"Exotic" foods from your childhood that are common now

I’m sure growing up in Hawaii in the 60’s/70’s and being a pre/early teen had a lot to do with this, but what are some “exotic” foods you ate growing up? My brother and sisters who are much older than me knew about pizza and tacos so they must have been around in the University scene, but for me they were exotic treats.

For me:

Ham not from a can. I don’t remember ever seeing a real whole or half ham growing up. I thought the canned ham was somehow cut out of the whole ham intact and stuffed into the can.

Fresh orange juice in a bottle. Orange juice was always frozen. We did have the wonderful Exchange orangeade that came in a tomato paste sized can that you mixed with water. There was also grape and passion-orange. AFAIK, Exchange was available only in Hawaii and California and disappeared in the late 70’s,/ early 80’s.

Pizza. There were only three ways to get pizza. Delivery from Magoo’s that catered to the University crowd. Woolworth’s and Chef Boyardee pizza in a box. Parmesan cheese came in a green cardboard bottle.

Tacos. Tako was octopus. Tacos were were that thing you bought with meat in the shell that had to be deep fried (usually burnt before the meat was heated through). Cheese American slices and the sauce was tabasco. Salsa? That was a dance!

Nigiri sushi. The sushi most people are familiar with, a rectangle of sushi rice with a piece of (typically raw) seafood on top. Sushi was maki (rolled) sushi and sashimi was a separate dish.

Asparagus and cranberries (as a sauce) were only available in a can. It wasn’t until chunky cranberry sauce came out that I realized that cranberries weren’t squeezed for the juice like oranges.

I remember having a friend down the street from me when I was about 4 or 5. They were an Armenian family, and they had this amazing flat bread they called “Armenian bread.” As I got older I started seeing this food of the gods in stores more and more, except it was called pita bread. Now it’s everywhere.

I had my first taco at about age fifteen. On a cross country road trip with the family circa 1973. Stopped at a Jack In The Box (which didn’t exist where I was from). I had heard of tacos but never had one. Thought yeah, what the hell, let’s try one.

In some other thread recently someone mentioned that in the 1980s and probably into the early 1990s, sushi was the go to “weird food” in TV shows. I had it for the first time in college, when our RA took some of us out for sushi. That would have been in the late 1990s.

In middle school, there was one Indian kid in our otherwise very white class, so for some event his parents brought in some simple Indian snacks, probably like samosas or something. They seemed extremely foreign at the time. I didn’t eat at an actual Indian restaurant until college, and it seemed really exotic then.

I first had Siracha sauce in 2003 (when I was 23, so I guess that violates the “childhood” part of the topic) at a Vietnamese restaurant. I liked it and sought it out at the store and have been eating it ever since. So I think I can claim I was eating Siracha since before it was trendy and commonplace.

I said childhood because I suspect most foods anyone under say 30 considered exotic is probably available at least somewhere in the town or city now. Anything, anytime you ate something that you may have considered “exotic” is fine.

Sushi. I knew it existed, but only ate them in the 90s and even then, here in Peru, it was pretty rare.
Now, it’s everywhere at least here in Lima.

That mysterious fabled beverage from far off across the distant seas known as Dr Pepper. I finally first had a taste of it at age 26, in the mid-'90s, when it came out at the same time as Cherry Coke did in NZ. Neither stuck around, which was disappointing as I loved them both.

It’s still hard to find down here, but both will turn up occasionally in specialist stores at exorbitant prices.

Chinese food from someplace other than Canton! When I was growing up in SoCal back in the early 60s, the only Chinese restaurant in town was Bing’s. Cantonese with a serious overlay of Trader Vic. Gloppy sauces, lots of celery sliced on the bias, and no heat at all. Now, Cantonese-style Chinese is virtually gone, replaced by better cooks from spicier areas of China.

Grew up just south of Cleveland, 1960s-70s.

  1. Escargot. Ordered it at 12 years old at the long-defunct Theatrical Restaurant on Short Vincent Street, downtown, to general hilarity from my parents, who were surprised when I scarfed it down. Later, my uncle (a sophisticate and excellent cook) told me you could put garlic parsley butter on raw shoe leather and it would taste great.

  2. Gyros. When our high school’s music teacher and band director found out we took the bus downtown to hang out —at Kay’s Books and Prospect Music and the Arcade — He told us about a Greek coffee joint on Ontario We had to try. They served fresh slices of grilled lamb (not the weird pressed stuff you get today) on warm fresh pita with tomato, onion, and yogurt-cucumber sauce.

I grew up in an Irish-Italian neighborhood in the Bronx in the 1950s, so a lot of things were exotic. The only fast-food places were White Castle and mom-and-pop pizza parlors.

Sushi. I may have had it for the first time when we went to see Cats on Broadway in the late 1980s.

Mexican food. I don’t know when I first tried it. I didn’t have good Mexican food until I moved to Colorado in the 1970s.

