I grew up Muslim in New Jersey. Southern BBQ was an exotic thing. And it wasn’t until I was a teenager when I realized Southern BBQ was very different than the “BBQ” we did on a grill.
I guess my experience is reversed. I grew up in West Africa and we had banana, mango and cashew trees in our grounds. We bought orange juice from the native women in the local market - they swiftly sliced the outer peel off and cut the top open so that we could squeeze the delicious juice straight from fruit to mouth.
Coconuts, plantains, guava, groundnuts etc, were also in plentiful supply. All this at a time when most kids my age back in England had never seen an orange or a banana.
We, however, were served up with a horrible slimy paste that was supposed to be mashed potato (made from powder). We had no apples or pears and eggs were tiny and expensive. Beef and lamb were a rare treat too a sit was all imported.
Honestly, that is a pretty exotic taco.
Well, I guess you’re right. They are delicious and now I really want one or twelve.
Never knew about sushi until the late 70s, first had some around 1980, absolutely surprised that I liked it so much.
Growing up Mexican food was rare and exotic. So was a lot of Italian food outside of spaghetti and meatballs or canned ravioli. Chinese food was pretty exotic growing up, it wasn’t unknown, just not available right where we lived until I was a teenager.
Kiwi fruit. I remember when (I was probably a teenager?), everyone was talking about this “new fruit” and trying to describe the flavor and arguing about how to eat it.
“It’s like a strawberry crossed with a honeydew melon.”
“It’s like a pear crossed with a blueberry.”
“You rub off the little hairs and eat the skin.”
“You should never eat the white part but you can eat the seeds but it’s better to spit them out.”
Pretty much none of that was true, but it was all very exciting. There were also lots of rumors about how they were created and grown. (Underground? on a bush? in a lab?)
I still have a soft spot for this style of taco – taco nights at home were fun and tasty (at least to me). I even liked our local elementary-school-lunch version, which I think were meat and cheese stuffed into the U-tortilla, then baked in the oven for a bit.
Didn’t get to try closer-to-authentic tacoes until college circa 1990.
“I grew up Muslim in New Jersey. Southern BBQ was an exotic thing. And it wasn’t until I was a teenager when I realized Southern BBQ was very different than the “BBQ” we did on a grill.”
Real smoked barbeque is still exotic or at least rare here in Hawaii. I only know of two smoked barbeque places, neither of which I’ve been to and may be gone because they cater mainly to the military.
The first time I had beef ribs was in the late 70’s from local drive-inn. It’s not smoked and the only thing that makes it barbeque is they toss it on the grill before serving. The only other barbeque ribs I’ve eaten is the pork ribs you get from the supermarket packed in a bag. I’ve never had brisket or any other barbeque goodies.
Well, what are you waiting for? And find a place that does good ribs.
My experience is that for every “exotic” food, there’s often one little joint, often hidden, run by people who grew up making it. The trick is finding it.
I have friends from Kansas City who were bemoaning the lack of good barbeque in Wisconsin, til the dad came home proclaiming “I found it! A guy at work told me about a little place behind a gas station, and I immediately took an early lunch, drove across town, and it was worth it!”
A Peruvian friend had the same reaction after discovering a food cart serving empañadas. Oh, and our favorite little tamale cart did so well they became a restaurant (but they still serve from the cart in a church parking lot on Sundays).
So ask around, someone might know where to get pierogis or laulau or stromboli or hush puppies or Skyline Chili or bratwurst or beignets or Whoopie Pies or Stuffies… or just ask “What’s the most interesting food you’ve found in this town?”
I kind of had a weird exotic food experience growing up in SW Houston (Alief) in the 70s and 80s.
The area had a very large influx of Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants in the late 70s/early 80s, so for the most part, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants were super common, and so was the food in grocery stores. I first saw Sriracha sauce when I was probably 12 or so- I remember the rooster on the bottle pretty clearly. I also wasn’t into spicy food at that point, so I didn’t try it until I was in college, I think (mid-90s).
Barbecue and Tex Mex are sort of the “foods of my people”, being a multi-generational Texan, so I grew up eating both from infancy.
Pizza and Italian food were very common as well, both takeout, eat-in and at home. And so was Cajun/Creole food in the Houston area as well- my parents didn’t like it, but my grandfather made a mean pot of gumbo, so I grew up eating that too, and branched out a little in college with dishes I hadn’t had before.
But what wasn’t common were other kinds of food- I didn’t eat Indian until I was out of college. I first had Thai when I was in college. And I think my first bratwurst was in college as well.
