What are foods that made you say, "Where have you been my whole life?!"
May 4, 2022 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Looking for dishes (probably from a cuisine different from what you grew up with) that blew your mind when you first tried them. Foods with flavor combos/serving formats/cooking methods/etc that made you realize the world of food is bigger than you ever imagined.

I'm NOT looking for an awesome dish at a specific restaurant, or a particularly amazing version of XYZ, or your favorite meal a family member makes. Also not looking for specific ingredients--I want dishes/snacks/entrees/desserts/meals. This is probably something from a cuisine you didn't grow up with and therefore may have been new to you at the time, but is completely mundane for many others in this world (so...this is all totally relative and personal). A couple dishes that fall in this category for me: pani puri, chongqing chicken, and shiro wot. Also Funyuns.
posted by dede to Food & Drink (141 answers total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
Pad thai (having never had any East Asian cuisine other than Chinese), ma po tofu (having never had Szechuan Chinese and experiencing the peppercorns), kitfo (it's raw meat! But it's also not JUST raw meat!)

Swedish salted licorice--hated it, but it was definitely mind-expanding.

As a very small child, a thick-cut steak (my mother sensibly bought the cheaper cuts but I didn't realize that meat could taste that full).
posted by kingdead at 7:06 PM on May 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

Garlicky beet salad with yogurt and walnuts

I dream of this dish.
posted by meese at 7:11 PM on May 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

Larb. I ate a fair bit of Thai food growing up, but never larb. Now it's the main way I judge the quality of a Thai restaurant. The crispy meat texture plus the aromatics of the herbs, with a good bit of sour for good measure, and enough spice to break a bit of sweat, is truly delightful.
posted by coffeecat at 7:12 PM on May 4, 2022 [11 favorites]

Falafel, hummus, grape leaves (dolmades?), labneh, tzatziki, tabbouleh, lentils. Completely different from what I grew up eating and some of my favorite foods.
posted by VyanSelei at 7:12 PM on May 4, 2022 [8 favorites]

The first time I had Navajo fry bread as a kid at a friend's family party it blew my mind with how ridiculously delicious it was. Totally different than the fried dough they sold at the local Italian Festival.

Also at another friend's house I had New England Crab Boil. The recipe I linked to serves it in the pot but my friend's mom just dumped the whole mountain of food onto the middle of the (newspaper covered) table and everyone dove in. It was totally wild to me. Also delicious.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 7:14 PM on May 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Pho and chili crab! I grew up Latino in Queens, NY and was introduced to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and even Thai very early. It wasn’t until adulthood that I tried Vietnamese or Singaporean cuisine (in the latter case, not until I visited Singapore).
posted by ejs at 7:16 PM on May 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Oh, and...

Khatchapuri (cheese and egg cooked in a bread boat)

Mujadara (spiced lentils, rice, and caramelized onions)
posted by meese at 7:17 PM on May 4, 2022 [11 favorites]

Unadon. It's fish, but also fatty? Blew my mind.
posted by Quonab at 7:19 PM on May 4, 2022

Cambodian Fried rice.

Custard based Ice Cream like that you get from Ritters in the US. Completely changed what I thought Ice Cream was, Australia has many great foods but boy did we miss out in the Ice Cream stakes.
posted by wwax at 7:19 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Hot (temperature) sushi. I only found out last summer that such a thing exists.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:20 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

The first time I had an avocado I was so amazed I listed it as a life event on Facebook.
posted by bleep at 7:22 PM on May 4, 2022 [24 favorites]

Not a standalone "food" per se, but Chinese black vinegar is a wonder condiment. I use it on french fries now instead of malt vinegar and it is amazing.

Classic American thai spicy basil noodles with tofu.
posted by theweasel at 7:22 PM on May 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

Fiddlehead ferns. It's like.. crunchy seaweed plus anchovies? How!!

Heirloom tomatoes with fresh basil, buffalo mozzarella and real balsamic vinegar.
posted by lloquat at 7:23 PM on May 4, 2022 [13 favorites]

Chana masala and samosas. I know neither are particularly unknown but they've both become such comfort foods for me. I know chana masala is kind of a "basic" dish in a lot of ways but whenever I try a new restaurant with that on the menu, that's what I try first. If that's good, everything else is likely good. Samosas are a perfect food.

Also, pupusas. They're also perfect.

Good falafel is a revelation, definitely. Every place does it a bit differently and I love that.

Vegetarian Chinese is also incredible. I'm a vegetarian so I'm biased and I don't really remember meat but eating good veggie Chinese ... why would I even want to eat meat ever again?
posted by edencosmic at 7:26 PM on May 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

I was 6, but the first time I had dim sum was like this. The carts! The abundance! The shrimp dumplings! The spareribs! I still love dim sum.

First time eating an artichoke, or a lobster, or roast duck.
posted by shadygrove at 7:29 PM on May 4, 2022 [14 favorites]

posted by JackBurden at 7:34 PM on May 4, 2022 [17 favorites]

Pizza with only pineapple and onion on it.

Fried eggs laid on a thin layer of honey.

Tuna sandwich with pickle.

Aloo gobi.


Paella cooked in a stone oven.

Spanish tortilla.

A masterfully made martini.
posted by dobbs at 7:34 PM on May 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

OMG the Greek fish roe spread taramasalata. Encountered it at a Greek restaurant in my 20s and now order it every time I see it on a menu. Drooling just thinking of it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:37 PM on May 4, 2022 [10 favorites]

Samosa chaat! The yummiest.
posted by humbug at 7:38 PM on May 4, 2022 [8 favorites]

Trinidadian roti. I had it for the first time at age 25, still a super favourite. Curry wrapped in a flakey flat bread - such a beautiful combination.
posted by jb at 7:38 PM on May 4, 2022 [6 favorites]

Coming back in but meese mentioned mujadara and that reminded me of koshary. The world's seemingly most generic ingredients apart, delicious together.
posted by kingdead at 7:40 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Bubble tea / milk tea
posted by A Blue Moon at 7:40 PM on May 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

First time trying sushi. And also a properly made ratatouille at Le Diplomate way too late in the evening.
posted by credulous at 7:40 PM on May 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Pierogies and butter tarts.
posted by Kris10_b at 7:43 PM on May 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

OMG the Greek fish roe spread taramasalata.

Maybe not possible where you live, but I've been generally able to find this at Greek/Mediterranean grocery stores, refrigerated in jars. A treat that doesn't need to be limited to restaurant visits! It's also really easy to make if you have a blender + buy the roe in a jar.
posted by coffeecat at 7:44 PM on May 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

The first time I had Jamón ibérico pata negra (de bellota) I didn't want to eat anything else but that for the rest of the day.

