"Exotic" foods from your childhood that are common now

Yes, I went to England '79 & '80 to a family in a language course and me and the other Spaniards were amazed that no olive oil was used at all. The cooking was pretty awful, the families that took us under their wings did it for money, so they fed us cheap. But oil (probably sunflower) in a spray bottle to moist the pan for frying the eggs was astonishing. Not what the OP is asking for, not exotic. Just appalling. As were the cucumber sandwiches, the one salad leaf sandwiches, the backed beans sandwiches and the mayonnaise sandwiches.
As for exotic things that are common now: avocado, mango, papaya. Sushi has already been mentioned several times.

We didn’t eat out much. My parents loved exotic food, though. So I was introduced to lots of spicy stuff early.

My mother makes about ten things extremely well - we usually ate those. I still make many of those same recipes (but haven’t for a while. You’ve made me hungry). Otherwise, Mom was a very mediocre cook. In fact, from an early age, I was encouraged to make my own food rather than complain - and did so. I often cooked for the family once a bit older.

The mediocre things included Shake & Bake, boxed pizza and off-brand canned hams (like Klik and Swift - not the hoity toity fancy gourmet Spam). The good stuff were recipes my mother learned in university - and would still be considered somewhat unique and exotic today. Her two best recipes I have never had anywhere else!

If we went out for food, it was for spicy Rogan Josh with chappatti or pappadoms. Or spicy Szechuan shrimp served in a bowl made out of potato shavings you could eat! We were among the first and most loyal customers when a Vietnamese place finally opened. I once thought all Chinese food was Szechuan and still prefer this region. No longer such a fan of edible bowls, but that was a novelty I didn’t see again for decades).

They taste very different (also things like tomatoes, corn, and cheese are used very differently). As a South Asian, I never thought Mexican food was akin to South Asian cuisine.

I’d add fried bread. It’s great. Not very popular in Canada as it is very unctuous.

Our high school Spanish class went on a field trip to the new restaurant in town: Taco Bell. We had to order in Spanish. The Canadian gringos who worked there no me entendieron nada. Surprisingly, the Canadian fast food workers spoke no Spanish back then. Now you hear it frequently here.

When I was a kid, tacos were an exotic food. You bought a taco “kit” which was the shells, a seasoning packet, and some sauce packets. You fried up some ground beef, mixed in the seasoning, and then added the sauce and stuff like shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.

I was a teenager the first time I ate a calzone. I was visiting relatives in downstate NY and they ordered some from a local pizza place. It was considered to be something exotic enough that you needed an explanation of what a calzone was.

I can remember having bagels a few times when I was young. But they were definitely considered to be unusual.

Yogurt was still kind of unusual when I was a kid but my brother and I loved it so we ate it pretty often.

I never had sushi or guacamole until I was an adult. I never ate an avocado until I was around thirty.

Some people have talked about never eating real mashed potatoes when they were young. I was the opposite; we ate mashed potatoes all the time and they were always made from potatoes. I don’t think I ever ate instant potatoes until I was an adult and I could probably count the number of times I have on one hand.

I drink a lot of seltzer, which was always readily available in New York. But I can remember visiting Texas thirty years ago and it was very rare down there. It was not something most stores even carried and the few that did would usually only have a few cans of it.

A bit of a hijack but the person we in the US most have to thank for introducing us to kiwifruit died earlier this year. Her name was Frieda Caplan and as a produce distributor, she introduced a couple hundred produce items to American markets, including jicama, blood oranges, guavas, shallots, Belgian endive, red seedless grapes, passion fruit, star fruit and jackfruit as well as kiwifruit.

The ‘instant mash’ that we had was called POM and it had no similarity to any post 50s instant mash. No cows out there so no fresh milk (mother wouldn’t have goats) so we had KLIM, which was okay in tea at least.

On the upside, we grew up as free-range kids in a place where no one had concerns about allowing a 6yo with his 10yo sister to walk miles to the beach through jungle and African villages and then beg a lift from any European willing to drive us home.

I just wish to congratulate you on using the word ‘unctuous’ to describe a foodstuff and not a mannerism/behavior. I’m impressed.

Hell, I’m impressed by its use in either context.

But now I guess I’m being unctuous . . .

Not only is the word mellifluous, but it is quite concordant - even cromulent.

Add sour cream and that was what our table looked like for tacos growing up. However, I’d spice up my own with Louisiana hot sauce, a cayenne & vinegar sauce that’s all wrong for tacos. It was one of my favorites.

There’s also the spice rack with eight (!) spices. Ore-eh-GAH-no, what the hell?

That’s the rub (no pun intended). How would I know a good smoked barbeque from a bad one? The only reason I know the ones I’ve tried aren’t the real thing is because they don’t look like what I see on TV and don’t elicit that moment of pure joy I see?

LOL, that brought back to that secret something that made Woolworths pizza so great. Oregano? What’s that? The only thing on my Mom’s spice/herb rack was bay leaves!

As I recall, Woolworths pizza was tomato sauce out the can, mozzarella and that secret stuff! Make it at home? How is that possible???

I just looked at my mother’s spice rack, which I saved. It has eight spices:


This said, although she was Irish my mother made a great spaghetti sauce that used oregano, bay leaves, and lots of garlic. She made terrific meatballs and eggplant parmigiana too.

Do you think she used a lot of those? I wouldn’t know what to do with powdered/ground ginger. And having never used it before, I only bought some clove powder last year for a Mexican chile verde recipe variant.

You want to look for a place that has limited hours, like only on weekends or a sign in the window that says “We close when we run out of meat.” Ask if they use plates or butcher paper. Can you smell them from blocks away?

I don’t recall her making it very often, but believe it or not people used to make gingerbread and ginger cookies from scratch. And she used whole cloves all the time when she baked a ham. (And it would have been whole cloves in the rack, not clove powder.)

Ditto in New York. The only Chinese restaurant we went to was Cantonese, with one one from Column A two from Column B ordering. This was the late '50s. And that was exotic if you weren’t Jewish.

Growing up then, nearly everything we eat today would be exotic. I didn’t see a McDonald’s until I was in college. No sushi until a sushi place opened near work (and nearer to home) in the early '80s. My first “Japanese” food was Sukiyaki at the NY World’s Fair. No jalapenos until my college roommate from Texas introduced us to them.
Bagels we had, though.

LOL. Thanks for the tip, but a search for barbeque (not Asian) on Oahu, where I live brings up two places. One is a takeover from another place and the second is a food wagon that’s only open on weekends and is probably gone because of the lack of tourists. Apparently the second place that I was thinking of, which I know only because I saw their signs before is probably gone.

I do and I don’t understand all the hate for Cantonese food. I understand because it’s not as spicy and for some, flavorful, but on the other hand I don’t understand because Cantonese food focuses on the natural flavors of the ingredients like Japanese food. BTW, I’m Okinawan/Japanese.

I’m trying to figure out how to make a good Cantonese brown gravy, that ubiquitous slightly bland sauce used over a lot of Cantonese dishes, that enhances, but doesn’t overwhelm the flavors of the ingredients.

It’s not just that it’s Cantonese food, it’s that 50 years ago all that was available in much of the US was the blandest and least adventurous version of that cuisine. I’m sure that there are many very nice dishes, it’s just that most restaurants were limited to chicken/pork/beef chow mien and fried rice. I was probably in college before I even had lo mien.

My mother used to make chow mien, which would be fried celery, onions, and leftover chicken, with cans of bean sprouts, water chestnuts, and maybe bamboo shoots tossed in. It would be served over white rice and crispy La Choy noodles from a can with lots of soy sauce. I loved it!