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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? :)


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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.

      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.

            2. I have vague memories of McDonalds 15 cent burger; 19 cent cheeseburger; don't remember what the fries were, but they were a revelation. As was the fish sandwich.

              I don't think they had much more than that in the beginning.

              1. Mom always cooked, but once in a rare while, when growing up in the boroughs of New York, we went out for White Castle Hamburgers. It was so exciting. We ate in the car, and the car hop used to hook a tray on the driver's side window. We used to order something like 25 to 27 of them, singles with no cheese, in order to feed all of us. Thinking back, we never even ordered French fries, just their basic single hamburger. Today we call them sliders, but truly -- nothing tastes like them, and I still can't pass a White Castle without figuring out how to make a stop there. DH thinks they are greasy and gross, but I think they just have the special steamed onion flavor that he can't appreciate, since they cook on top of onions on the grill. Good thing I don't see them in Texas, or I would be the size of a barn.

                1 Reply
                1. re: RGC1982

                  Another tale: in 1969 my buddy and I hitchhiked around the US (from California throught the SW, South, up the east coast, back from Maine through the praries to Seattle and then back). We got picked up by two skinny Okie kids - both named "Chuckie" - and their Ma on their way towards Atlanta where their sister, a Playboy bunny lived. Ma was in the back and drnking a lot of Colt 45 malt. They had a sack of what was left of their White Castle burgers. Joe andi had several each. Great. Getting on with the Chuckies, Ma, the Playboy bunny until the next day was another story!

                2. The first chain to come to our little town was Tastee-Freez, a DQ knockoff; a local one-unit copy had also emerged at about the same time, closer to the high school, offering the same fare: soft-serve "frozen custard" in its various incarnations, and hot dogs. In my sophomore year (1956-57) we got a Dog'n'Suds stand, a sort of copy of A&W. Thing was, we had so many places to get this kind of stuff for the same prices, but made from scratch (the burgers) and real ice cream (the cones and shakes), even in a farming town of 3,000, that these guys had to depend mostly on people driving through, plus teenagers who'd rather eat in the car than park and go into the Kandy Kitchen or wherever.

                  My eye-opener, though, was a stop on a field trip to Urbana/Champaign, when we stopped at a burger stand that had 15¢ hamburgers and 20¢ shakes. At those prices even I could afford two burgers! It was the first time I'd ever laid eyes on a McDonald's...

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Will Owen

                    As soon as you mentioned Tastee-Freez and Dog 'n' Suds I knew you had to be a midwesterner. My first recollection was an A&W drive in where they brought out a tray and put it on your car window. There was nothing better than a cold draft A&W in a frosty mug. I don't have any special recollection of their hamburgers or hot dogs, but I remember their onion rings were amazing. Our local one - which was closed all winter of course - also had homemade ice cream, and I've been searching for butter brickle ice cream ever since.

                    Dog 'n' Suds was also a regular stop for us in the mid 60's. Great onion rings and coney dogs.

                    In high school I discovered Big Macs. I think they were 99 cents at the time, and I ate two or three a week. We had an open campus and could go out for lunch, and there was a McD's about 5 minutes from school. Now I don't think I could choke one down.

                    My first taco was at the National Dairy Cattle Congress (our county fair), and I thought it was the most incredible thing I had ever tasted. I was maybe a sophomore in high school, and it was the beginning of my life long love for spicy foods.

                    1. re: cycloneillini

                      A&W was what cured me of my childhood aversion to the taste of root beer. We lived for a short, hot summer in a slum-like area of Decatur, IL, and there was a little diner across the street that had an A&W barrel and kept the mugs in the freezer. What a lovely 5¢ worth that was!

                      I too yearn for butter brickle. Does it still exist? We have an excellent ice-cream maker in the area (I'm in Pasadena, CA) called Fosselman's, whose founders like so many other locals came from the Midwest. The family still runs their own ice-cream parlor, so maybe I should ask there. Butter pecan they got (and exotica like taro and ubu, both insanely good) but no BB...

                      My first taco was in Anchorage, AK! It's my first pizza that I most remember, though. Twice in my life I've tasted a new food and instantly recognized it as something I'd been craving and just hadn't known it. Those were pizza and sushi.

                      1. re: cycloneillini

                        There was a Tastee-Freez in Warrenton NC; I'd go there when visiting my grandparents for the summer back in the 70's..I loved their ice cream because it was alot different from Bungalo Bar ice cream that was served from a truck (my dad owned a franchise back in the 60's)...

                        White Castle is the first fast food place that I can remember starting at, growing up in NY. Burgers were something like 10 or 15 cents..they had the best fish sandwiches with cheese & tartar sauce & chocolate shakes..I can still taste the burgers & fries, and frozen in the supermarket is nothing but a tease...left NY back in the 80's and have been back but White Castle does not taste the same..oh, sure, they're okay to take the edge off the craving, but absolutely not the same as back in the day..

                        Jack in the Box, McDonald's Big Macs (when they were less than $1.00 and better), Burger King Whopper and Chicken Delight all bring back "first" memories...