Amarena cherries - on ice cream, as a drinks garnish, on a Dutch baby, or just straight from the jar

sea urchin

chicken liver mousse with pickled onions on toast
posted by theory at 7:47 PM on May 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

Gochujang, an ingredient in a lot of Korean food, has this rich, mellow burn that I remember experiencing as new and exciting.
posted by less-of-course at 7:51 PM on May 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

A really properly made banh mi from a storefront in SF’s Little Saigon neighborhood did this for me about 20 years ago. Now I can make one almost as good.
posted by sesquipedalia at 7:54 PM on May 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

When I was in Cancun, I had molletes for breakfast every chance I got. Refried beans and cheese on toast, for breakfast?! I hate eggs so this was a filling breakfast miracle for me.
posted by jenjenc at 7:55 PM on May 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

Panzanella -- Italian bread salad.
posted by NotLost at 7:56 PM on May 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

posted by NotLost at 7:56 PM on May 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

White person from the northern midwest. I remember having my mind blown growing up by wild blueberries, fresh crabs, my first really good ripe mango, broccoli stir-fried rather than boiled, turnip cake, and lobster bisque. As a teen or adult I've got vivid memories of the first time I ate crayfish, sea urchin, cured herring, pacaya, really good sheeps-milk feta, ginger juice as a beverage, toum, and red-cooked pork belly.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:56 PM on May 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Steak from a local farm, blue, Melbourne Australia, February 2001.
I was an infrequent carnivore, and had never eaten red meat prepared anything but well done.
I am still a very infrequent carnivore, but I treasure the memory of that silky and viscerally (pun intended!) exciting meal as a gastronomical and delicious memento mori.
posted by minervous at 7:57 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

A homegrown tomato sliced onto toasted whole grain bread with Duke's mayonnaise, salt & pepper. Also massaman curry, torrone, pulut durian, iskender kebab, kimchi fried rice, chilaquiles, mango lassi, gua bao, lychee shaved ice, curry goat, leek and potato soup, yukgaejang with knife-cut noodles, tana tibs, halvah, guava empanadas, pickled grapes, pide, mutabal, key lime pie, cubanos, and Tank Boy ice pops.
posted by notquitemaryann at 7:58 PM on May 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

Went to Thailand in my mid 20s having not ever heard about Thai food. Lot of highlights but my fondest memory is a street vendor's Laotian style sticky rice with a freshly made slaw of lime juice, chilies, possibly mango and something like shredded cucumber. My world stopped.
posted by brachiopod at 7:59 PM on May 4, 2022 [10 favorites]

Just lately I learned about and cannot stop making Çılbır, which also completely changed my egg-poaching game - see the video. In its base form, just poached eggs in a garlicky yogurt, it tastes like so much more than it is, and it's great as part of a table of graze-y bread-dip-y foods or just it by itself or to pull together random leftovers.

A dish that was called "boreka" when we first had it at a stall at the LA Farmer's Market in the Fairfax area, the word boreka means a bunch of different things, but in form was most recognizable as Khachapuri with sunny-side eggs.

This was a life-changing dish that I had at a specific restaurant (mentioned in the link as well, I think it was just a family recipe that restaurant made): Chicken Frarej. Chicken, salt and pepper, tomatoes and potatoes, garlic and onions, LOTS of lemons and a TON of olive oil (like roughly a cup and a quarter between the two, and that's before the chicken and tomatoes give up their liquid). I have used every kind of chicken, added vegetables, made it a day in advance and then used some of the copious cooking juices to make rice the next night (yeah, potatoes and rice, more to soak up that lemon chicken tomato broth). It's just stunning. I now use a giant high-sided half-sheet pan and roast the potatoes separately (if I bother with them; see rice above) so there is MORE ROOM in the pan for tomatoes. And because of the cooking time, you can use the saddest palest winter romas and they still roast up delicious.

I had a real salmon journey in my life. I grew up only familiar with the canned kind. Went to be an exchange student in Sweden and and learned about lox and gravlax and my host dad (who worked on the SE-DK megaferries) just casually bringing entire sides of Atlantic salmon when he came home from work, and poached salmon served in the high school cafeteria. But I never learned to cook it right after I got back, until some years later I had another life-changing experience of learning to eat it raw as sushi and sashimi, and finally it clicked that you should only barely cook salmon or it turns into nasty fish floss. Salmon - pretty much all fish - wants a light light hand. You can roast, poach, air fry, pan sear, butter-baste, steam, pouch, grill, put it on a hot rock, sous vide, or float it in a baggie in an onsen but just DON'T overcook it. And in North America unless you're catching it yourself all fish is frozen to kill parasites, so you can't really endanger yourself eating any common fish basically rare.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:04 PM on May 4, 2022 [9 favorites]

Real truffle. Great aged parmesan.

Broccoli, when I first had it stir fried. My parents were of the school that streamed it to the consistency of vile bags of puss.

I'd say pho but I've been eating it literally longer than I can remember so definitely not a where have you been all my life.
posted by Candleman at 8:05 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Dry farmed early girl tomatoes.
posted by soleiluna at 8:07 PM on May 4, 2022 [6 favorites]

Indian food
Ethiopian food

artichoke was my first, when I was about 8.
posted by bendy at 8:08 PM on May 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

I very vividly remember the first time I had bacon as a child - at a breakfast buffet, and after that I wanted to have nothing else on my plate. Also green onion pancakes (cong you bing). I was a very picky eater as a child, so there were a lot of things I was exposed to but refused to eat until I was older, at which point I was like, "I could have had this all along?!"
posted by btfreek at 8:11 PM on May 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

I’m vegetarian now, but chicken tikka masala. Basically all Indian food. And Thai curry. And unagi. Nom nom
posted by gt2 at 8:13 PM on May 4, 2022

Fried chicken with waffles and maple syrup.

Raw jalapenos in pico de gallo - had avoided spicy peppers my whole life and then had some by accident and was instantly hooked.

A Mai Tai in a tiki bar in Kauai. I had always turned up my nose at the idea of a Mai Tai but when made well, holy smokes are they good.
posted by happy_cat at 8:14 PM on May 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Indian food, anything from basic tikka masala sauce to more complex flavors. Ras malai dessert. Anything with cardamom.


Bacon (I'm Jewish).

Avocado WITH SALT AND LIME/LEMON JUICE (I only tried it on its own before).


Ethiopian food (again with the saucy spicy flavors).
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 8:15 PM on May 4, 2022

Mussels in broth with white wine and butter.

