How to become a foodie?
I'm a 20 year old college student going to USC and living in Downtown LA. I don't have much money, but I do like to go out to dinner quite a bit, and am willing to spend a reasonable amount on good food. I also love to cook and am a recent vegetarian, so I'm having a lot of fun with that. I think I have the "potential" to be quite a foodie, but how do I start on that path if I don't have much money?
Also, are there any chocolate or cheese tasting options that don't include alcohol, or do I just have to wait a year to do that?
Well, luckily you are in one of the greatest towns for cheap eats in the country.
Take full advantage of all the fabulous ethnic cuisine. LA makes me think of japanese curry and supermarkets, argentinian bakeries, ramen, pho, titos tacos, cuban food, decent chinese, thai, sushi ...well, you get the idea. If you check out the LA boards there is quite a lot of the "search for the best' which seems to be a lot about being a foodie and more importantly a chowhound.
You also have access to SoCal and it's year round growing season. Take some time to check out the farmers markets in the LA area - Santa Monica comes to mind.
Not sure what you mean about the tasting options - chocolate and cheese go well with a wine tasting, but it's not exclusive. A chocolate tasting will go well with anything to clear the palate, like a sorbet or fresh fruit. A cheese tasting can be done wonderfully with grapes, apples, and crackers or bread.
Also, nothing is stopping you from getting an assortment and having your own, with sneaked wine or no.
If you have passion and endless curiosity about food, you are already a "foodie" because that's all it really is. Now, if you want to know how to best indulge your passion for as little money as possible, read, read, read and then read some more. Go to your local bookstore and browse the food magazines and cookbooks. Go online and read different recipes. Soon you'll find that you actually know your arugula from your sorrell, your demiglace from your vinaigrette. You can be a foodie at any diner or fine food establishment. Just be willing to read the menu as though it were a treasure map and try to find the very best dish the restaurant has to offer. Then make sure all your friends order different things and share.
Foodies aren't snobs. They'll eat anything as long as it's well-prepared and it's good. A real foodie has no ambitions to impress others, he/she just wants to experience the joy of a great meal in and of itself. So go out to those little neighborhood restuarants that look interesting and try the things that looks the most enticing.
Go to upscale grocery stores and get nibbles of cheese. You can always save a small amount of money for one really good, small piece to bring home. One of my very favoritie things in the world is going around high-end groceries, which are all over LA, and just look at the variety of foods. If there are things I've never seen, I'll try to find someone to tell me what they are. I also love little mom and pop ethnic shops because you never know what great stuff you'll find.
Oh yeah, and if you really truly want to be a foodie, go to the farmers markets and just go wild. The vendors there often have great ideas for stuff to make with their produce, or you can buy something totally foreign and Google it to find out how to use it.
Finally, be fearless. Even if you've always hated a certain food, if someone offers a new way to prepare it, give it a try. I can't promise anything. Fresh lima beans were a lovely surprise after a childhood of the nasty, cardboard-y frozen ones, but beets are something I'm never going to warm to, I'm afraid. But still I never say never.
Fuser said it well! Stay curious, open & interested. Look into the "whys" of preparation & tradition. Lots of money isn't needed to have an exciting food journey. Many of the most amazing dishes have their roots in humble peasant cooking. Keep it fresh & in season, get to know your markets & purveyors.Ask questions while shopping. The produce girl at my organic market always has several suggestions for preparing the veggies I'm not familiar with. Her ideas are often novel, but always really good. I don't spend a lot (don't have a lot) but my local wine/cheese shop guys enjoy my enthusiasm & always catch my eye to offer me a taste of something new or interesting. Many times I've lived in areas with limited dining options so my cooking skills developed in response! Consequently, I tend to not go out with great frequency. But when I do, I have no problem spending on a truly memorable meal. Speak with the places you mention which are conducting the tastings. Often they have a way to alert those pouring, much like some clubs do, varies by locale. Most of all enjoy & happy eating!
Putting myself through college...well actually, the BANK putting me through college in NYC did no favors for my finances. Somehow I managed to survive on $400 a month for nearly 4 years; which still impresses me as I could barely live on double that now. And even during those times of want I still managed to be a notorious "foodie."
Trying to BECOME a foodie is something of a quixotic venture. Either you are, or you aren't. So long as you have an openness to experience and a willingness to give in to your culinary curiosity, you are already a foodie. Though I didn't have much money, I did save up for the very occasional (read: quarterly) good meal at a restaurant. What I couldn't afford to buy at a restaurant, I learnt to make in my kitchen, perhaps the most economical way of training your foodie palate. A rabbit dish that was $25 at the restaurant only cost me $6 to make. A cheese course that was $14 at Artisinal was only $8 in my dorm. So if you're a good cook and looking to expand your horizons as a gourmand, why not try out a few "exotic" recipes and see how you enjoy your new moniker as self-taught foodie.
Eat and cook a lot. When you do, pay very close attention to the flavors of food. It is often easy to just wolf something down without thinking. Instead, treat everything as a tasting adventure - roll it around on the tongue and pay attention to aftertaste. If you start paying close attention to your food, you'll suddenly learn a lot.
Also, if you *really* want to get geeky about food, study food science. Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" will teach you more about food than you ever imagined. Although it is not a cookbook, I think it helped my personal cooking more than any collection of recipes I've ever read.
One more bit of advice - don't become a food snob. Although a delicately prepared saffron orange cream sauce sprinkled over braised duck at a fancy restaurant can be amazing, sometimes a greasy burger from a dive bar can taste just as good. Just because some foods are common and easy to make, that doesn't make them any less wonderful.
I also agree with Fuser. In short, a foodie only needs to be curious and open-minded. Of course, having a bigger wallet can help in some cases, but you can still enjoy cheap eats in others.
Someone also mentioned going to high-end grocers during the peak hours for samples which is a great way to try new things, particularly cheeses.
IMO, a foodie is in the know of all things going on in their general area whenever possible. For me, that's being observant of store openings (and closings), regularly checking Chowhound, OpenTable, Gayot, Zagat, OC Weekly, and all the free periodicals in my area (or some combination there of).
I've also figured out what I truly enjoy in cuisine, and am on a constant search for it. I crave excellent breakfasts, comfort food, New American cuisine, and ambiance. You embrace the hole-in-the-walls, chains, and fine cuisine when you can afford to. You stand by all your preferences and drink whatever you consider good, and not what it's SUPPOSED to be paired with.
Many places in general have chocolate and/or cheese options on their dessert menu. You just have to look for them. We've been to places where we solely go for dessert, and it works out fine.