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.
Just enjoy food. Needn't be expensive, despite what you might read from the wealthy. Best Mexican I've ever had was from a cheap, family-owned place near UC Berkeley. Can afford more espensive now, but haven't found any place that good.
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.
Part 2 (limted to 3 lines at a time): Check out Chinese strip mall places. First one I tried in my home town, I wasn't expecting much. It was (really) superb. If you get a bad one, just keep going and you'll find a good one. PS. Foodie palates not the same as truffle palates.