Oyster shooters.
posted by nayantara at 8:20 PM on May 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Definitely nigiri -- honestly sometimes I STILL run into nigiri or sashimi that makes me expand the walls of my universe all over again, and I've been eating sushi regularly for 30 years.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:23 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

OH FUCK escargot
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:23 PM on May 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

There are very few Indonesian restaurants in the cities I've lived, but a great beef rendang dish I recently had at a restaurant in Amsterdam reminded me of the first time I had a great doro wat dish at an Ethiopian restaurant (on some teff-heavy injera, probably accompanied by some combo of misir wat, kik alicha, or shiro, though I don't recall): a mix of textures and flavors that just left me thinking "ah, that's what I've been missing."

Also, honorable mention to the first vindaloo I had, which was the first curry I ever tried. I didn't eat anything remotely spicy at all until after college, really. I'd moved abroad and while embroiled in an endless search for affordable housing, I took to going to the nearest restaurant I could find at whatever random U-Bahn stop I was at in those pre-Google-Maps days, as a way to explore the city and maintain my morale. At some point I ended up at an Indian restaurant and figured "lamb and potatoes, sure, I can do that" (my family's very Irish-American so the ingredients looked a little less unfamiliar... at least on paper.) It took like 2+ hours to eat that meal because I had to keep taking breaks, but it really did open an entirely new world of flavors and foods and cuisines for me.
posted by ASF Tod und Schwerkraft at 8:32 PM on May 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

I just remembered several just pure *head asplodes* food experiences:

Mole, like the Yucatecan dark chocolate chile type
Fresh pasta for the first time

And just recently: we had pizza with bacon and blue cheese drizzled with hot honey. Holy shit.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:32 PM on May 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

This is going to sound ridiculous... [shrug]

Somewhere along the line, prior to high school, I discovered pickled beets. LOVE them. They taste like candy to me.

Beets were never, ever anything I had growing up in my home. About five years ago, a coworker was preparing beets at work. I'd never had non-pickled beets, so I tried them.

And that was when I discovered that the taste I loved wasn't the PICKLED part, but the BEET part.

Mind blown.
posted by stormyteal at 8:38 PM on May 4, 2022 [15 favorites]

All time unique food combo.
Mango and Sticky rice
Perfectly ripe, sweet juicy mango served over slightly sweet and salty coconut rice. Blew my mind.
A second experience was my first time eating edamame as a child. Plump and buttery steamed soybeans sprinkled with flaky salt that you pop in your mouth. This was decades before ubiquity in the US, but I still love it.
posted by gryphonlover at 8:39 PM on May 4, 2022 [10 favorites]

SO MANY things but most recently lemon pickle, goddamn. I could've ate the whole jar right there.
posted by jameaterblues at 8:47 PM on May 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

One is the sweet lemongrass flavor of Thai tom kha soup. It's really unlike anything else, especially when combined with the other tangy-savory flavors of this soup.

The other is the "numbing spice" common in Szechuan food. I literally had never even heard of it until I was in China a few years back and was served snack peanuts with numbing peppercorns mixed in. My mouth was burning and freezing and tingling all at the same time! I thought I was having a reaction. But then I tested it out more and holy cow, it's amazing and totally unique. Really difficult to describe and absolutely worth seeking out.

Remarkably, shortly after that a fairly genuine Szechuan place opened up like two blocks from my place and they put numbing pepper in a lot of their stuff.

Oh, and I recently found out I love spicy radish kimchi — it's fizzy!..? But smells unbelievably strong.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:56 PM on May 4, 2022 [7 favorites]

The first time I had an Indian food was at an event in college and they had run out of everything but rice and naan. I was absolutely blown away! I didn't know rice could taste that good (or any way other than super bland).

Similar positive experience with pad thai as others have mentioned.
posted by Gravel at 9:08 PM on May 4, 2022

I never tasted sushi til college. When I did I was just delighted to be experiencing a flavor palette that was completely new to me. Raw fish, wasabi, roe, all of it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:35 PM on May 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

real spaghetti carbonara in Rome. I never ate swine growing up so the flavor of guanciale with the pecorino and egg was totally new to me.... blew my mind.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:36 PM on May 4, 2022

first time trying mole, at a Mexican restaurant in Costa Rica. Totally unfamiliar flavor combination to me. So complicated and delicious.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:38 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

last night I was served a grilled fish dish that involved roasted lemon slices, like I think it was the whole slice with the peel and everything, just cut small. Incredible!
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:39 PM on May 4, 2022

nasi goreng in Indonesia. Simple and homey, flavors not unfamiliar, but combined in a different way than I'd experienced. Loved it so much I ordered it every time we stopped to eat.

I tried to recreate it at home, but finding kecap manis was tricky and it never tasted the same anyway. Someday I'll get back to Indonesia.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:43 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Kunefe/knafeh. The combination of sweet + cheese + crunch was downright revelatory.
posted by un petit cadeau at 9:48 PM on May 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

My family were not the most adventurous eaters so I still remember the first time I had a soft taco (it was from Del Taco! It was still life-changing!), and pizza. Guacamole was also a revelation.

Then, in college: sushi, Thai food, Indian food, falafel. In the last few years: liangpi noodles, shakshuka.

Also, oddly, I recently had oat bran for the first time and I like it so much better than oatmeal, I feel like I've been cheated all my life with all that bland, non-bran filler :/
posted by estherbester at 9:52 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Ahhhhh so many overlaps of delight with fellow MeFites!

my first…
Masuman curry (how could peanuts and coconut milk and ONIONS go together!?!)
fresh apricot
ripe garden tomato with salt and balsamic drizzled over it
blood orange
avocado, which came smashed up with lime and salt
scallion pancake with soy sauce
linzer cookies (made by a legit bakery)
soondubu (homemade, with beef, with an egg cracked in to soft-boil just before eating)
fried tofu and yamyongkanjang
ricotta gnocchi with crisp fennel-y sausage bits clinging to the sides
pupusas, with giant piles of fresh cabbage pickle
Szechuan peppercorns (buzz buzz buzz - chewing on some while separating a pile of hulls from seeds with a trimmed MetroCard, like a weed dealer)
escargot in a tomato broth (so tender!)
DAL BHAT WITH GUNDRUK AND GREEN MANGO PICKLE AHHHHHGGGGGGH (I could eat this every day for the rest of my life)
wild honey (straight from the drunk guy who just climbed a tree to harvest it from a hollow log)
tegabino, studded with slivers of raw garlic
shatteringly-flaky croissant

I have to stop for now, but this question and everyone’s answers are bringing me SO MUCH JOY
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 9:59 PM on May 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

Back in the nineties salmon roe sushi absolutely blew my tiny mind. The way they pop with just the right pressure, the richness of the flavor inside and how it coats the tongue, and the pairing with balanced sushi rice - rice, but it sticks together!! and doesn’t taste bland! and a nori wrap with the echoing tear and burst of biting through it into the rice… Really emblematic of my favorite principles of Japanese cuisine, now that I think about it.

