I'll always remember it as if I were yesterday. Growing up in Southern California, where my parents were Vietnamese immigrants, I need truly got exposed to fast food. While my parents mostly raised me on healthy foods, in addition to various dishes they brought over from the old country, I never to experience fast food until I was 8 years old.
To be sure, going to school provided me with meals I grew to know and love, and I remember always looking forward to lunch time, when after having watched Reading Rainbow, we would walk in a straight line - as straight as pre-teens knew how to make them, and sit on the concrete in front of the school cafeteria, sometimes baking in the Southern California sun, before heading we got our turns to the delicious hot dogs and burgers, nachos and cornbread, and one of those square little cartons of chocolate milk.
I always dreamed of one day finding the face of one of the kids I hated on that milk carton, but it never happened. In fact, I never saw any missing kids on those cartons of milk.
But enough of my memories of elementary school. Today, I want to share my memory of my first bite of fast food, the first moment I knew I was in love.
It was a Saturday, and thus, I'd gotten to sleep in. When I woke up, both my parents had gone to visit friends, and my doting sister, having just returned from her freshman year at UCLA for a visit, decided to take me to the grocery store to get breakfast cereal, as she couldn't cook, and we ran out of cereal.
On the way there, however, we decided to take a detour, and by amazing, beautiful sister looked at me as if she was about to confide in me a secret that had worldly implications and said, "You can't tell mom and dad about this, okay?"
I nodded in agreement not knowing what would happen next - that is, until she pulled the car into the Taco Bell parking lot and waited at the drive-through line.
"What do you want?" she asked, assuming that much like her, I'd already gone through junior and high school, and now college, and knew what the hell they had at Taco Bell.
I shrugged. "I'll eat anything," I replied, looking at the menu as if it were a treasure map.
In the end, pulling out of that parking lot, and driving home, still with no boxes of cereal, we sat in the living room and my sister handed me a pack of two warm, soft tacos. The tortillas still warm, wrapped around the orange and brown bits of ground beef, shiny from the grease, with tiny bits of shredded lettuce sprinkled on top. Some of the cheese had already melted and glued itself on the meat.
I took a breath, and without even bothering to put on any of the sauces my sister had also gotten for me, bit into my piece of heaven. The flavors danced in my mouth. The spiciness of the ground meat soon turns into a rich, beefy flavor as the smell wafed through my nose. As I continued to chew, the lettuce made tiny crunchy noises, and the cheese stuck to the top of my mouth.
"Is this what they have at college?" I asked, my eyes widened.
"Yes, they have a lot of things for you to choose from in college," my sister replied.
"Then I am going to college," I told her, making her laugh.
Nineteen years now. It's been 19 years since I first took a bite of Taco Bell, and I will never, ever forget that day.
Sure, since then, my taste has developed, and I've moved on to tongue tacos, and real tacos, along with international cuisines and fine dining, and now and then, I can even cook should I like a woman enough to want to impress her. But just like the first kiss, the first love, and yes, even the first time, I'll never, ever forget that day, and the emotions and satisfaction it brought me.
I like Taco Bell, and in high school and college, I developed somewhat of an addiction to the Meximelt, but each time I am at Taco Bell, soft tacos will always, always be ordered, no matter what else is available.
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