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Mar 24, 2008 06:49 AM

What was your "first" exotic dish?

Growing up, the first "foreign food" I had was at the Chinese (-American) restaurant, and I think I had the egg drop soup and Sub Gum Chicken. I also recall the "Moo Goo Gai Pan".

At home, the first "exotic dish" my mom made was "Chicken Curry" and it had raisins in it, and was served with white rice. (I'm thinking something like a "Country Captain" dish).

The first "different" dish I cooked was "Spinach Rice." (maybe a Greek influence, but don't really recall.) This was while I was attending high school. I also made the "Egg Foo Young" sometimes with that "kit" from LaChoy (?). I started clipping recipes in earnest in college, freshman year.

I grew up caucasian in SW Florida, and graduated high school in the late '70s.

(As an aside, my "go to" dish for baking in high school -- ha ha -- was small date walnut loaves, sliced and served with cream cheese. And apple "turnovers".)

Do you have fond memories, too? When did you have your first "exotic" dish? Make something of your own? Have a "specialty" even when you were young? Get "into" food?

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  1. I think the first "exotic" food for me was Red's Tamales. When I was four and five years old I found those canned tamales to be so exciting starting with the paper wrapping! Meanwhile my day-to-day foods included wild birds, vinegary Russian tripe and ox tail soups, homemade horsemeat sausages, eggplant and eggs with mushrooms for breakfast, beet soup that included apples, fermented cabbage (kind of a Siberian kimchee), wild mustard greens, homemade head cheese (I remember cleaning those pig heads with Grandpa), home-grown snails, and coffee-soaked bread with brown sugar. The first full meal I ever cooked was at age six. It was wurst fried with onions, boiled baby red potatoes with butter and parsley, and what we called "mustard buds" which I now know was rape. My grandparents came from a culture where children were properly utilized; and for me to begin helping cook at a very early age was considered normal.

    My grandpa had many friends in San Francisco's Chinatown and I was using chop sticks and eating Cantonese comfort food at a very early age. I first ate at Sam Wo when I was a toddler.. still eat there 63 years later.

    My mother's second husband came into my life when I was seven. He was a Mid-Western Norwegian who introduced me to Meat, Potatoes, and Canned Vegetables. My mother attempted to convert him to "real" food, but anything other than safe and bland made him very uncomfortable.. no more garlic and vinegar and innards for me unless I was visiting my mother's parents! Except for his bland foods, he was a lovely dad and he would make potato lefse and Swedish pancakes for us, which I still love and find comforting. He did love my mother's fine lemon pies, her delicious homemade candies (fudges, panuche, divinity-stuffed dates with toasted pecans), and her awesome boiled beef (with lots of hidden garlic we never told him about). To this day, her surviving friends remember my mother as being "the best cook in our group" and her party fare (hors d'oeuvres, dips, etc.) is stuff of legend!

    Many of my early friends were Mexican, and, passionate little cook that I was (am), their mothers were happy to teach me how to make chilaquiles, capirotada (sp?) the Mexican bread pudding, and other Mexican comfort foods. I've since explored Mexican regional cooking and actually taught Mexican home cooking to young Mexican high school kids.

    When I was in college I made Mexican comfort food and lots of soups and stews for my friends My lentil soup with grated apples and sour cream was considered "exotic" fare by many of those raised on the bland American diet of the 1950's.

    My first husband was from a family of very fine Neapolitan cooks and I became an accomplished cooker of Southern Italian foods, easy to do living on the coast of California! My Italian mother-in-law introduced me to roasted sheep's head, Neapolitan tripe (as good as menudo!), grilled eels, and a whole array of chunky, spicy salamis and deliciously reeking cheeses..

    I didn't get into breadmaking and baking until I was in my 40 and now, at 65, my baked goods.. my breads, pies, crisps, and cakes, are requested often by family and friends. I'm unable to eat wheat but I can make lovely cakes, cookies, and pies using my rice flour-based baking mixtures. I bake lots of regular breads, and sour doughs (from an old old starter) but can only watch as others scarf them down. sigh.

