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My First Time

February 27, 2017

 

 

 

 

It isn’t often I can remember the first time I ate something. Most things I consume out of habit from childhood, but some items were included later in life. One such food, once known to few Americans, is now ubiquitous enough to be sold everywhere. Any guesses what I’m referring to? Clue—it isn’t unicorn meat.

 

The year was 1975. I'd recently graduated from UCLA and gotten married. I was working at an art gallery in Santa Monica called Le Garage (it had once been an auto repair business) and one of my co-workers suggested a lunch excursion to a part of Los Angeles I’d never visited. Her name was Aarone (pronounced Aar-ó-née). Her father had expected a boy and named her after his hero, Aaron Burr, or so she claimed. She was French, artistic and not bound by the social mores I lived by. In short, she was fascinating. Even my bride thought so. I’ve written about Aarone before.

 

It was a Monday and the gallery was closed. Mrs. Chatterbox had to work that day and couldn’t accompany us, but we were joined by my college roommate, Mel. It was Spring; the day was bright and clear as I drove into Los Angeles. Aarone knew Los Angeles like the back of her hand and filled us in on topographical landmarks. The conversation was so engaging I didn’t notice the fire hydrant at the curb where I parked my old VW Beetle.

 

Where are we? I wondered, confused by the industrial buildings. There didn’t seem to be any restaurants nearby.

 

We trailed Aarone for a few blocks until she turned and said, “Welcome to Little Tokyo.”

 

I had no idea Los Angeles had a Little Tokyo.

 

The neighborhood was fascinating. As we explored various streets I noticed we were the only non-Asians in sight. Everyone was Japanese, or so I assumed, not being able to distinguish Chinese from Japanese or Koreans. We prowled through shops with fascinating merchandise and I purchased little boxes with decorative rocks, paper goldfish decals and other items that were beautiful yet ridiculously cheap. Finally, it was time for lunch.

 

We tagged along as Aarone led us to what she claimed was one of her favorite restaurants. The place had signs written only in Japanese and we were the only Caucasians present. I’d rarely felt so out of place.

 

Aarone seemed to know the owner and ordered for us in a mixture of Japanese and English.

 

“What are we having?” I asked.

 

“Sushi,” she replied.

 

Sushi? What the heck was sushi? I wondered.

 

Our food arrived, an assortment of ten pieces each for $1.99. The food looked weird but at least it was cheap. I’d never been served anything like this. Raw fish! Eel! Sticky rice wrapped in seaweed! What the F#@k? But my hesitation vanished after Aarone demonstrated how to mix spicy wasabi into soy sauce and showed us how to dip a piece of sushi into the mixture before popping it into our mouths.

 

My mother was a good cook but she relied on a Mediterranean palate. Back then I’d only had Chinese food a few times—Chung King from a can—and it wasn’t very good. This was a totally new experience. I fell in love with sushi and returned to Little Tokyo several times

on my own.

 

Today, sushi bars are ubiquitous. Grocery stores and even gas stations offer it. Mrs. Chatterbox and I enjoy sushi once or twice a month, less since mercury poisoning has become an issue, and every time we pull up to a sushi bar or Japanese restaurant I double check to be certain I haven’t parked in front of a fire hydrant. I wouldn’t want to leave the restaurant with a full belly only to discover that, like that time in 1975 when I enjoyed my first sushi, my car had been towed away.

 

 

 

 

Can you recall the first time you ate something strange, only to fall in love with it?

 

 

 

