new things were to be feared and scorned, especially if they were to be eaten.
I lived a very comfortable and narrow existence of meat and potatoes. Cheeseburgers and french fries were subsistence for me. I rarely, if ever, entertained thoughts of food outside my comfort zone, much less outside my country. It is only now, as an adult reflecting back on my tangled existence, that I can reckon on the path that took me from Deluxe cheeseburger to spring rolls to sushi. The gateway drug, in the case of tempura, was the onion rings of the Branding Iron. To this day, when I am presented with the option of rings or fries, my heart does a little skip, because it could be that somewhere out there is another place where the onion rings live up to the exalted standard of that restaurant in Nederland, Colorado. The ones I learned, much later, tasted so very much like tempura.
Since then, there have been plenty of ancillary discoveries: lemon chicken, seafood fettuccine, and the occasional California Roll. I have been known, on occasion, to sit patiently through an Ethiopian feast, or a spinach crepe. I have happily savored tandoori chicken and waited patiently for someone to pass the broccoli beef. My wife has even instituted Meatless Monday, where vegetarian pot stickers and various experiments in chard are the rule.
When given a choice, I'm still all about the Number One, Animal Style. But if I find myself in line at Bento, I know what to ask for.