                    2. I can't exactly remember my first taste, but ate so much fast food growing up (at least once or twice a week), that by the time I was 8, I had sworn off fast food hamburgers and have only had one In-n-Out burgers since then. I do have great memories of going to the Dairy Queen on summer nights growing up and getting their fish and chips, which came with what people in Utah refer to as a scone but what most people would call fried bread along with a little paper cup of honey butter. I absolutely loved that and was also a huge fan of Dilly Bars for dessert.

                      My sweet grampa used to take us to Arby's on a weekly basis for several years when I was a kid and I can remember eating Arby's beef and cheddars in my gandparents old sedan. That's the only fast food that I still have a real soft spot for.

                      1. for me It was in California maybe 1970 Arby's

                        1. I grew up in the former Soviet Union but I didn't have to wait until I came to the US to try fast food. In fact, my first taste came directly as a result of my family trying to immigrate to this country.

                          To get an American visa, one had to travel to Moscow, which was the closest city with a US embassy in 1991 (this was in early summer, before the collapse of USSR in August). The first Soviet McDonalds opened in Moscow about a year before and we kids were desperate to try it. Once all the official embassy business was finished, our parents took us.

                          The line outside was huge: I don't remember exactly how long we had to wait but I know that it was a loooong time. This was the first taste of the West and people were excited. Eventually we got in. My parents found us a place to sit and went to get food. The kids ate hamburgers, fries and shakes although I distinctly remember that my Dad got a filet-o-fish.

                          The whole experience seems surreal now.

                          5 Replies
                            1. re: StrawbrryF

                              Had a related experience when I was living in Hamburg, Germany in 1975, at the time McDonald's opened its first restaurant there. They put up signs all over the city reading (in German), "McDonald's Brings the Hamburger to Hamburg!"

                              Like in Moscow it was a huge hit, not for being Western but for being American and, by comparison to the local Imbiß-based fast food (think currywurst), relatively wholesome. Which tells you something about currywurst.

                              1. re: BobB

                                I lived in Germany from 1968-1972, pre Mc Donalds--there was a Dairy Queen and an A&W near us (large American military presence) but no Micky D's.

                                The day after we got back to the States, my parents hunted down the nearest McDonalds--my mom wanted a "hamburg" and a milkshake. I remember that it did taste pretty good, but we still missed ein bratwurst mit brotchen und ein Fanta.

                                1. re: coney with everything

                                  Where in the States, if I may ask? I thought "hamburg" for hamburger was a southwestern Ontario thing. My momn always said it. Also hamburg for the chopped meat.

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    We called them hamburgs when I was growing up too - in Boston. Still do sometimes - I will ask for a hamburger in a restaurant, but at a family summer cookout we make hamburgs & hotdogs.

                            2. In 1962 my wife and I drove our brand new Corvair from Prairie Village Ks to Colorado Springs on our very first "vacation". I was going to K-State, we had a baby that the grandparents (whom also supplied the car) were keeping and we didn't have a pot to pi-- in. We had divided our money equally into envelopes, one for each day. Sometime in Colorado Springs we wound up with no money with which to eat when we discovered our first GOLDEN ARCHES!!! Those 15 cent McDonalds saved us from starvation and tasted wonderful! God bless Micky-D's!

                              1. Prince Castle burger, fries,and "One in a Million" shake. They served ice cream cones using square scoops and the building was made to look like a real castle. A trip to Prince Castle was sometimes part of Saturday afternoon time with Dad. Very cool stuff for a little kid, nice memories for me now.

                                1. Let's see, it must've been the summer of '74, because I was not yet six years old. My family lived for a short stint in some townhouses off a major thoroughfare in my hometown of Lexington, KY. There was a McDonald's on that road, and some of the older kids in the townhouses led me and a friend on a forbidden path under a chain link fence and down an embankment into the parking lot. We each purchased small fries, and I ate mine without ketchup, I remember. They were really hot and smelled like hamburgers, no doubt because back then McD's was frying in lard. I don't think I'd eaten fast food fries until then? Not sure, but I do remember those fries. Maybe because of the perceived danger, maybe because of the taste. I'm still a sucker for good fries, though I've largely given up the fast food versions as any sort of regular part of my intake.

                                  1. 1973 - I was 11 and on holiday with my family from the UK, visiting my mother's relatives in Yonkers. My uncle took me to a McDonalds - I'd never seen a burger that wasn't homemade before, nor eaten skinny fries.
                                    Several years later McD came to the UK - and I realised it was not perceived as 'treat' food by most people, but as cheap and unhealthy junk.
                                    To me it was the taste of America, and I loved it!

                                    1. I never had any fast food until I was 14. I only had it a few times. The last time I had fast food was exactly five years ago.

                                      My first fast food meal was McDonald's Fish o Fillet. :) Hooked on it for a while but had to give it up

                                      1. My childhood was in the '60's and my first "remembered" fast food was White Castle. I too had grown up in a kosher home, so this was also my first "traif" experience. I was 5 years old. A relative, who was in a hurry and didn't want to stop at home to feed me, bought me a hamburger and told me to eat quickly. Well, I had never eaten fast food (they don't call them sliders for nothing) and I tried to scarf it down pretty fast. We barely made it out the door when the hamburger reappeared from my stomach (won't go into all the gory details). The relative was pretty disgusted because now I was a mess, the place was a mess and we were going to be late.