There have been many foods like this throughout my life. I struggle with feeling like life is worth living, and have done since I was about eleven years old. For the longest time my most successful way to dig myself out of wanting to not be alive was to focus on a food I either had had and how it made me feel like existing was worth the hassle, or a food I hadn’t had yet and how I needed to stick around at least until I could. For a while my coping food was fresh mangosteen, which only recently became something you can find in the US because it’s super annoying to grow and ships mediocrely. I picked it knowing there weren’t any to be had for years and years, unless I flew all the way to Asia, specifically to give me an unattainable goal and keep myself around. Luckily I was able to get some care and develop better coping mechanisms and also I just grew up and was able to make my own choices and examine my priorities and stuff, so I haven’t had that particular issue in a while now. But I remember a few years back I saw a fresh mangosteen in the grocery store and I had this huge moment of holy shit, I could buy that fruit, and eat it, and… then what??? And then I decided not to buy it and move on. When I was in Japan in 2018 I deliberately avoided them on a fruit platter, too. Weird, the way these things turn around on you.

Anyway that was a bunch of way too personal info but I guess it’s sharing time. Here are some other foods that made me feel like living is worth the hassle and humanity is inventive and great actually:

- Raw Atlantic scallops served on ice with a smoked vinegar dipping sauce, at a kind of old fashioned restaurant in Prague. Insane, incredible. Creamy, sweet, cold, smokey, sharp, briny, decadent, but balanced.

- The first time I had a mango lassi, I kept taking a sip, making a face, trying to decide if I liked it or not, and having another sip, and another… I finished the whole thing but still hadn’t decided if it was good or not. So tangy and bright and unexpected to me at the time. Really expanded my mind about the flavors of Indian food, which I’d had very little of then.

- Momos. Imagine, it’s Boston, it’s shit ice and frozen rain and friggin January and it’s dark and everything sucks and everything is wet and cold and the world is a loveless pit of townie catcallers and cars that drive through puddles on the curb and splash you and you just want to incinerate every pile of dirty snow with eyeball laser beams and finally you decide to stop by this Tibetan place you thought looked interesting back in the fall when things weren’t so grim. So it’s golden and warm inside, with colorful decorations, but you have no friggin clue what anything on the menu is, and neither does your friend you asked to come meet you there. The waiter speaks okay English but ironically seems to have trouble with food words, so descriptions are hard - he is the owner’s son, it’s a family joint apparently. So you order the thing the waiter says is the most popular dish. Variety momo dumplings. Are they filled? Are they like a pelmini? Are they spicy? Is there a sauce? Oh my god. They are the best damn stuffed dumpling imaginable. Apparently the cook fills them with love and human kindness and all the sun that gets sucked out of Boston in the winter time. So soft and round to hold, so tender, so lovingly shaped and displayed with triumph in a billow of warm steam with colorful sauces. I later learned that momos are one of those things that everyone makes differently and they are widespread throughout the world, really. I’ve never had others quite like those first ones, and that restaurant had closed by the time I moved away, but I always recommend that someone order the momo if they’re on the menu.
posted by Mizu at 10:05 PM on May 4, 2022 [15 favorites]

Banh bot chien
posted by hanov3r at 10:13 PM on May 4, 2022

The first time I had soup dumplings was a revelation. The dumplings were so chewy and soft but also springy, and then that impossibly savory broth!! I swear I’ve been chasing the high of those first soup dumplings ever since. Luckily I had them just a few years before their popularity exploded across the US.

Having pho for the first time was similar. Such a simple dish, but the complex broth blew my mind.
posted by lunasol at 10:15 PM on May 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

I feel this way about tequila.
After years as a teetotaler, I decided I would try different alcoholic drinks to see if I was missing anything. The one that was most astonishing to me was (and still is) tequila. I've still never had anything that tastes even remotely like it, and I love the combination of smoke, tang, earth, spice, warmth, sweet, and bitter. Extremely palate-expanding stuff for me.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:16 PM on May 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Iman Bayildi -- I was a teen or young adult, and my gran tried to make it from a ladies magazine, after she had visited Turkey. It wasn't really close to what it should be, I know now, but my mind was still blown. A vegetarian dish so rich and filling and happy-making!?!?! Next came eggplant parmigiana (Italian style), I don't remember where I had it the first time, but that led to years of experimentation before the internet and reliable Italian recipes. And then to end this trio: Fish Fragrant Eggplants. This was a couple of years ago. Maybe one of the most delicious things on the planet. Yes, I really love eggplants/aubergines. I have two in the kitchen right now, and can't choose how to cook them for tonight (as part of an appetizer/antipasti spread). But I didn't realize their full potential until that first Imam Bayildi.
It's also lovely to see my adult children's boyfriends have their minds blown, since they grew up in less veggie forward households.
I also love Dim Sum, but I don't remember when was the first time.
And doogh. So refreshing, and once even life-saving.
posted by mumimor at 10:18 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Roman-style pizza (cut in rectangles) was beyond delicious, I could not fathom how fluffy and tasty it was but it didn't taste like wonderbread, it was extremely high quality wheat and semolina. I'm not a huge pizza eater and have never met a pizza I liked in the US despite being born and growing up here, but the only time I ever have loved it was when I was in Milan. Italian food is just gorgeous and reminds me of Chinese food so much in its artfulness of preparation and quality of ingredients.

