Win This Book!

In honor of the Rock Center Farmers Market starting off this week, I’ve got 5 copies of David Kamp’s “The United States of Arugula” to give away.  It’s a great book about the history of cooking and eating in America, and the ongoing revolution that’s changing the way this country looks at food.  (It has also got a few pages on how Barry Benepe founded the Greenmarket program that brought Farmers Markets to New York City in the 70s.)  To win the book, post an early childhood (or later if you didn’t discover good food until after college) memory of food discovery as a comment below.

I remember the first time my dad took me to a sushi restaurant.  I was probably 9 or 10 years old (it was the mid 80s), and I still remember looking down at those circular rice things and thinking “This is the weirdest Chinese food I have ever eaten.”  It is meals like that which made me into the fatso you know today.

Now let’s hear your story.  Post it as a comment below.  I will contact the winners via email (so make sure to fill out the email field.  Don’t worry, your email address won’t show up on the site.)  If you don’t want to wait, the paperback version of the book comes out on Tuesday.  Click here to order it now.

For more on David Kamp click here

UPDATE: This contest has been closed.  Congrats to all the winners.  You have been contacted via email.


  • When I was nine, my dad brought me to NYC. I had always eschewed the spicy tex-mex food that he made (he hailed from Oklahoma) and any other food with any kind of heat, so I think my dad really took a leap of faith in bringing me along on a trip to such a mecca of international food. We stayed at the Y so that we could splurge on meals. One night, he took me to an Indian restaurant. He ordered a bunch of spicy curries. When the food came, much to his suprise, his New England-born and -raised daughter scarfed down the lamb, chicken and veggie curries like a pro, with no problems with the spice. I remember thinking I’d never had food like that, it tasted so complete and it had the right kind of spice–spice that was about flavor, complemented by heat. The trip to that Indian restaurant began me on the path of loving spicy food and Asian cuisine, both of which I eat with reckless abandon now. My dad died more than 9 years ago, when I was 20, but I honor him daily by eating that is guided by flavor, curiousity, and humility, which taught me to love Indian food on a trip to NYC when I was nine.

  • Even at a young age I gravitated towards really strong and unique flavors, so when I was 10 and my family took a vacation to the south of France and there was duck on the menu, I jumped at the chance to have something different. The meal that came out of the kitchen was so unbelievably juicy and rich, my dad and I with our American sensibilities and food inexperience concluded they must have given me the filet mignon by mistake (but were too embarassed and shy to say anything). Imagine my utter disappointment the next night as I tried to re-create that dinner by ordering the “right” dish (the filet) and getting something else entirely. To this day whenever I eat duck breast, I think about my dad and I at that table in France marveling at my “beef”. It’s still the best duck I have ever had.

  • Growing up with a food-loving Chinese family, I have always been around plates of traditional Chinese fare. Beef tongue, pig ears, intestines, jelly fish, you name it. And I ate everything without hesitation, because I never paid attention to the names of the food. My favorite was sliced pig ear, braised until it was sweet and savory. To me, it was a crunchy snack, topped with garlic and cilantro. It didn’t occur to me a family friend remarked on my fearless eating, and I suddenly looked down and realized the crunch came from the cartiledge of the ear. For one second, I was horrified. But it was so good. So even though the veil was lifted, and I now saw the taste buds on cow tongue, I didn’t care what part of the animal something came from–as long as it was delicious. Now my hero is Andrew Zimmern.

  • The problem is… that while growing up, mom made me so many different things that food was always part of my life. Its such noise in the background that the memories are indistinct. As far as I can remember I’ve -always- liked all different foods (with the possible exception of fish and kale as a youngster). I suppose the first time I had sushi is an easy one though, we were visiting Aspen (no we didnt have money, but one of dad’s friends did). Dad’s friend plied mom and dad with tins of pate with fois gras, caviar and a case of Dom. Somewhere along the way, I got taken into town and plopped down at the sushi bar of his Japanese restaurant, and california roll was placed in front of me. Not something I had before….and to my eyes wrapped in green tin foil. I dont remember it being all that amazing tasting (and I still feel the same way about california rolls), but the look of it was so different and strange that it sticks with me to this day.

  • Until i was in highschool my family if they even cooked didn’t sway too far from your traditional cuisine of pizza/chinese food/etc. Once I turned vegetarian about 7 years ago i began to learn the ways of eating many different and interesting types of food that catered to my newly found choice of eating habit. The first time i had Falafel my brother and I were in Manhattan for a show of some sort and he took me to Mammoun’s. I had no idea what i was eating and was hesitant since those delcious balls of chickpea look bizarre to a newbie like myself. At first bite I was sold on the concept and have returned countless times to feast at all hours of the day and night. This first sampling of a new cuisine has helped to open my eyes to new and interesting treats from all over the world and I continue to find new foods and show people the way.

  • My favorite sandwich when I was a toddler was Underwood deviled ham, a slice of american cheese and a slice of tomato on Pepperidge Farm bread with mayonnaise. This sandwich is basically the only food (apart from breakfast cereal) that I remember from age four.

    Many years later I made a duplicate and was disgusted by how salty and sweet the deviled ham tasted.