                                        Later in my childhood, our fast food of choice was a local chain called BBF (burger boy Food-orama) where for 45 cents you could get a hamburgers, small fries and a Coke. My children think I am a dinosaur when I tell these stories.

                                        1. I honestly cannot remember the first time ever, but it would have been at Burger King as that was the only fast food restaurant we ever patronized when I was little, and that was on very rare occasions. It was like a special occasion meal, getting to go to BK. My parents thought the food at McDonald's was terrible, so we never went there. I was I think 8 or 9 and a group of school girls at an overnight party I was at went to mcdonald's for breakfast the next morning and I had no idea what to order as I'd never been there before. They were all shocked that I had never consumed Mcdonald's. I got an egg mcmuffin meal, tought it was kind of gross but ate it, we got back to the girl's house and...back up came the whole meal. Turns out I was getting the flu, but I had a negative association with McD's for quite awhile because of that. Now I have it for much different reasons, of course.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: rockandroller1

                                            I recall that in the early days of big-chain burger wars, Burger King seemed more wholesome than McDonalds to me too because they seemed to serve real vegetables (whole slices of lettuce, tomato and onion) as opposed to the McDonalds chopped and shredded mess.

                                          2. I can't tell you the VERY first time, but I have distinct memories of being small (6 or so) and having a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish. That was the treat my brother and I got when my parents would go out at night. I also remember when they changed the tartar sauce - I was quite upset! The only other memory of fast food as a child was my father taking my brother and I to White Castle. Oddly enough, I loved their burgers, but wouldn't eat a burger from McDonald's - only the Filet-O-Fish.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Missy2U

                                              You were a wiser child than most. I'm still trying to figure out why the Filet-O-Fish has that slice of ersatz cheese substance on it, but it's perversely good. That and the breakfast items are now all that I will eat there. Mrs. O and I have an addictive relationship with the various McMuffins...

                                            2. In 1975 I started kindergarten; and on Fridays the whole school besides the kindergartners got what would later become the McDonald's hamburger/cheeseburger happy meals, with milk of course. According to my mother; I asked my teacher about it and she said I would have lunch at school when I was in 1st grade. I then asked her something to the effect of how did you get into the 1st grade and she gave me the next year answer. Apparently I would not let it go and Teacher finally said I needed to be able to write my full name and read. Well I could already read and write my first name so I closeted myself in my room that night until I could write my whole name and showed up with my papers the next day. Yes, they put me in 1st grade and I got my cheeseburger meal. I remember the cheeseburger was just ok, but the fries were nirvana! I then became a fry hound, saving all the change I could find and begging any adult I could get ahold of. I remember walking to McDonald's with my carefully horded change until I was probably 8 and then the great evil of vegetable oil ruined my love affair. Those were great fries.

                                              1. This is a lovely thread. The reminiscences are moving and amusing. Now, for what it's worth, please keep in mind that the idea of "fast food" predates all of us--from Coney Island Nathan's and other manifestations (Ray Kroc was not the first.)

                                                Mine: the first pizza place in the little NW Jersey town where I was born, it was 1963...an Italian immigrant who had worked with my father in a factory left it to start his own business--the first pizza place in the area. He charged 10 cents at first and then 15 cents for a slice. I went in 1964 and plunked down 15 pennies, and he didn't know what pennies were (or who I was)....

                                                In 1966 or 1965, a local joint called Goody's opened, and it was a McDonald's manque (at that time, I never knew what a McDonald's was.) It was an imitation, and every Sunday, my father would drive me there to pick up too many moist burgers and toothpick thin fries in advance of the NFL game that was usually on.

                                                One could also count places like Stewart's Root Beer Stands in the northeast as fast food pioneers...

                                                1. I've eaten at both Micky D's and B/King in my life,
                                                  but here I am in my 50's, and I've never tried
                                                  either a big mac or a whopper.
                                                  Can't stand the idea of goop all over a burger.
                                                  Give me blue cheese, or just ketchup & mustard.

                                                  1. I remember a Burger Chef in RI.

                                                    I still remember the jingle:

                                                    "{For fifteen cents a nickel and a dime you can eat better at Buger Chef all the time" or something pretty close to that.

                                                    Also remember going to 'Jolly Cholly's' in No Attelboro, but maybe that wasn't considered fast food. But it was a big deal for one of my parents to put all 6 kids in the car and drive "All" that way to have a "quick" meal.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: hummingbird

                                                      My first real job was at a Burger Chef. First night on I only did milk shakes.
                                                      Next night I moved on to french fries. Next day I quit.

                                                    2. When the first McDonalds opened in my town, I used to go there once a week with my Dad. I'd always have chicken McNuggets with BBQ sauce and a rootbeer.

                                                      These days I miss the rootbeer, but not the nuggets. I do like a Chicken Royale on occaision though...