I consider myself lucky. My first Chicago style hot dog was had in Chicago. And I had a Chicagoan order it for me, just to make sure I got the right thing, the right way.
Yes, I had heard of Chicago dogs in the past, with their tomato wedges, pickles, sport peppers, and celery salt. However, as a kid who grew up eating dirty water dogs from pushcarts in Manhattan, these midwestern variations on the form sounded like heresy.
But I won’t soon forget that first experience of eating a Chicago style dog, which was surprisingly good. Nor can I forget the first time I had dim sum, Raf took me to some place in Miami, and I was completely underwhelmed. There are stories upon stories. The first time trying ribs. The first time encountering sushi. My first taste of a fresh fig.
All of these food events have been indelibly etched into my mind. I’m guessing you probably have a few similar experiences. And if you would like to share a story or two, I’d love to hear about them. But I’m bringing up the significance of trying new foods for the first time because last night I got to do something super special.
With thanks to Jinah Kim at Sunhee’s Farm & Kitchen, I got to bring thirty members of the Yelp community into her bar to learn about Korean food and culture through eating some classic dishes.
The idea was that while Korean food is gaining in popularity, not many people in the Capital Region know a lot about it. Maybe there are a couple of classic dishes that people have tried, like bulgogi or bi bim bap, but Korean food has so much more to offer.
The first dish we got to try was kimbap.
Only two people in the entire room had tried kimbap before. That means it was almost everyone’s first time trying this classic Korean seaweed wrapped rice roll. It’s kind of like a sushi roll, except without the raw fish. And it’s a delicious kaleidoscope of colors and flavors.
Did I mention that I consider myself lucky? I’m thrilled and honored that I could be part of this first food experience.
Not too long ago, I was eating a grilled cheese sandwich at The Cheese Traveler, and I realized that cheesemongers get to have this kind of experience every day. I remember David giving me my first taste of L’Etivaz and Juliana introducing me to Penazul, back at my favorite cheese shop in Oakland. That day, Eric was offering a customer her first taste of a fresh fig.
I was jealous. Not because she was getting a fig and I wasn’t. No. I was envious that Eric and his team got to be part of people’s first food experiences every day. It’s a fantastic honor to be present when someone tastes a new food for the first time.
And last night I was.
Kimbap is something that should be ridiculously popular in the Capital Region. We’re a people who love sushi yet live far away from the sea. I’m guessing that these vegetarian options are just a little outside people’s comfort zones. My hope is that once people try it, they’ll be hooked.
We’ll have to wait and see.