Non-Cantonese Chinese food. There were lots of Chinese restaurants when I was growing up, but they only served the blandest dishes like chicken chow mien. Sichuan food was a revelation when I first tried it, maybe in the 1970s.

Squid. Even though I lived in an Italian neighborhood, this was still pretty freaky when I was growing up.

Indian food.

Gyros and other Greek food.

Cajun food. Heck, KFC was exotic.

My kids (26 & 30) talk about their early experiences with sushi. I was an “early adopter” and introduced them to nigiri, sushi, sashimi, etc at an early age. When I’d take them to a Japanese Restaurant we would be the only sushi eaters at our table, and people would be amazed. “Look at the kids eating raw fish!”

Sushi again-- when I was a kid, this was maybe early 70s, my parents went out to dinner with another couple. When they got back they told me how the other couple tried something called “sushi”, which was raw fish, in a tone of “can you believe it?” I thought, eating RAW FISH??!? Ewwww, gross!

It wasn’t until I was 21 when a girlfriend introduced me to sushi, and I loved it. Even then, the mid-80s, it was fairly exotic in the sense that you had to go to a Japanese restaurant to get it. It wasn’t until maybe 10-15 years later you could just pick some pre-made sushi up in a grocery store.

I grew up in deep south Texas. Some time in the late 80s my family went to visit an uncle in Houston and we ate at a Benihana’s. The hibachi meal and fried ice cream desert was exotic for me.

Pringles potato chips. I grew up in small town in Ohio by the Indiana border, very off the beaten path. New kid showed up with a can of Pringles in 5th grade and sold individual chips to the us kids for a nickel each. He later turned out to be one of the schools weed connections in high school.

@didi44 - what fun to read about your experiences in Hawai’i. I live on the Big Island now, but had no idea what it was like in Hawai’i in the 1970s.

For me, the “opposite” foods were exotic. I am always amused to remember a party my parents threw in the 1970s for which they served chunks of fruit on skewers, and they bought fresh mango and papaya. We all gathered round to watch my father cut the fruit as we had never seen these fresh tropical fruits before. The idea of being stunned by a papaya or mango now seems pretty hilarious.

What else? Yogurt took hold pretty quickly in the 1970s, but at first it was definitely very exotic. Another strange food that quickly caught on was pomegranate.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…olive oil. Back in the 70s (in the UK), olive oil was only available in tiny bottles in pharmacies to treat ear wax. Seems absurd to think about now.

In a similar vein - when did I learn that parmesan cheese came in a solid block rather than masquerading as sawdust in a plastic tub? Can’t even remember.

I grew up in the 60s/70s. I didn’t have a taco until I was in my later teens. I remember I was with a bunch of girls all crammed in someone’s mom’s station wagon and they wanted to stop and eat at Taco John’s. It was fairly new to our city but it wasn’t close to my neighborhood. I had no idea what was going on with a taco! I’m a picky eater now and even more picky back then. I didn’t even know what a taco shell was let alone if I should get a soft or hard shell. I thought I would be safer going with a taco burger (I don’t think they’re even around anymore). I think I had the meat and cheese only on a bun. I must not have been too impressed because I don’t remember having another taco until a few years later when they became the big thing to make at home. My mom made them and we used tostada shells instead of taco shells. My dad refused to eat one unless it was on a bun - a taco burger!

We could almost have another thread titled “Foods you were unimpressed by because you had the American version, then blown away by the real thing later in life.”

I cringe when I remember what we thought tacos were: the rigid U-shaped corn “taco shell” with cooked-until-flavorless ground beef, chunks of tomato and iceberg lettuce. Topped with shredded orange cheese (ours was always Colby, so less flavor than cheddar). So far, zero flavor, so you had to add a lot of “taco sauce” which was some homogenated spice-less tomato sauce.

Life in the Eisenhower Era of suburban middle America was peaceful, but damn it was unadventurous.


I still can taste my first real taco, from a taco truck in SF. Just the freshness and quality of the ingredients blew me away, and every single ingredient, even the tortilla, was nothing like what I’d had so far.

I grew up in Florida and my grandfather was an amazing cook. He was Cuban and we ate such good food. Most of our school friends found us odd because we ate mango and black beans and rice and yellow rice and chicken.

But my dad was from Mississippi and so we also ate butter beans and fried okra and boiled peanuts. My first taco was introduced to the dinner table by my father. It consisted of a corn tortilla, hamburger, lettuce, tomato and American cheese. Oh and mayonnaise. That’s still my preferred taco, but I do like them in more exotic ways too.

When we moved to Colorado and later to California, we couldn’t get half the foods we normally ate. It’s a lot easier now, but I still haven’t found a good source for raw peanuts to boil. I miss boiled peanuts.

Everything that wasn’t white southern cuisine was pretty exotic to me until I was about 10. When I had Mexican and Chinese for the first time I felt like I was Austin Powers, International Man Of Mystery.