The first time I ever tasted a taco was in Germany. My husband was in the Army, stationed there, and I was living “off post.” The friends we made during his tour of duty were from every ethnic group represented in this country and the military commissary, where we bought our food, catered to all of those tastes.
One night we were invited over for dinner at a friend’s place. It was the end of the month and consequently money was very tight; a free meal was a bonus. Our friend was a higher rank than my husband and therefore could afford to give a little dinner party. We brought along some beer, always a bargain in Germany those days.
Sharon asked if we ever had eaten tacos and we said, “What’re tacos?” Then she showed us things she had picked up at the commissary: tortillas, chili , jalepeno peppers, and Tabasco sauce. Oh, and tequila. On the counter were little dishes, each filled with a chopped vegetable. Other little plates contained cooked beef, shredded cheese and beans. She told us how to put it all together. I took one bite and thought I had died and gone to heaven. Been eating them ever since.
Another friend asked us over for a feast prepared by his Japanese wife. We ate cooked cabbage with soy sauce and it was fabulous. And down the road in Mannheim was a Chinese restaurant and an Italian place. There was even a pizza joint, always packed with American GIs.
When it was time to return to the States, I thought, “Oh, no, I’ll never have tacos again! Luckily, while we were gone, a friend had married a fellow from Texas. Whenever he visited his family, he came back to Connecticut with bags and bags of “Tony’s Sanitary Tortillas” and then we would prepare, what we called, “grease night.” With his mother on the phone for guidance, we prepared nachos, enchiladas, chili rejenos, tamales, and margaritas.
In recent years we’ve learned to enjoy many more ethnic foods. When I was growing up, it was pretty much meat and potatoes, although my mother was a fabulous cook and had graduated from Fanny Farmer cooking school. She did some pretty fancy stuff with meat and potatoes. She could get four meals out of a chicken and six out of a turkey.
As far as Italian food goes, there was very little pasta and we called it spaghetti. Lasagna didn’t exist. I didn’t taste a pizza until I was a senior in high school.
We had what my father called “Yankee” food: creamed salt pork, corned beef hash, macaroni and cheese, creamed dried beef, bacon every day. Anything that would pump your arteries full of lethal amounts of cholesterol was a Yankee meal.
My family is pretty adventuresome when it comes to trying new foods. Although sometimes it’s just as well not to know what you’re eating. Like the time someone slipped my husband some eel. Never did quite get into eel.
Then there are certain foods that stir the soul and always will, and topping my list is a big bowl of mashed potatoes, topped with dark, rich piping-hot beef gravy.