Given the success of my 10 first times in travel, I decided to write a similar post with a focus on food. Sampling new food is one of my favourite things about travel, so it comes at no surprise that while writing the other post many first times that were coming to my mind were food-related. I knew I just had to write this one. Plus, there is (again) a nice anecdote about my childhood that I just want to share. So welcome to a selection of 10 first times with food!
#1: the first time I photographed my food
Let’s start from the beginning. I started baking in the summer of 2010. Only a few months later I was already obsessed and by autumn I had already baked dozens of varieties of muffins. Let me just say that I spent the night before defending my Master’s thesis baking, I think I made eight batches of muffins that night, because I had figured out that baking was the only thing that could relax me and there was no way I’d have fallen asleep that night anyway. At least all that crazy baking got me covered for the post-graduation party. Anyway, along with my passion for baking and abusing of food colouring, arose a whole new interest in still life photography (a field I had never really explored before). I wanted to share my baked goods on facebook, so I began staging my photos aaaand now I have a food blog. Oh life.
#2: the first time I had mate.
In 2009 I got to spend my birthday visiting my Argentine cousins who at the time were living in southern Spain. I didn’t tell them that my birthday was coming up but they managed to figure it out and treated me to a surprise party. It was on that occasion that one of them prepared a calabaza and announced that we were going to have mate. I got to learn that sharing a mate drinking from the same bombilla is a whole social ritual that brings people together in Argentina. It was only the second time in my life that I was meeting my South American relatives but sharing this special moment from their culture was unforgettable.
#3: the first time I tasted lobster.
There are three foods that sound extremely posh to me and those are caviar, lobster and Champagne. I haven’t yet tasted real caviar, and Champagne is not something I enjoy, but after tasting lobster I can understand why it has such a high status. It’s delicious! I was treated to my first portion of lobster last summer in Zanzibar, and now it ranks among the best foods I’ve ever tasted. Being served it in a restaurant lodged on a jetty right in the middle of the Indian Ocean might have also played a role in making the whole experience pretty memorable.
#4: the first time I ate whale meat.
Before passing on judgement, I need to say that I don’t support whaling. But in Norway it is a legal and regulated practice, and whale meat is something that people have been eating there for centuries. I remember my first encounter with frozen whale meat in a supermarket when I was studying in Oslo. I didn’t buy it then as I had no idea how to cook it and I was afraid of spoiling it. Years later I found myself in northern Norway at a restaurant where I had the possibility to taste whale. And I decided to go for it. It was the most local thing I could get and I figured that if I were to have it once in my life that was the best time and place.
#5: the first time I tried Vegemite.
Haven’t been to Australia yet, but I have lived with an Aussie for two months so I had Australia in my house and that kind of counts a bit. So when my Aussie sister came to Italy she brought a whole range of stuff from back home and that included a strange jar with a yellow lid that went by the weird name of “Vegemite”. One of the first days she woke up earlier to prepare toasties for the whole family and spread butter and that strange Australian thing on them. Now, I love bread with butter and salt, so if you give me an alternative that still tastes similar I can but love it. And this is how my addiction to Vegemite began. I don’t eat it very often but I always make sure I have a jar in my pantry, just in case an Australian comes visiting. I just love to see their expression when I take the most unexpected jar of Vegemite out of the cupboard.
#6: the first time I ate Korean food.
When I was living in Oslo I was sharing the kitchen in my dorm with a Korean girl who often had other Koreans over for dinner. I became good friends with some of them and it became common for me to join them at meal time. Although I was often eating my own food and only joined them at the table, a few times they prepared some Korean food for me, too. Despite their intention to make it as mild as they would for children, I swear it still was the hottest and spiciest food I’ve ever had. I’m so proud I managed to eat such spicy food.
#7: the first time I tasted cilantro.
When I stayed in New York I went through a complete initiation into all the wonders of Mexican cuisine. The group of friends I had there took me to all sorts of Mexican eateries, from taco trucks in the Bronx to fancy Manhattan restaurants. The first time I was taken to a Mexican place I was warned about one thing: there is one flavour in the Mexican cuisine that is even more peculiar than all types of chili peppers and that is cilantro. With cilantro it is either love or hate, one just can’t be in the middle. Well after that first time I was completely hooked – it was definitely love for me.
#8: the first time I taught someone to cook.
In July 2011 I travelled to Tallinn, Estonia, for 5 days with a group of friends. I was determined to make fresh muffins for breakfast for the whole group every day. The hostel had a very limited supply of kitchenware and only a small electric oven, but I had brought a measuring jar and silicone forms, so I managed. As the oven and fridge were in the rooms, there was no real kitchen table, so everything was made on the ample windowsill. One of my friends filmed one of those improvised baking sessions and that video still exists on youtube. I am never going to link it (good luck finding it), but that was evidence of my first time teaching someone to cook. Or better, to make muffins. Now I’ve spent the past year and a half teaching schoolchildren to cook, so I guess that episode in Tallinn was a sign (and yes, in my teaching program the muffin recipe is proudly featured).
#9: the first time I made a rainbow cake
My baking frenzy didn’t ever stop but still continues nowadays, I wouldn’t have started this blog if this wasn’t the case. Over the years I have started limiting my use of food colouring and buttercream, trying to experiment different types of sweets, but at the beginning I was more interested in the decoration and the aesthetics of my cakes rather than in the ingredients and the wonders of baking. So over my first three years I produced some crazy coloured muffins, cupcakes and cakes for every occasion. Rainbow cakes seemed a pretty big thing 5 years ago or so, so I decided to try my hand at one and joined in making my own. It’s just sponge cake and cream, nothing crazy baking-wise, but its visual impact is seriously appealing.
#10: the first time I tasted wine.
This is a funny story. Not one I have memories of, really, but it’s a family story that sometimes someone likes to tell. Apparently when I was about 9 months old my dad dipped my pacifier in his glass of red wine and offered it to me. Apparently I really enjoyed the treat, judging from how I reacted, witnesses report. So that was my first sample of wine. I grew up to become an even more avid appreciator of the divine beverage. I wonder if that sample at such an early age in a way helped. Not long ago I stumbled upon this hilarious gif and man do I relate!
Again – I would love to read more stories, so if any of you readers of this post would like to tell us about your 10 first times with food tag along and let me know! If you would like to read another one, I recommend paying a visit to my friend Giulia on her blog Five Senses of Food.
I’m off to Iceland for the Easter break. Will I come back with another memorable first time to add to my list? I’m still unsure if I’ll dare to stomach the infamous hákarl. We will see…