Duck blood curd in Chongqing mala hot pot is my other favorite, along with maoxuewang. Duck blood curd has a texture that is even more silky and ethereal than the softest silken tofu, with just the right amount of bounce, and a deeply savory but lightly floral flavor that is deeply nutritious.
posted by yueliang at 10:26 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

(As another note - unfortunately because duck blood curd is so hard to come by, a lot of restaurants swap it out with pork blood curd, which is completely different. (Sometimes they even flat out lie on the menu and that is extremely irritating for me as a consumer...) Pork blood curd is much firmer and harder in texture, not really silky, is chalky when overcooked, and also a different color.)
posted by yueliang at 10:32 PM on May 4, 2022

Romesco sauce.
Real chai while visiting Nepal.
Hibiscus tea/juice.
Coffee ice cream (I didn't like the flavor of coffee at all for years, then tried coffee ice cream as an adult and am now a coffee fan in all forms).
But honestly, the biggest food revelations in my life have been my (infrequent) experiences visiting farms/gardens and getting to help pick and eat food fresh from the fields - as a city kid, I never really knew what real fresh fruit and veggies tasted like.
posted by sleepingwithcats at 10:34 PM on May 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Pizza al taglio is the proper name for it, apologies!
posted by yueliang at 10:36 PM on May 4, 2022

the first time I tried really high-quality dark (like 70%) chocolate. The evolution of flavors was incredible. That's where I learned that chocolate wasn't only a "candy" for stuff-your-mouth quick enjoyment, but that you could savor just a little bit over a long time.

Also, from 2 different parts of the world, Speculoos (or as we call it "crack in a jar") and Kaya which I discovered in Malaysia.
posted by alchemist at 10:52 PM on May 4, 2022

A lot of West African dishes use soumbala as a flavoring ingredient. It's very hard to describe the taste. I suppose the closest I can think of is fermented soybeans but even that isn't close.

Baobab sauce made with soumbala might be the most eye opening thing I've eaten in terms of unfamiliar texture and flavor. (At least of the things that I can name.)

To, fufu, and atteke weren't as unfamiliar, but they were eye-opening in the sense that they were new staple foods, which I encountered after I'd already had the noodles, rices, breads, etc. I also crave them more than I crave baobab sauce (sorry baobab sauce).
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:09 PM on May 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Babi pedis, an Indonesia dish with spicy pork.
posted by neushoorn at 11:53 PM on May 4, 2022

The way Western European palate combined sweet fruit jam with an animal protein. The last time this really delighted me is my friend's aunt's homemade sandwiches we ate in Milan, and it's just tuna with a bit of mayo and fig jam.

On that note, combining a nice sharp cheese with any kind of sambal (maybe sambal oelek is the most known outside of southeast asia).
posted by cendawanita at 1:03 AM on May 5, 2022

Stroopwafel softened over coffee
Mangoes. One of the greatest birthday presents I ever had was a fresh sliced mango in Florida.
Homemade samosas, which are both the same and very different to what you usually get in supermarkets. Also, through the medium of FB I have discovered that lots of people randomly make and sell them.
Long Island Iced Tea, which a my gateway cocktail and is still my favourite.
posted by plonkee at 1:19 AM on May 5, 2022

Yes, at my local grocery store, it's the owner's wife who makes samosas and delivers them every day at 11 AM. They are so completely different from the industrial stuff, it's like a different food that should have a different name.
posted by mumimor at 2:28 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Turnip cake (lo bak go).

Szechuan mouthwatering chicken. The first time I ate this is seared into my memory for me. It is the one food that unfailingly makes me happy.

Boiled egg korma. The ultimate comfort food. Sorry, that one is from my culture.
posted by unicorn chaser at 2:30 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Tteokbokki, and Korean fried chicken with a spicy honey-garlic sauce. Blew my socks off.
posted by ninazer0 at 2:42 AM on May 5, 2022

Coffee in a little cafe in Luang Prabang, Laos. Made with local beans (the world's 2nd most expensive) and condensed milk it was brown love in a small glass. I felt hugged from the inside with every sip. It's too rich to drink regularly at home but I try (and fail but that's OK) to replicate it on days I am really down.
posted by Thella at 2:59 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

As Chinese-American, I found myself having an expanded palette due to my travels, and I ate quite a bit of Latino and southwestern food, in addition of my typical Chinese food diet, AND I watched a lot of cooking shows, LOL. So what foods surprised me? Naan bread. Was basically wandering near Chinatown and found this Indian place, walked in, and ordered whatever sounds good and whatever the wait staff recommended. Wasn't too keen on the spinach, but the naan was quite good. Also, having spent time in Texas, country-fried steak smothered in white gravy was an interesting experience. I've stopped calling it chicken-fried steak after learning it's not made of chicken. ;)

But I will admit I haven't had decent tamale until I came to San Francisco. :)
posted by kschang at 4:13 AM on May 5, 2022

Salt on top of ice cream. Just try it, it's amazing.
posted by Gray Duck at 4:31 AM on May 5, 2022

It's not hard to blow a child's mind, but when I took my three year old for crepes for the first time, he asked "why have I never had this before?"
posted by gideonfrog at 4:35 AM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Lomo saltado. Even coming from the country that gave the world poutine, it never occurred to me that you could do something like that with french fries and have it be not some late night shame food, but completely brilliant. It really adjusted my thinking on what was worthy of being called good food.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:07 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

This was me the first time I had Indian food in college. I don't remember exactly what we had that first time. I think it was some tandoori chicken, malai kofta, vegetable biryani, with lassis and naan and paratha, and then gulab jaman. (It turns out my dad doesn't like Indian food, and that's why I had never had it. I don't understand at all)
posted by hydropsyche at 5:15 AM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Things that truly opened my eyes to how big and complex the world of food is the first time I treated them:
Burmese tea-leaf salad
A really good pastrami sandwich
Steamed rice rolls with pork floss
Blood sausage
New Jersey pork roll
Fermented crabs in green papaya salad
Tacos al pastor
Mango pickle
Nepalese butter tea
posted by LeeLanded at 5:16 AM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Xiao long bao (soup dumplings). A revelation.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 5:20 AM on May 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

Oh and mansaf -- I must have drunk half a gallon of the sauce alone the first time I had it, it absolutely blew my mind.
posted by LeeLanded at 5:21 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Korean and Indian food in my early 20s after growing up in the suburbs with not-super-adventuresome eater parents. Ginger beer. Fried scallops (only on the coast!). Filipino pork barbecue with rice and laing (and atchara!). Khao soi.
posted by wellred at 5:24 AM on May 5, 2022

Medhu Vada, savoury (savoury!) lentil donuts. Gluten-free and vegan too!
posted by stinker at 5:29 AM on May 5, 2022

I spent a few years living in a house with a big communal garden, and the biggest revelation of anything we grew there was celery. I never liked celery growing up, and still don’t most of the time, because I thought it was just flavorless fiber that sticks in your teeth. That fresh garden celery actually had a flavor, and it was peppery and sharp and totally unexpected. I’ve never found celery like that again.