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Comments

27 Comments
I remember the first time I had sushi but my experience was much different. We were visiting friends in Atlanta and they prepared the sushi at home. I got cranked up on sake prior to the meal and the evening did not go well for the Rickster. I haven't had sushi since. Maybe I should try it again sans sake. R
By: Rick Watson on February 27, 2017
So glad you didn't have Unicorn meat. They're endangered, you know! I'll have to get back to you on my strange eating habits. Nothing comes to mind right now, but I know something will come up... um ... come to mind.
By: Mitchell is Moving on February 27, 2017
Sorry your car was towed. I'm not a fan of raw fish, but I'll dip wontons in wasabi anytime.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on February 27, 2017
Where I used to work in Detroit around July 4th they would have "Tastefest" where restaurants would set up booths in the street and you bought tickets to exchange for "tastes" of different foods. One year I had a piece of sushi and found out how hot that wasabi stuff is. I can't eat spicy food anymore but I do like sushi that doesn't have the wasabi stuff in it.
By: PT Dilloway on February 27, 2017
I'm not very adventurist, never had sushi and never will. I had pizza in college for the first time to give you an idea just how adventurist I am. Love pizza!
By: cranky on February 27, 2017
Sorry... this is one of those times I'm glad to be totally 'plant-based'. I did try some asparagus and avocado sushi once, but that first bite - the nori just got bigger and bigger the more I chewed (and never went down). I probably embarrassed my companions at that point by opening the rest of them to scrape out the innards, leaving the nori on my plate. Ugh
By: Kelly on February 27, 2017
Sushi really is everywhere now, you're right. I've never had it because I have a picky palate and unreliable GI system, so I stick to what I know I like and what sits well. I do wish I could eat spicy food!
By: jenny_o on February 27, 2017
P. S. By the way, I thought this was going to be about Spam. You fooled me :)
By: jenny_o on February 27, 2017
I like some sushi, especially with the wasabi and soy sauce! But my sweetheart refers to it as "bait". And where the heck does one find Unicorn Meat? hahahah!
By: Kathe W. on February 27, 2017
No sushi for me. I'm not adventurous. My grandpa tried to get me to sample a pickled pig's foot. "Come on, it'll put hair on your chest," was not a good selling point.
By: Val on February 27, 2017
LAst time I was in Japan I became allergic to soy sauce which about put paid to raw fish, so I guess I will not be eating it again. Funnily enough I can't remember when I first had sushi.
By: jenny woolf on February 27, 2017
Being weirdo vegan is enough oddness where food is concerned for me.
By: messymimi on February 27, 2017
I love sushi!! This is from an old post: We were out to lunch with our daughter, a college student, in Italy. She ordered an appetizer platter of shrimp & calamaretti (baby squid). My husband, not an adventurous eater, was picking out the shrimp to eat. After much nagging coaxing he had a calamaretto (the singular) almost to his mouth when she said, âTheyâre better if you knock their little eyes off, Daddy!â It took a couple of years before he deigned to try themânow he loves them.
By: fishducky on February 27, 2017
Great story. My first time with sushi was in Japan, in 1979.
By: Sage on February 27, 2017
Some meals stick in our minds for reasons other than the good food. You'll remember the tow away for a long time.
By: red Kline on February 27, 2017
SWMBO and the BRD both love sushi. I have yet to cotton to it. But maybe I've just tried to eat it as it comes and not used the wasabi/soy dipping sauce. That sounded good so I may have to try it. I think the strangest thing I eat and love is escargot but I can't recall the first time I ever had it. Many of our friends think we're crazy to eat snails. I imagine without the garlic butter I probably wouldn't like them either.
By: Catalyst on February 27, 2017
I enjoyed freshly made sushi at a party where the preparation coupled with a highly skilled Japanese chef made for an interesting evening eating tasty unknown surprises.
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 27, 2017
My mother, of Penn. Dutch heritage grew up on farm where everything was used. She loved brains and scrambled eggs. When we were of a certain age she introduced us to the dish. Strangely I enjoyed them, but tried to give it a lot of thought. As I grew up we occasionally enjoy the special treat breakfast. Many years later, as she was aging she learned of a little country restaurant where they were on the menu and so for as long as she could travel comfortably we'd make a period visit and enjoy them, though they were never quite as good as the way mom made them.
By: Tom Cochrun on February 27, 2017
I am very fond of sushi and got to eat it quite often when living with my Korean daughter-in-law who know how to prepare it. When I was visiting South Korea my son and his family were terrible amused by my initial reaction to going to a Korean restaurant -- which is quite an experience. But I found to my surprise that it was all quite wonderful -- though I never took to these itsy bitsy fish that they eat by the mouthful!!
By: The Broad on February 28, 2017
Almost everything I eat, I eventually like enough to eat again and again. I just like food.
By: Tabor on February 28, 2017
Never tried sushi--can't seem to get past the raw aspect of something I don't eat cooked.. However I have eaten escargot and loved it. Just can't find a place in Arkansas that serves it.
By: Arkansas Patti on February 28, 2017
I first had calimari in Seattle. I don't eat it often, but I like it a lot. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on February 28, 2017
I didn't have sushi until I was in my forties, when a boss brought leftovers back from his lunch and challenged me to try it. Been a fan ever since! I remember the first time I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was 19 and had just started dating my ex-husband. He had shopped at the commissary and brought the stuff to my apartment. I remember looking at him, incredulous, saying, "You put SALTY peanut butter and SWEET jelly on the SAME sandwich?" I still love PB&J sandwiches and have them occasionally for lunch. :-)
By: Pixel Peeper on February 28, 2017
Oops. At least you have a good memory attached to your car being towed - never fun. I think this was basically my first experience with sushi. I remember it sounding disgusting, but I've liked it since I first tried it.
By: Robyn Engel on February 28, 2017
I visited my college friend's home and her father took us to dinner. 90% of the things on the menu were offal. I'm ashamed to say I wasn't very polite about my opinion. In later years I tried chicken brain, kidneys, liver, etc. I've never found anything I liked. In fact I was once told a meat at a buffet was beef. It tasted awful, and I found out it was lamb. Yuck. I've tried sushi too. It wasn't awful, but once or twice was enough. Yes, I'm a really picky eater.
By: Lexa Cain on February 28, 2017
My mother prepared cow's tongue once. I remember seeing that huge tongue boiling in the pan and thinking to myself, "we have to eat that?" Because you ate what was put in front of you. No picky eaters allowed at our house. Well, after it was done, Mom sliced it into thin slices and we ate it with mashed potatoes and corn and to tell you the truth, it wasn't too bad. We never had it again, though, because my dad didn't like it at all.
By: Kate on March 7, 2017
I love sushi - but really only the "fake" kind - California rolls.
By: The Bug on March 7, 2017

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