Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa
Going through some old letters I had sent to my mother from my first teaching job in Port Angeles, Washington in 1964, I found a paragraph describing all the “new” foods I was eating. Foods I had never heard of in my small northeastern Minnesota hometown such as artichokes, zucchini, Swiss chard, eggplant, turnips, parsnips. (I led a very sheltered food life.)
I remember that first taste of an artichoke – a more worldly friend teaching me how to tear off a leaf, dip it in butter and scrape off the soft inner part with my lower teeth. How exotic. Later that friend’s aunt taught me to use mayonnaise with dry vermouth and garlic for dipping — still my preference.
Washington state firsts: Dungeness crab. Fresh salmon. Fresh apricots. Carrot cake.
So this got me to thinking of all the “exotic” foods that I was introduced to since then. Five months in Switzerland, four of them living above and eating in a bakery/tea room — cheese fondue with bread dipped in kirsch (cherry brandy), lamb curry, gibfeli (croissants), café au lait, escargot, tripe soup. I have fond memories of all but the tripe soup.
On the small Italian ship I took to Europe in 1965 I had tongue and my first cappuccino. When we landed In England I had coffee with Demerara (brown) sugar. Did I try steak and kidney pie? I might have. But that really hot Indian curry in a English restaurant made me feel guilty for not eating it all because of the hungry children of India.
In Greece I watched a man slam an octopus repeatedly on the rocks. Was he trying to kill it or tenderize it? But I did not eat octopus until many years later and then in a sushi restaurant. (A friend traveling in the Orient had octopus so fresh the sucker stuck to the top of his mouth. But that may have been the least exotic thing he ate on that trip…was it duck bills or duck feet?) Squid entered my eating repertoire much later, though the first time I had it I was unnerved by the little tentacles.
When I was a child my father paid me to eat asparagus – or, tried to. He had tricked me into eating horseradish when I was five. How could I trust him to steer me right? Asparagus cooked to a gray mush? Then in 1972 I paid $2.50 for three spears of properly cooked white asparagus in a San Francisco restaurant. There I also had a “bird with a long beak” for an entrée. It had four legs and no wings…a rabbit, perhaps? Did the waiter mistranslate or was he leading me astray and making fun because I didn’t know French?
Asparagus was the first thing I planted when I moved to this farm. It still comes back every spring. I eat it sautéed it to a bright and crispy green.
First time food that has not been repeated: Rocky Mountain “oysters” (our kid goats’ testicles). Foods have become favorites: really, really hot Mexican food, goat meat, spanakopita, lobster, clams, mussels, lamb. Swedish Princess cake made with marzipan, whipped cream, raspberries and custard. Every cake I ate in Norway. Scandinavian open face sandwiches (smørsbrød). French goat cheeses and Norwegian brown cheese. I could go on…but won’t.
What “exotic” foods have you tried and fallen in love with….or not?