Also casava leaves, as made by a former co-worker from Sierra Leone. I’ve always loved both greens and spicy foods, but I’d never had any with that particular flavor profile before.
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:11 AM on May 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

for me it was Moroccan b'stilla: an egg, nut, and pigeon (or chicken or quail) pie wrapped in delicate filo-like pastry and topped with powdered sugar! It had never occurred to me that savory food could also be sweet, and this was relevatory!
posted by QuakerMel at 6:12 AM on May 5, 2022 [5 favorites]

Bacon-wrapped dates.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:15 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Beef Bulgogi. So amazing!
posted by poppunkcat at 6:16 AM on May 5, 2022

I know you don't want specific restaurant recommendations but the first time I had ackee and salt fish, it was from Gerry's Fast Food in Toronto. It blew my mind and so far, I haven't had better elsewhere.
posted by brachiopod at 6:16 AM on May 5, 2022

The spicy cumin lamb noodles from Xian Famous Foods had this effect on me. As Bourdain himself said, I'd had these flavors before, but never in the framework of Chinese food, and then topping it all off is exquisitely chewy texture of the noodles themselves... they're just unbelievably delicious, and totally unique (in my Western, white person culinary experience).
posted by saladin at 6:50 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Are you American? From somewhere besides the southeastern part of the country? Then your vision of "southern food" may consist only of deep-fried chicken and/or poorly-prepared okra. What you want to find is the place nearest to you that serves Cajun food. Good ones can be hard to come by outside of Louisiana, but they do exist. The first time I tried a real gumbo, prepared by my father-in-law, a lifelong Baton Rouge native, the scales fell from my eyes and I received enlightenment. It is goddamn unbelievable what depth of flavor you can achieve with butter + flour + the maillard reaction (roux). Similarly, a Cajun crawfish boil, while not that dissimilar to the New England seafood boils to which I am accustomed, hits a spice + umami bomb combination that is streets ahead. A po boy, done right, is a totally different creature than a hoagie or a sub. In general, Cajun food uses really simple ingredients that will be familiar to any American who sees them, but uses salt, acid, and heat in a way that produces a totally different experience than you're expecting. I've been trying to recreate that gumbo myself for nigh onto ten years (and I have the recipe! handwritten by my father-in-law!), and haven't quite hit it yet; there's a subtlety to it that I imagine takes years of practice.
posted by Mayor West at 7:03 AM on May 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

I grew up on a very rural farm in the Ozarks in an area with generally very little diversity, with pockets of non-white populations around an area army base and an area college town.

My first Hot and Sour Soup, when I was maybe 17-18. Amazing. Eye-opening. The vinegary notes, the strips of shitake (which I had no idea what it was at the time, NONE). A real eye opener.
posted by Occula at 7:35 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

The only offal I knew growing up was fried chicken livers, but beef tongue tacos lengua at a good Mexican restaurant (which to me tastes like rich roast beef), fried sweetbreads at a good high end European restaurant, beef liver and onions at a soul food cafe, and Jewish deli chopped liver on rye all opened my eyes to the world of non-standard meats. I've also tried tripe in menudo and fried chitlins but they both had flavors I found off-putting. I'll add caviar, Japanese unagi (eel) and uni (sea urchin) to this as well, all of which I loved when I tried them as an adult.
posted by indexy at 7:35 AM on May 5, 2022

I've had this feeling basically with every food I've eaten since I was small (I'm not a picky eater).

spaghetti/Mexican food at 5? yes
fried or grilled fish at 6? yes
hushpuppies at 9? yes
giant hamburgers from a friend's restaurant at 10? yes
Golden Corral at 14? Yes! Massive amounts of fine ground coleslaw and fake crab salad.
Sushi at 18? yes
generic all you can eat Chinese food at at 18? yes
French at 18? yes
Indian food at 19? yes
Greek at 19? yes
Viet-Cajun at 25? yes.
Bubble tea at 30? Yes
Mochi ice cream at 35? yes
Rolled ice cream at 40? yes
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:53 AM on May 5, 2022

Also both a Chinese, Russian, and Mediterranean grocery store opened in my neighbhohood in the past 10 years, so seeing so many random chip flavors and so much food from around the world is awesome. Some is really great, some like canned dolmas not so much. But none is particularly expensive so it's all worth a try.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:57 AM on May 5, 2022

Vietnamese American, so grew up eating a lot of Viet and Cantonese and pretty good exposure to other cuisines including through travel - feel fortunate about that and agree with many of the previous answers. Pani puri and chongqing chicken would be my top 2 as an adult, too! A sampling of some others I didn't see:

Guokui - Chinese (Shaanxi) flatbread
Liangfen - Chinese (Sichuan) mung bean jelly
Bingfen - Chinese (Sichuan) ice jelly dessert
Tteokguk - Korean sliced rice cake soup
Bingsu - Korean shaved ice dessert
Chole bhature - Indian (Punjabi) fried bread and chana masala - chickpeas
Dosa - South Indian crepe
Appam - Sri Lankan (egg) hopper
Caracoles - Spanish snails (in shell)
Navajas - Galician razor clams
Lupin beans
Huitlacoche - Mexican corn smut/fungus
Tostilocos - Mexican street snack
Quicos - corn nuts
Dondurma - Turkish "chewy" ice cream
Clotted cream
posted by eyeball at 8:00 AM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

posted by mkb at 8:29 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Definitely Indian food - I think it was something super simple like chicken tikka masala with aloo baingan and garlic naan, but the way the spices went together. Also the first time I had dosas.

Roasted duck breast, when the skin is crispy.

Chocolate covered strawberries.

Warmish boiled red potatoes dipped into hot salt water at the seder for karpas (amazing, but not remotely as good at any other time; we've tried)

Fresh homemade potato chips / thin cottage fries, especially when they're just thick enough that they fill with an air bubble. (I was allowed to make these starting when I was around 13? And one day our parents were out and we made them along with one of the other things I knew how to make that we loved, taco meat, and we put the ground beef on top of the chips and it may have been the best thing I ever tasted, ever, maybe partly because it was completely insane, and I've never recreated that probably because I'm secretly afraid it won't be the same).
posted by Mchelly at 8:34 AM on May 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

On a visit to Istanbul my eyes were opened to a whole region of cuisine when I was served topik, an Armenian sort of spread or dip popular in Turkish meyhanes (taverns that serve mezes). I love sweet & savory together, but topik's flavor profile was completely novel to me: chickpeas, potatoes, tahini, sugar, black pepper, cinnamon, currants, allspice, pine nuts, onions.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:36 AM on May 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

Hard to remember after so long, but I think the most eye-opening taste experience was a bean burrito with “super hot” sauce at Taco John’s. I was 17 and had a *very* white-bread food experience. “Hot” flavors were completely outside my experience, and suddenly there was this super uncomfortable thing in my mouth. But it was *so* *good*.