  • As long as I can remember I have been a fussy eater. Still to this day my mom reminds me of all the things I would not eat. Then about 8 years ago I took a trip to Portugal with my father. We went to the small town that my mother was born, were my father saw my mom for the first time. It was there that I experienced new foods for the first time. Every home had fig and olive trees. Farmers would move their sheeps from one pasture to another right by my grandmothers front door. Bread was brought into the town freshly baked every morning. The milk was straight from the cows. The food was a fresh as fresh could be gotten. Since that trip I learned the meaning of fresh and wholesome foods. Picky eating has left my being.

  • When I was a very young child, I discovered cheese. I loved cheese. Cheese was my favorite food from the age of 3 to the age of – well, it might still be my favorite food.

    My mom fed me so much cheese that I started telling people that my mom worked in a cheese factory (who knows where kids get these ideas??). She didn’t appreciate this much, as her job actually had nothing to do with cheese production, and was, in fact, much more technical and awesome-cool. Nevertheless, she kept on bringing home the cheese.

    I love my mom.

  • I think growing up in a non-practicing Jewish household gave me an appreciation very early on for different types of food. Staples included chinese and other ethnic cuisines, so one year at rosh hashannah we went over to our friend’s house for new year’s dinner and saw a big bowl of dumplings. I asked my mom if there were any jewish chinese people out there and if all this time that we’d been going to chinese restaurants we’d been eating jewish food. It turns out that the eastern europeans have great dumplings too.

  • One of my fondest food memories is from age 8. I had a weeks school vacation in April and we were staying at home in suburban Connecticut. Being an Industrious young lad I walked over to our local market where I offered to carry bags out to the car for the old ladies that frequented the store.
    After a few hours of doing this I had collected $5 in tips. I walked to the back of the market where the old jewish men ran the deli counter. I wanted a sandwich but didn’t know what to order. They suggested a hot pastrami sandwich – something I had never heard of. After receiving my paper wraped sandwich bundle and paying the cashier i walked out in to the spring rain and found a large rock to sit on. Unwraping the warm pastrami sandwich I ate with gusto. I can still taste the pungent mustard, sense the slightly chewy rye bread and the lovely stringy bits of pastrami overflowing from all sides of the sandwich.

  • When I was four, my family moved from California to Michigan; this was in the early 70s. We moved to an unincorporated area called Freeland, into a duplex surrounded by fields and trees. Across the street I saw a huge wild strawberry patch, which piqued my interest right away. After we settled into the house, I wandered over and picked one of the tiny berries. Well, this berry was tiny in size but tremendous in taste – it was perfect, containing the most glorious strawberry flavor, perfectly sweet. It was a beautiful shade of red, too, they all were. I couldn’t get enough of them. My mom found me out there and had a hard time convincing me to leave. But she did, in part by helping me pick a small jar full of them for the house. We put them in the fridge and I kept opening the door to look at them, and sneak a few each time. They didn’t last a day.

    Whenever I eat a strawberry, I often think of my early strawberry discovery.

  • I was a judge at a chili cook-off about 4 years ago. To me, the best tasting dish was one labelled “Detwiler’s Chili.” It had a nice spicy flavor, not just pure heat, and had lots of pieces of some kind of delicious sausage. I congratulated the guy who made that chili, saying, “Great job, Detwiler.” He replied, “My name isn’t Detwiler. Detwiler field is the name of the place where I shot the bear whose meat I used in the chili.”
    Some kind of delicious sausage, indeed!

  • I was and still am a picky eater; this very much to the chagrin of my half-Filipino mother who saw me latch on to my white-bred midwestern father’s fried chicken and potato diet. Slowly I ate rice…then rice with chicken…then rice with chicken and vegetables (but not mushrooms, blech!). Soon I too became a fiend for all things spicy (anything on the opposite end of spectrum of the peanut butter-and-butter sandwiches I ate as a kid) but sadly never found any Indian food I enjoyed. I hated curries. I think everyone knows where this is going…shortly after arriving in NYC, a coworker brought into our office some chicken kati rolls. Then I read about it on Midtownlunch. And at last I had broken down the final barrier to one of the greatest, spiciest ethnic cuisines. This is important to me because if aliens abducted me and dropped me back at some random spot on Earth, I wouldn’t want to starve to death :)

  • When I was little I hated vegetables and loved sweets of all kinds. I used to eat a piece of white bread spread with honey every morning for breakfast. My crazy old Polish babysitter would tell me that I had to eat it quickly or else the squirrels outside would jump through the window and take it away from me. This is how I learned the greedy hoarding mentality that must also be at work behind the Midtown Luch post on tackling buffets :)

  • I grew up in Texas across the street from a Greek family, and also attended a Greek elementary school. Most of my friends families owned BBQ joints and diners, so for the longest time I thought BBQ was Greek food.

    My neighbors would grill whole red snapper with the head on. I couldn’t believe people ate like that! Basically I would go over there every day to eat homemade Greek food before going home and eating crap American food. I was so jealous my friend’s mom would make them amazing Pastiso, Moussaka, Triopita, Spanakopita and Souvlaki. And then there was the annual Greek Festival which was all about eating as much Greek food in two days as possible.