    Thanks for taking me on this pleasant trip back into my culinary history!

    3 Replies
    1. re: fromagina

      sushi was mine, it was my first year of college. I don't think anyone in my home town ever heard of sushi. Which is just as well since I don't like it. :)

      1. re: fromagina

        that was amazing, thank YOU, fromagina! your day to day foods while young are wonder-ful! did you grow up in san francisco? i grew up with southern food, but spaghetti with meat sauce every friday night, when it was served with a green salad and white bread and butter. i was always thrilled because i could watch my heartthrob, James West, on "the wild, wild west" on tv.

        i'm all in favor of incorporating children into the kitchen routines, too. my lebanese law partner wouldn't let her 8 year old help in the kitchen (to be spoiled and coddled, instead). the daughter was thrilled when i taught her to use the black and decker handy-chopper! (love that gadget).

        1. re: alkapal

          I spent my early childhood in San Francisco with my mother, and across the bay in Vallejo with my grandparents. The San Francisco ferry was like my third home!

          Southern food, like that beautiful fried chicken, was also exotic food to me! The first time I tasted cornbread at a friend's home, I thought "Wow! These people eat dessert WITH their dinner!"

          My son, like his mother, has been cooking since he could climb up on a box and reach the counter. So he sliced his fingers a few times.. that's what Band-aids are for. He taught many of his friends how to do basic things like make omelet's, make pancakes, and make spaghetti sauce.. this as an elementary school kid. Yes, Grandpa, American children are terribly under-utilized!

      2. We went for Mexican and Chinese (Chinese-American, actually; I'm talking Springfield-style cashew chicken) all the time, so I didn't really consider that "exotic."

        From about the time I was in fourth grade we had Korean family friends, and when we'd go to their house we'd eat these wonderful little egg rolls--way different from what we had at the Fortune--and jap chae.

        My uncle was in the Peace Corps in Korea, and he did a little traveling around afterward. When he came home some friends he'd met there came to visit, including a man from Thailand and a woman from Australia. I went over to Bob's house and helped them cook a big Thai feast for friends and kinfolk. I think I was ten or eleven, so I'm sure I wasn't a whole lot of help, but it was a very enoyable day.

        The next summer we had Japanese folks stay in our community, in various homes, including ours. At the end of their stay they threw a party with lots of Japanese foods. I was a bit afraid of most of it, but that's when I tried somen for the first time (cold noodles in dashi-based broth); a few years later I had another Japanese friend show me how to make them myself.

        1. There may have been others, but the one that stands out in my memory as "first" was burfi I had as a third-grader. A classmate who'd returned from a visit with family members in India had brought in several kinds for the class to sample. One of them was a pastel green with tiny bits of ground nuts in it. I thought it tasted like soap but had the good manners to eat it all without saying so (a few of our classmates weren't so well-behaved - provoking the teacher to yell at all of us for being ungrateful).

          1 Reply
          1. re: racer x

            Escargot at 16. Took my older sister and her friends to JFK to pick up one of her friends and drop off her Dutch friend to fly home. We dined (yes it was really very dining lol!!) at The Golden Door which is long gone - this was in the early 60's. This restaurant was very very elegant with waiters that would appear poof! My sister dared me to try the escargot (she is 8 years older than I am and her friends were the same age). When I heard they were snails I was intimidated but...... Escargot is my very favorite to this day.

          2. Mmmm.... tough one. Probably a whole roast lamb at one of the tavernas on Santorini. Grilled octopus. Veal sweetbreads at the tender age of 12 -- still love them. Brains... same thing.

            A fantastic Korean dinner, also at the age of 12 at a Korean resto in my hometown. I'm sure it was highly Europeanized, but I will never forget the delicious morsels of beef that were apparently bathed in egg and then fried. Yowza.

            1. Hmmm, since I grew up having abalone, jelly fish, fish eyeballs, beef tongue, etc., I'd say exotic for us would have been Domino's pizza for a spcial treat, extra cheese. We loved those nights.