Since then I’ve learned there is a whole world (literally) of hot foods—most of them better than Taco John’s—but that was really amazing.

This is a great thread and I’ve mentally marked a number of things to try if I get the chance, but I am really taken with the variety of experience. Some of the items I’ve had and make my mouth water. Others I’ve had and get a big “meh,” but they’re someone else’s life-changer. Always good to have an honest reminder that your opinions are not necessarily the same as another’s.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:36 AM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Also Dr. Brown's black cherry soda in a can at a deli.
posted by Mchelly at 8:37 AM on May 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

Quesabirria - seriously the hype is real.

Seconding/thirding chaat of all sorts - I’m partial to samosa chaat in particular but it’s all good.

Som tam - Thai papaya salad.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:37 AM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I love everything about beans, but last year a local produce stand carried fresh--not dried--lady peas. I made a simple bean soup with them and it was amazing. So much more flavor than using dried beans. I've been looking forward to their growing season every since.
posted by indexy at 8:54 AM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

A friend from Colombia introduced me to arepas, and then I introduced them to my husband, and he is now obsessed. The place we go to uses plantains, meat, beans and cheese inside theirs, and the plantains give a really unique flavor.
posted by jabes at 8:57 AM on May 5, 2022

Organic ginger root. It’s much smaller than the regular kind but so much more spicy. I blend a hunk of it into a paste and put a teaspoon into tea. So good.

Morel mushrooms.

Vegetables grown in Egyptian The Nile river valley. I’ve never tasted such good produce. It really opened my eyes to how lame agrofarmed produce is in the US.
posted by waving at 9:00 AM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Black sesame-flavored anything. Black sesame ice cream is amazing. I had some black sesame mochi dumplings recently that were maybe the best thing I've ever eaten. Black sesame paste on toast.
posted by darchildre at 9:58 AM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I grew up on authentic home-cooked Chinese food plus mediocre classic/comfort American food from school cafeterias. So the things that blew my mind may be pretty ordinary to you:
- fresh bread from a standalone bakery (I never knew bread could actually taste good!)
- fresh Mexican salsa
- fresh hummus
- chana masala, as someone else upthread mentioned
- avocado toast
- really strong blue cheese (I had Roquefort on a cheese plate for the first time at age 20 and immediately fell in love)
- restaurant-quality sandwiches and salads

From my own family cuisine, I have blown many white American friends' minds by serving them Sichuan-style stir-fried shredded potatoes. They are crunchy and almost raw, and entirely unlike any other preparation of potatoes that I've encountered.
posted by serelliya at 10:10 AM on May 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

Kashke bademjan + taftoon bread. I had thought I hated eggplant in all its forms, so this was a game changer.
posted by uberfunk at 10:22 AM on May 5, 2022

posted by user92371 at 10:44 AM on May 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

White person from the northern midwest. I remember having my mind blown growing up by

[pretty much everything with actual flavor]

Same, man, same.

Pad thai. (It may be heavily Americanized and I don't eat it much now, but just the basic salty-sweet-sour flavor combination was one I was totally unfamiliar with.) Kung pao chicken. Prosciutto. Reubens. Raspberry trifle. Macouns.

Honestly, I could go on and on, but as one gets older the waves of mind-blowing do get a little smaller, and expanding one's taste more of an iterative process, so I'm just listing the beach-head dishes.

There are very few dishes I eat on a regular basis that I ate when I was a child. Child me wouldn't even recognize about 60% of the stuff in my cabinets.
posted by praemunire at 1:16 PM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Arugula salad. My mouth waters just thinking of it now. I always thought of it as another version of lettuce (like spinach or similar), not really adding much else, so never tried it. Nope. It dramatically changes the dish and I do not even know how to describe the change. Warning: Ugh, when it starts going bad though - keep it dry as long as you can.
posted by filtergik at 1:57 PM on May 5, 2022

Roast duck with crispy skin, and then even better, roast farmed goose with crispy skin. Amazing taste, hard to stop eating it
posted by mdoar at 2:26 PM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

> From my own family cuisine, I have blown many white American friends' minds by serving them Sichuan-style stir-fried shredded potatoes. They are crunchy and almost raw, and entirely unlike any other preparation of potatoes that I've encountered.

Serelliya, could you please point me toward a recipe for this? I've had it at a small neighborhood restaurant here in SF, loved it, and never seen it anywhere else. Nor had any luck trying to recreate it at home, so if you're willing to share the secret I'd be much obliged!

And for my mind-blowing food experiences: truly ripe fruit served with a dash of salt and/or lime juice (in Thailand), pizza margherita from a coal-fired oven (in NYC - so simple yet perfect), clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl on a foggy day at a picnic table on the waterfront (in San Francisco - shooing away the seagulls was part of the charm).
posted by Quietgal at 3:30 PM on May 5, 2022

Korean food while living in Korea.
Indian food (also while living in Korea).
Bubble tea (lol, while in Korea).

Recently, riced cauliflower and chia seeds
posted by kathrynm at 5:33 PM on May 5, 2022

Quietgal, I suspect it's this.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:09 PM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

My first taste of amaro kicked off an obsession I expect to last the rest of my life. It was a tiny glass of Amaro Montenegro that I ordered on a whim because the description in the menu sounded interesting. I now have a collection of over 20 different amari from around the world and every last one of them is different from any of the others.

Another revelation was the first time I had a Kouign-amaan pastry. Sweet and salty and buttery heaven.

Tonkotsu ramen makes my list, as well. I may have grown up eating instant ramen, but they are not the same food at all.
posted by burntflowers at 6:44 PM on May 5, 2022 [5 favorites]

The first time I had strawberry shortcake. I was young (under 10), and had somehow convinced myself that I didn’t like strawberries. My grandma would make homemade shortcake (very short, sweet biscuits) with strawberries and whipped cream every year a couple of time while fresh, ripe strawberries were in season. I remember being mad at myself for missing out on such goodness.
The other is more recent. I made Marcella Hazen’s Bolognese sauce from scratch last week. It goes through four separate reductions, and in spite of having almost no spices/herbs, achieves a depth of flavor that is revelatory (it was for me, anyway).
posted by dbmcd at 7:08 PM on May 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

This thread is a delight!

