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Your first taste of fast food!

I'll always remember it as if I were yesterday. Growing up in Southern California, where my parents were Vietnamese immigrants, I need truly got exposed to fast food. While my parents mostly raised me on healthy foods, in addition to various dishes they brought over from the old country, I never to experience fast food until I was 8 years old.

To be sure, going to school provided me with meals I grew to know and love, and I remember always looking forward to lunch time, when after having watched Reading Rainbow, we would walk in a straight line - as straight as pre-teens knew how to make them, and sit on the concrete in front of the school cafeteria, sometimes baking in the Southern California sun, before heading we got our turns to the delicious hot dogs and burgers, nachos and cornbread, and one of those square little cartons of chocolate milk.

I always dreamed of one day finding the face of one of the kids I hated on that milk carton, but it never happened. In fact, I never saw any missing kids on those cartons of milk.

But enough of my memories of elementary school. Today, I want to share my memory of my first bite of fast food, the first moment I knew I was in love.

It was a Saturday, and thus, I'd gotten to sleep in. When I woke up, both my parents had gone to visit friends, and my doting sister, having just returned from her freshman year at UCLA for a visit, decided to take me to the grocery store to get breakfast cereal, as she couldn't cook, and we ran out of cereal.

On the way there, however, we decided to take a detour, and by amazing, beautiful sister looked at me as if she was about to confide in me a secret that had worldly implications and said, "You can't tell mom and dad about this, okay?"

I nodded in agreement not knowing what would happen next - that is, until she pulled the car into the Taco Bell parking lot and waited at the drive-through line.

"What do you want?" she asked, assuming that much like her, I'd already gone through junior and high school, and now college, and knew what the hell they had at Taco Bell.

I shrugged. "I'll eat anything," I replied, looking at the menu as if it were a treasure map.

In the end, pulling out of that parking lot, and driving home, still with no boxes of cereal, we sat in the living room and my sister handed me a pack of two warm, soft tacos. The tortillas still warm, wrapped around the orange and brown bits of ground beef, shiny from the grease, with tiny bits of shredded lettuce sprinkled on top. Some of the cheese had already melted and glued itself on the meat.

I took a breath, and without even bothering to put on any of the sauces my sister had also gotten for me, bit into my piece of heaven. The flavors danced in my mouth. The spiciness of the ground meat soon turns into a rich, beefy flavor as the smell wafed through my nose. As I continued to chew, the lettuce made tiny crunchy noises, and the cheese stuck to the top of my mouth.

"Is this what they have at college?" I asked, my eyes widened.

"Yes, they have a lot of things for you to choose from in college," my sister replied.

"Then I am going to college," I told her, making her laugh.

Nineteen years now. It's been 19 years since I first took a bite of Taco Bell, and I will never, ever forget that day.

Sure, since then, my taste has developed, and I've moved on to tongue tacos, and real tacos, along with international cuisines and fine dining, and now and then, I can even cook should I like a woman enough to want to impress her. But just like the first kiss, the first love, and yes, even the first time, I'll never, ever forget that day, and the emotions and satisfaction it brought me.

I like Taco Bell, and in high school and college, I developed somewhat of an addiction to the Meximelt, but each time I am at Taco Bell, soft tacos will always, always be ordered, no matter what else is available.

What's your story? :)

Marc

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  1. I grew up in California, third generation Japanese American. My mom and all the relatives were great from scratch cooks. All scorned fast food. I went to undergrad and grad school and my first wife and I scorned fast food. I lived in Bolivia where there was no fast food. I had already divorced from my third wife and was working in Asia, based in the Philippines and about 40 years old, when I had my first BigMac somewhere in central Luzon north of Manila. An American agricultural economist who was with us wanted to go, it was late, why not?, and it (the BigMac) was really good.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      I loved your food memoir, Fan. I also was sheltered as to food but in a slightly different way. my family kept Kosher and all the fast food places in Queens, N.Y., when I was young were "traif" (not Kosher). When I was in the 9th grade a friend i was visiting took me out with her to a pizza place and I lost my food virginity to a slice of classic pizza. It was not love at first. i had trouble with the stretchiness of the cheese and the awkward drippiness of the big hot triangle. But, I couldn't wait to try it again.

    2. I think it was around 1964, the old Burger Chef on 22nd & Craycroft in Tucson. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world at the time, they are all gone now. Although not really fast food, I would collect pop bottles and cash them in and go to the lunch counter at the local Rexall Drug store, man they made the best french fries. They are all gone too. click the thread below, kind of fun.
      http://www.freewebs.com/burgerchef/

      1 Reply
      1. re: mrbigshotno.1

        I was going to say Jack in the Box for tacos, or the Colonel's chicken with tater tots. I remember their bucketsiof chicken and loved the tater tots, long gone now. Your post reminded me of Burger Chef. We had one in Houston in the mid-60's, I liked the burgers, but for this kid it was the fish sandwich.. I'm pretty sure Burger Chef pre-dated them all, so that was my first fast food.

      2. I can't remember my first chain burger, but I do vividly remember my first slice of pizza. I must have been about nine or ten (which would mean this was roughly 1961 - '62), visiting my cousin for the day in the then-Jewish Mattapan neighborhood of Boston. For lunch he wanted pizza, so my aunt gave us a buck and sent us down the block to the local pizzeria.

        At that time, pizza, while by no means rare in the US, was not nearly so universally available as it later became (it was still often referred to as "pizza pie"), and not having a pizzeria in our predominantly Irish neighborhood, I had never tried it.

        The rush of flavor when I took my first bite was just amazing! I should mention that my mother, while a good family-style cook, never made anything remotely spicy. The combination of tangy tomato sauce, melted cheese, and crisp crust was a revelation!

        The fact that I remember it so clearly to this day tells me it was a milestone on my journey toward all things chowish.

        1 Reply
        1. re: BobB

          I still remember the first pizza I ever saw - I must have been 5 or so, around 1960 - my father brought it home one night as a peace offering to my mother (he was late, and four sheets to the wind). My mom was not much on "exotic" food at the time, but he persuaded her (and me, I was very swayed by her food preferences at the time) to try some. The "tangy tomato sauce, melted cheese, and crisp crust was a revelation" to us, too!

        2. Wished I had a beautiful story to tell like you, but afraid I don't. But I do remember when I had these:
          A&W - 1974, thought it was the best burger I ever had in my life up till then;
          Kentucky Fried Chicken - 1975, thought it was the best fried chicken up till then;
          Big Mac - 1982, the first smell, the taste - I'll never forget that;
          Nathan's hot dog - 1994. The cheese fries made a bigger impression than the dog.
          L&L's musubi, saimin, lau lau, pork kalua, Loco Moco - 2008. Beautiful, simply beautiful!

          1. My wife tells a story of her grand father taking her and three siblings to Wetsons. He bought a bag of burgers, handed them out, tasted one, collected everyone's and threw them out after announcing "this isn't food."

            1 Reply
            1. re: Cameraman

              Wetsons 15 cent burger for me...I thought it was great, what does a grade schooler know about food.