Sushi is probably the latest sort of “exotic” food that I had- I was probably 27 and single, and some women I knew wanted to go out for sushi, and asked me along. I wasn’t so sure, but didn’t want to look wimpy in front of them, so I decided I’d try it. Turned out that I really liked it! Part of it was that it was raw, and I had sort of an issue with that, and part was that growing up and in college, sushi bars were non-existent.
Believe it or not, Bagels. They definitely had them around me, but they weren’t common. I never saw anyone eat one in my home town. They looked like a doughnut with a rind.
Then I went away to college and discovered them at the 24 hour coffeehouse and instantly got addicted to them. I found that they couldn’t get squashed when packed into a bag and having stuff thrown on top of them, because they were already high-density Neutron Bread. So they were perfect for packing for the long train ride home.
When I took a cross-country trip by bus I made a point of getting bagels at every place I stopped. In the central US, the bagels were pretty awful, for the most part. Just ring-shaped bread, rather than true bagels. But on the Coasts you could get the Real Thing.
when I lived in Salt Lake City in the 1980s, the bagels there were still pretty awful. But there was an “international festival” there one day, and one of the foods was Bagels. “Yeah, right,” I said, having experienced SLC bagels. "No, "I was told, “They airlifted these in from New York City.” And so they had. Real NY-style bagels in Salt Lake.
I think all that’s changed now. I’ve been able to get pretty decent bagels anyplace I’ve gone.
(I think Robert Forward missed an opportunity with Dragon’s Egg – he should have revealed that the cheela were actually living on the surface of a stale bagel stuffed deep down someone’s bookbag)
I brought a college roommate home to Milwaukee for a weekend. Coming from NYC, it was the furthest west he’d ever been. So we served him Old Fashioneds and cheese curds and brats. “Omigaaah, what IS this?!?” he bellowed through a very full mouth. “That’s a bratwurst, Danno.” "Bratswursts? “Bratwurst.” "Omigaaah, I LOVE bratswursts!"
Okay, that settles it. Brats for supper, from the local meat market. Boil them a little, in onions and cheap beer (just long enough to smell up the house), then onto the grill, then back in the beer ‘n’ onion broth.
Just how old are you? Bananas and oranges were always widely available in the UK, except in wartime.
Instant mashed potato?
The UK version. But bear in mind that the big cities, and especially London, had “ethnic” shops that only turned up in the provinces somewhat later. When I was young, and even when I moved to London for my first job, I was amazed at what was available. The shops run by Indians and Jamaicans were a source of wonder.
Fruit has greatly increased in variety. In the later Sixties we occasionally had a fresh pineapple, which was very expensive. Now they are everywhere, and cheap. Since I have lived outside the UK since 1980, and was in Asia, I encountered many things that had seemed exotic before, and which turned up in Europe before I returned in 1994. Things like sushi and non-Cantonese Chinese cuisine. Thai and similar cuisines.
These days just about any kind of fruit can be found in the supermarkets. Even in Poland, in a small town.
Mexican food is still somewhat exotic in the UK, there are very few restaurants, which is odd, as I would have thought it would be very popular. Even McDonald’s was exotic when it arrived, the string fires being a revelation. Considering what the British had done with hamburgers before, McDonalds was a huge improvement.
In the UK Indian food is not exotic, it’s a staple.
From visits to Germany I had known about Turkish and Greek food, and was amused to see gyros and doner make their appearance in the Nineties. One thing that amused me when I was trekking in Nepal in 1994 was a restaurant with an international menu. But, try as they could, tortillas, chapattis, nan bread and pizza all came out much the same.
Yeah, they’re a thing. I probably ate instant mashed potatoes twice a week growing up. Mashing real potatoes was a task reserved for holiday meals.
The funny thing is that it was not my first German-type sausage by far. Nor Czech or Polish either. We’ve got lots of those here in Texas. But for some reason, the bratwurst wasn’t ever part of the piece of Texas cuisine developed by German immigrants in the 19th century.
Which makes it all the more peculiar that Mexican food wouldn’t be more popular. It’s not that far apart in a lot of ways (convergent evolution I suppose), in that it’s got a lot of the same spices, just in different proportions, flatbreads, sauces, etc…
I just thought of another one. I had my first avocado when I went to Florida on spring break in 1970 to stay with the family of a dorm mate from Venezuela.
I first had Thai and Vietnamese food when I moved to Washington DC in the late 1980s.
Despite having grown up in New York, I don’t think I had bagels until I was in college.
There’s an episode of “The Simpsons” from one of the early seasons, where they go out to a sushi restaurant, and it’s considered to be this big, special, exotic outing. And then Homer winds up eating some poisoned fish and spends the rest of the episode thinking he’s going to die.