I encountered the following foods after the age of 21, and they uniformly blew my MIND:
- Cuban black beans and rice, served with fried sweet plantains.
- Szechuan mala (dry chili) chicken.
- Crème brûlée. (I have a degree in French so must use all the accents, heh.)
- Watermelon and feta salads. (SWEET *AND* SALTY?!)
- Smoky, restaurant-quality baba ganouj.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 7:27 PM on May 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Fessenjan, boneless chicken breast simmered in sweet and sour pomegranate sauce with crushed walnuts. First had at Reza's in Chicago.
posted by answergrape at 7:59 PM on May 5, 2022

Soft-boiled egg .

Tapenade on little toast points.

Vernor's cream soda.

Ground cherries.

Stuffed deep-dish pizza from my teen-age pizzeria job: a layer of thin ham on the bottom, then a layer of chopped & cooked spinach mixed with garlic butter, then the cheese. Put on a lid of dough and bake; sauce is served on the side. Make sure to brush the dough with egg wash for that beautiful finish.

English bitter beer and a packet of mustard-flavor crisps. No, two packets of crisps.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:15 AM on May 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Roasted brussels sprouts.

I was raised by elder boomers and very nearly inherited their unfortunate food culture. Apparently, Greatest Generation white people just didn't know how to roast vegetables. Never got around to developing the technology. Like, they would do anything but roast a vegetable. Steam it, boil it, put it in a jello mold, whatever. Sometimes they wouldn't even start with real vegetables, but would employ the canned or frozen variety. Yuck! Subsequently, my parents' generation grew up loathing vegetables — and most of all was the poor, maligned brussels sprout.

Granted, our brussels sprouts are legit tastier than the ones our parents suffered through. But even the tastiest sprout will turn to inedible rubber if you boil it — I don't care how much sour cream you schmear on it. Fast forward to my early 30s, and I'm staying over at a friend's place. One evening, his wife serves roasted brussels sprouts as a side dish. And I'm thinking in my head, "Wha? Brussels sprouts? The stuff of boomer nightmares?" But oh was I ever not prepared for what came next. Crispy! Salty! Garlicky! Tasty! And just the right amount of bitter, kinda like a well-made cocktail. My friends, this blew my mind. I soon discovered that nearly any vegetable can be magically transformed into a delectable side with a little bit of oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and an oven pre-heated to 400 degrees. How did I not know???

Ever since, I've kinda developed a half-fun/half-serious theory for why American food culture is so completely messed. Like we had two whole generations who didn't know how to cook or eat vegetables. No wonder all we eat are hamburgers and carbs! If you've got three things on your dinner plate and one is carb, one is a big old hunk of meat, and the other is some sadsack abused veggie that may have actually been canned or frozen at some point in its lifetime, what's the first thing you're gonna cut once you start cooking for your own family?

I do think it's a good sign that an increasing number of Americans are embracing and enjoying foods from other parts of the world. Like, while my grandparents were busy serving up boiled mushtables to my parents, immigrant families in nearby neighborhoods were eating delicious veggies cooked in any number of delectable ways — and they were literally doing it the entire time.
posted by panama joe at 6:19 AM on May 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

One lone perfectly ripe wild raspberry picked off a bush in the middle of a park.

Bagels so fresh from the oven that you burn your fingers getting them sliced and putting cream cheese on them.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:14 AM on May 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Beans on toast, curry chips. I had to be coaxed into trying them because it was so much beige, but they were both delicious and comforting.

Another dish I didn’t grow up with is convenience store hiyashi chuuka. It tastes plasticky, but in a good way.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:23 AM on May 6, 2022

Lyn Never, thank you! My restaurant chef has changed the seasonings but I'm sure this is the basic method he uses to give the potato shreds their unusual texture. Mystery solved!
posted by Quietgal at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2022

Roasted brussels sprouts.

Oh! I really should've included fried brussels sprouts, with fish sauce. I remember taking a bite of them and being knocked back from the bar with delight.
posted by praemunire at 5:56 PM on May 7, 2022

Ooh, that reminds me of the two best tempura: green beans, and sweet potato. My discovery of each was probably 2 decades apart but both were like tasting color for the first time.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:16 PM on May 7, 2022

That would have to be kimchi. First had it at a Korean restaurant, then looked into how to make it and found a world of fermented foods. Haven't looked back!
posted by myndwalk at 5:59 AM on May 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Couple of other people have already hit Sichuan peppercorns I see, but I fell in love with ma la flavor instantly.

I was super sensitive to textures as a kid, but eventually when I learned how to get over it, my stepmom’s mashed potatoes with pork gravy. I would have recoiled at mushy texture as a kid, and I still find it challenging sometimes, but omg, good gravy is amazing.
posted by notoriety public at 5:28 AM on May 10, 2022

posted by Pouteria at 10:24 AM on May 10, 2022

My most recent discovery…..and this is coming from a guy who would be considered a foodie: Menchies Pineapple frozen yoghurt with sour gummi worms. I just can’t event describe how delicious it is and I discovered it by accident.
posted by jasondigitized at 1:24 PM on May 10, 2022

There are likely others, but:

- Yellow watermelon
- Gyudon
- Chocolate covered gummy bears
- Satsuma mandarins (I Miss the West Coast, part one)
- Dry farmed early girl tomatoes (I Miss the West Coast, part two)
- An amazing black sesame-based creamy dessert at Tamari Bar in Seattle. They also make a great yuzu cocktail, but that dessert blew my mind. (I Miss the West Coast, part three)
- Tres leches cake
posted by May Kasahara at 2:41 PM on May 10, 2022

Sundubu jjigae (cook that egg in the stew)
Turkish breakfast platter
Grilled wagyu beef (beef pillows!)
Aji de gallina
Palak paneer and gulab jamun
posted by paradeofblimps at 7:35 PM on May 11, 2022

Simple indian dal, as soon as I got a suitable battery of whole spices and made myself a batch of ghee.
posted by Harald74 at 7:38 AM on May 12, 2022

Use alternate condiments to make ramen (instead of the packet)...

* Use an instant miso packet... or even better, a tablespoon of genuine miso paste
* Ketchup. Yes, I said it. Ketchup in ramen. Try it next time, just a tablespoon.
* A bit of butter. Yes, cut a small square of butter and drop in the ramen broth.
posted by kschang at 11:23 AM on May 12, 2022

Bhel Puri! One of my coworkers brings it whenever we have a potluck, and it's amazing. I also found a local Indian restaurant that has it and now almost exclusively pick that restaurant over other Indian ones because of it.
posted by noneuclidean at 11:53 AM on May 12, 2022

I never liked mangos much, but recently was convinced to try the champagne (small, yellow) mango and I've eaten about a dozen since then. For me, the flavor is much nicer than the standard American mango, and the texture is leagues better.
posted by grandiloquiet at 2:41 PM on May 12, 2022

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