No one forgets his or her first. I know what you're thinking. Leaning over the stove last night, breathing the perfume of sauteed portabella mushrooms and onion, I reflected on my first portabella. This, as my friend at The Extended Table wrote recently, is food porn.
I was twelve years old when I had my first raw oyster. On a Sunday after mass at St. Louis Cathedral, my parents (yes, they endorsed this shameless and risky act of consumption) took my sister and I to the The Sazerac at the Roosevelt Hotel for brunch. The first oyster was a tentative step into a new experience: slick, salty flesh ladled on a saltine and heaped with tangy cocktail sauce. There I sat primly in my Sunday best with a plate full of glistening oysters, their half-shells bedded in a veritable snow drift of rock salt, my senses saturated with the sweet, silky, wet explosion that is the finest delicacy of the Gulf. I remember asking myself, should I be doing this.
As much as I reluctantly admit this, my first husband and I relished quite a few tasty firsts in those young, newlywed, and exploratory years. On a wild hair, he and I visited a Mediterranean grocery that had opened near our home in Memphis. It was there that I was introduced to a salty and strangely satisfying spread: taramosalata, Greek-style caviar. Taramosalata is pink and grainy, nearly a gelled version of sea-water made for pita bread or crackers. It is as tactile to the mouth as the fingers. I have a really hard time controlling myself when we have it--the rest of my family deems this as kinky taste and relegates the jar's contents to me exclusively.
My current husband adores comfort foods and Carolina stand-bys, such as the livermush he tantalized me with when we first went to North Carolina together. Livermush is cubed, grey, gritty, and some kind of composted-meat concoction. On first appearance, livermush seems ordinary, bland, routine--even off-putting, but it's an entirely multi-sensory palette-experience; its warm, livery, wet-sand quality contrasts nicely with the crust of the outside when heavily sauteed. Some slice it up for sandwiches cold. I prefer it lightly fried and served with eggs.
There have been other trists I recall well: scungilli, calamari, hog's head cheese, rabbit (now there's a story for another blog), beef tongue (just feed it to me, but don't ask me to look at it), sushi, and more. Much of this no longer excites people, but exotic is a relative concept. I grew up eating turtle soup, the mere mention of which shocked a good Yankee friend of mine into fitful questions about why I might eat a pet. Who knew turtle soup with sherry could be such... perversion?
I still lust for new firsts. I haven't yet savored squirrel. I still wish for a taste of Kobe beef or maybe even buffalo butter (buffalo bone marrow). I yearn for one of those truffles that some poor French pig has been forced to snuffle out of the ground. Fried bacon (you heard that right) and fried twinkies are also on my bucket list of foods to savor. There are endless opportunities for firsts in the world of a foodie, and thankfully, I have a dedicated companion to share these moments with, but I can tell you that nothing--nothing--will ever come close to that strangely controlled explosion of the first raw oyster, that thin-lipped wet flesh slipping into my adolescent mouth.