I don't know why this popped into my head, but I was just thinking about what I realized were my earliest independent Chowhounding experiences. It was in the late 80s, before Chowhound even existed, but the same motivations that I have now for expanding my culinary horizons started bubbling up on the annual trips my junior high school's band took to Boston, to perform a few songs, to catch a Red Sox game at Fenway, to experience the awesomeness that was John Williams and the Boston Pops, and to explore, for a few glorious hours, the variety of food stalls and restaurants at Quincy Market.
Of course as an adult I know Quincy Market is a big tourist trap and much more Chow-worthy places may be found all over the greater Boston area, but for a seventh grader like myself, with my first real taste of freedom, it was incredible. I remember going from stall to stall, trying the hot dolma with the ground meat from the Greek place (Mykonos Fair, I presume, now Steve's Greek Cuisine?!), skewers of bacon-wrapped scallops, raw oysters and littlenecks on the half shell, clear cola (I think by Clearly Canadian) way before Crystal Pepsi was introduced. At one point, my one sushi-loving friend and I even ventured up to the second level of one of the outer buildings that had a sushi restaurant, and we ate sushi at the bar (I'm remembering having saba and ikura, probably because of their bold flavors). I blew pretty much all the money I brought on food at Quincy Market, and I couldn't wait to do it again!
If that wasn't a sign true proto-Chowhounder, I'm sure this would qualify: I knew our school band would be coming back the following year, when I was in eighth grade, and during the time in between I would occasionally start daydreaming about trying the foods I saw at Quincy Market that I didn't get a chance to try the first time, and planning how best to optimize my exploration of the various food options now that I had more familiarity with the place... :-)
So, now it's your turn... What, my fellow Chowhounders, were your earliest independent Chowhounding experiences (i.e., not a place or food that your family or friends introduced you to, but an experience that you made or discovered yourself)?