Your First Exposure to the Exotic
What was your first exposure to exotic cuisine? And by exotic, I mean food that your mom never prepared, and likely never would have even thought to cook. Also, how old were you when exposed to the exotic?
When I was 16 or 17 (in 1984) I went to a Thai restaurant with a couple of my college student cousins and one of their buddies. I knew zilch about Thai food, and ordered Gai Ga Pow (hot and spicy chicken) and wonton soup. It changed my life frankly. That Gai Ga Pow, which I have never been able to replicate, remains one of the top-most delicious things I have ever eaten.
It is 1969 and we are heading for the summer trip out west. Had my first Mexican in Provo, Utah. Had it again in Las Vegas. Boasted about to my Uncle in San Diego. He was so scandalized, he took us to a white table cloth Mexican restaurant that evening.
We were boasting about the fine food at Taco Bell.
While I would never call Taco Bell "Mexican gourmet," there WAS a time, when it was somewhat interesting, and especially if one had little experience with American-Mexican cuisine. My first experience was earlier, with similar fast-Mexican "inspired" dishes. For me, it was a "who knew?" moment.
15, after the last day of Mandarin Dialect summer school a classmate and our moms went to what was then the best Szechwan place in town. I had no idea Chinese could be like that, I saved the napkin, by then smeared with sauce and sniffed it regularly for months. about 6 years later had Thai (yes Gai Ga Pow too) similar revelation. I can almost replicate it if need be. almost, if I'm really jonesing. but I'd rather wait until I'm near a good place.
Age 21, raw shellfish bar at a friend's tiny wedding on Nantucket. The wedding was alcohol-free, but open (raw) bar. Yowza.
1980 - Fort Erie, Ontario - Maywah's Restaurant - I was 15, sneaking across to Canada from Buffalo with a boyfriend. 'Chinese Dinner for 2B' - egg rolls, spare ribs, sweet and sour chicken, fried rice, some other entree I have since forgotten, bottomless green tea, and yummy almond cookies. It was a new world for me. There may be 'better' Chinese, but I remember the excitement of those 'new' flavors even today. And 6 years later, that boyfriend proposed to me, after dinner at Maywah's, overlooking the Niagara river.
I was about 10ish, when I went to Spain with my grandparents. And paella was it for me. All of my favorite foods heaped on one plate! And so many flavors within, spicy, savory, it blew my little kid mind.
I loved those yearly vacations, I always knew there would be something different for me to try.