    It was these experiences that gave me the appetite I have today. To see people cooking with fresh ingredients and making all of this great food because they loved it made me the eater I am today.

  • Sorry to threadjack… megc, I have been a reader of your blog for a while now and I just wanted to give you props for keeping us Astorians in the know. Great job! :)

  • I don’t want to be considered for the contest, thanks, but what a great idea! Reading peopel’s memories has put a great big smile on my face. Thanks, Zach.
    I don’t really remember any food discoveries since I grew up (as another commenter mentioned) in a Chinese family where most stuff was just eaten without much comment. But I did recently discover that I do like lamb. Of course I’ve had lamb here and there over the years, but it was always gamey or crappy or just yuck. Had that gross aftertaste I didn’t like. Well, a few months ago, during our trip to Greece/Turkey, I was like, everyone haas lamb here, it’s got to be good, right? Wrong. It was AMAZING. The first night, I had this lamb that was so soft, amazing, succulent, and no gamey after taste, I was like, if lamb tasted like this ALL THE TIME, I would eat it… ALL THE TIME!!! Mmm, just remembering it brings back fond memories. Wonder if I can find a place here that can duplicate it… doubt it. I think it’s in the lambs. Yum yum.

  • I grew up in a family who thought paprika was an exotic spice. Salt, pepper and onion powder (not even fresh onions!) were the staples for nightly dinners of bland chicken and over-boiled frozen veggies.

    I am a latebloomer when it comes to food and flavors. Because of this, I have clear, explosive memories of many “firsts”, most on a trip to Europe as a teenager. I first had duck at the home of a family friend in Denmark – that woman had a gift and the roast duck melted in your mouth. My mom leaned over during dinner and said, “Enjoy this because it’s the best duck you’ll ever have.” And she was absolutely right. I sampled some of my first salmon and lamb* in Iceland. The salmon was such a vivid red color, I mistook it for a peeled tomato. I also had my first cup of french press coffee on that trip and dragged my mother all over the place in order to find a press to take home.

    One treat that my non-cooking mother provided over the years were liverwurst sandwiches. I was SURE I would hate it – c’mon it’s LIVER. But I was, happily, quite wrong. Mom would pick up fresh hard rolls, slice a tomato from my grandfather’s garden, spread a little mayo, add two slices of Mother Goose liverwurst, and some sweet gherkin pickles on the side. This was a richly delicious sandwich that I still treat myself to once in a blue moon – the crispy, chewy roll, fatty sweet liverwurst, juicy tomato and crunchy, tangy pickles. It’s such a simple thing full of so much pleasure and many great memories.

    *It was my first truly prepared lamb. My first lamb was my farm cousin’s pet lamb, one of a pair named Soup and Dinner. Dinner succombed to disease and was thrown in the incinerator – the yard stunk of wool and meat for two days. Shortly after, Soup was butchered and prepared for Sunday dinner. At the time I was horrified, but have since enjoyed many of the meaty products from my uncle’s farm.

  • For me it was eating Indian in Milan. Let me back up. I grew up with incredibly boring taste in food. I was one of those loser kids who really would peel off the crust of my (white) bread. In college I worked at a pizza place and lived on hoagies (I’m from philly), cheese steaks and cheese fries. It wasn’t until my late 20s living in NYC that I started to wake up my taste buds. My wife (then girlfriend) and I lived on Carmine street near bleecker and we began going to some of the good old local food shops in the hood. Faicco’s, Murray’s Cheese Shop, Balducci’s. We cooked more, paid attention to ingredients more, etc.

    But about eight years ago my wife and I were in Italy and met my cousin who is in film/video production in Italy (he moved there from Boston after meeting a girl in college, now lives like an Italian). Anyway, we had one night out in Milan where he was covering a furniture show and he recommended we all go to an Indian place. The concept of being in Italy and eating Indian food seemed incredibly random and almost obscene but we went along with it. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. The flavors were so pronounced, the food fresh, and the staff (who knew/loved my cousin) were incredibly friendly.

    There was something about this meal with my transplanted Italian cousin, his Serbian cameraman, the transplanted Indian manager/owner, and the middle eastern wait staff that was sort of transformative. Since this trip I’ve become much more aware of different foods and different cultures when I travel (Morocco on my honeymoon, a recent vacation in Thailand) and when I’m shopping (Matsuwa markets in Edgewater, Indian groceries in Edison–yes, I live in Jersey). The globalism of food (like the globalism of anything) has its downside, but it can also make you more aware of the world around you.

  • My favorite memory was watching my father make matzoh bri (a traditional Jewish dish made during passover). The rest of the year he never even entered the kitchen. However, during passover it was a treat for him to make this family tradition. We had a large built in skillet aproximately 2ft. x 2 ft. built onto the top of the stove. You don’t see those anymore and for him making matzoh bri was an art form. Soaking it in milk, when most people soak it in water and adding exactly 2 eggs to 2 slices of matzoh. He fried it with more butter then I like to admit and made it so crunchy. Those were the days.

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