I’ve been following the Chowhound Thread Your First Exposure to the Exotic since mid-July. Perilagu Khan asks:

“What was your first explore to exotic cuisine? And by exotic, I mean food that your mom never prepared, and likely would not have even thought to cook?

I get a kick out the stories people are sharing. Some of them are funny and some of them are touching. I can’t help but reminisce about my first tastes of the “exotic.”

Our last meal from Seng Foon

Chinese Take-Out From Seng Foon & Leann Chin
Like many others who replied to the thread, my first exposure of the exotic was Chinese food. Sure, it was Americanized, but it was a special treat unlike anything we ate at home.

We randomly stumbled upon Seng Foon in Rosemount, MN after an afternoon shopping trip. I had ordered a sweet and sour chicken meal and we ooh’d and aah’d over the fact that the chicken pieces were freshly battered. We returned ever since.

I no longer order sweet and sour chicken, though I confess I have a hankering for sweet and sour shrimp. Occasionally, we dined in the little restaurant while the owner’s children watched movies and played in the corner. I felt like such a grown up eating chicken and broccoli in brown sauce and buttery almond cookies. It was so exotic for suburban standards. . . .at least it was until Satay 2 Go opened and I discovered spicy Mee Goreng & Singapore rice noodles flecked with real (gasp) chili peppers.

Seng Foon is still open. It’s far from perfect and I would never try to claim it’s outstanding in its field, but it’s what I grew up eating. I can’t help but compare all Americanized Chinese food to Seng Foon.

On extra special occasions we went to Leeann Chin’s buffet at the Depot in St. Paul. I continued to go to the carry-out locations until the food went terribly wrong sometime after the 90’s.

Rockin’ classic fluffed 90’s bangs
& a traditional Korean Hanbok 

Kimchi & Mandu At Korean Culture Camp
Being an adopted Korean in Apple Valley, MN was interesting. By interesting, I think I mean confusing. I didn’t know or see many other people of color, except for a handful of other adopted Asians.

Although I had wonderful childhood friends, people made enough comments that reminded me I was different. I was embarrassed that I was adopted and hated my Asian facial features. Years later, I am still self conscious, but have made progress accepting my narrower eyes and broader nose. My hair is woefully straight and I practically have to shop in the children’s department for clothes. I’m nothing like my family in terms of personality or career choice and I always have to tell medical professionals that I just don’t have any family history.

My parents wanted me to have opportunities to learn about my heritage, so they sent me to Korean Culture Camp until I said I asked them to stop. Lunch was the best. We filled our plastic cafeteria trays with kimchi, fried mandu, fried rice, and bulgogi. After class, I bought plum-flavored hard candies from the gift shop.

Last year, my parents gave me the old Korean Culture Camp recipe book that they found while moving. I was slowly working my way through the packet until we moved to Iowa. I plan to resume the recipes, turkey loaf and all.

Hmong Eggrolls
My high school used to hold an event in the gymnasium where students shared aspects of their cultural heritage at display tables. Those who sold food were grouped on the stage. One upperclass student sold Hmong eggrolls. They were shatteringly crispy and filled with vermicelli noodles, which I found fascinating to no end. I bought one and returned, again and again, until I ran out of money.

The student graduated the next year and I don’t remember the event including a food court in subsequent years.

Fried Zucchini From Swenson’s, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
We often visited my grandparents in Ohio before my grandpa passed away and my grandma moved. On each visit, we ordered a takeout feast from Swenson’s. The Galley Boy burgers were fantastic, but the fried zucchini sticks seemed especially unique. 
The rest of my family has since returned to Ohio to revisit our family’s old stomping grounds. I’m still waiting for my opportunity.
Meals At Friends’ Houses
We’re all used to what we grew up with which is why the most mundane food from someone else’s house can seem exotic. I considered it a treat when friends invited me to eat a meal at their homes. 
My mom was the primary cook in our household. Like most, she didn’t use ingredients that she did not like. This is precisely why I regarded baloney and fish sticks as exotic. She hated fish so much that she banned it from entering the house. She did, however, oblige my request to purchase baloney. It didn’t taste as exotic when I had unlimited access to it. 
She was also strict about junk food. For dessert, we were only to have two cookies or two pieces of Halloween candy; sweets were always consumed in pairs. I’m sure you can imagine how strange my husbands thinks I am when I gawk at him for eating three cookies.

Soda pop was only allowed on special occasions or dinners out. And we were never ever allowed to buy the real Kool-Aid packets to which one must add a cup of sugar. One of my friend’s moms always let us make our own pitcher of Kool-Aid and she even let me pick the flavor. The occasion was so special that I remember exactly what I chose. Kiwi-lime.

Does this mean I’ll buy Kool-Aid packets for my own kids, someday? Probably not. 

Road Trip West

Taken with a disposable camera

During the summer between sixth and seventh grade, my friend and her family took me on a road trip to Livingston, Montana. I was initially so homesick that I literally cried all the way to Mount Rushmore.

Eventually I stopped crying and found joy in trying new foods. I stopped hating shrimp and that I discovered a fondness for chicken fried steak. I dipped my first fondue stick into a pot of scalding oil and ate a bone-in pork chop. I learned that I loved food and even recorded notes about my meals in a journal. You can read more about about this road trip here.

An Indian Buffet & Laasis
I used to write for the school newspaper in high school. For a couple issues, I teamed up with a classmate to write restaurant reviews. One Saturday afternoon, we met at an Indian restaurant in St. Louis Park. We heaped our plates at the buffet and the owners served us a variety of laasis and I found I liked everything that I ate.

Several years ago, I introduced Jake to his first Indian meal at Surabhi in Bloomington, MN and he also liked everything he tasted. I’ll admit, we are different in more ways than we are similar, but we never tire of trying new foods together.

What were you first tastes of the exotic?