If you know about sushi’s history, you might have heard that tuna used to be considered peasant’s food in Japan. Bluefin toro is one of the most expensive fish in the world, and is universally considered a delicacy. The only people who ate it in ancient Japan were people that could not afford anything else! The fatty belly of tuna (toro) which is now the most prized cut of the fish was considered absolutely repulsively disgusting, and people did everything they could to hide the flavor of the fish.
This inspired me to write about six foods (including tuna) that went from dirt cheap to trendy – and usually out of my price range.
I’ve lived in Prince Edward Island, the beautiful province on the east coast of Canada and one of the few places in the world where you can get delicious, fresh and affordable lobster. When you think of lobster, you might think of fancy restaurants and snooty waiters bringing out meals on silver platters. If you could go back in time, do you know what you would see? Rich kids with ultra cool baloney and spam sandwiches making fun of the poor kids forced to eat the disgusting, sea crawling bugs. They were often ground up and ploughed into the soil to add nutrients and help crops grow.
Of course, back then lobster was not served up with delicious garlic butter, but its change from trash of the sea to its high falootin’ current status is one of the biggest social class jumps a food can make! The next time you are lucky enough to dig into a delicious lobster dinner, just remember that not so long ago you would have been taunted for eating the “garbage of the sea”.
Snails have french cuisine to thank for their elevated status in the culinary world. Well, maybe thanks is too strong a word – I’m sure if you asked the snails being served up to hungry customers, they might disagree. Mollusks have been eaten in many cultures since the dawn of humanity, but pulling the live creatures out of their shells and chowing down can’t have been pleasant! Once again, the addition of butter made a huge difference, bringing these lowly creatures to the forefront of the culinary world.
3. Chicken wings
Unlike the other items mentioned in this article, chicken wings are more likely to be found in a pub on a Wednesday wing night than in a fancy restaurant. But that does not change the fact that one of the most popular parts of the chicken used to be considered the garbage of the animal, thrown out or sold to whoever was desperate enough to buy it. There was simply very little meat on the bone, and what little there was was considered stringy and meager. Chicken wings surged to popularity in the ’60s when people started to realize that wings and drumsticks were the perfect way to transport delicious sauces from the plate to your mouth. Now you can find them at any pub or bar, and even most restaurants – sometimes for 12 bucks a plate!
You guessed it, our favorite food was born out of necessity, not culinary genius. Before refrigeration, people had to be clever about storing their meats and seafood. Some cultures used salting and curing, and some (the Japanese) decided that they could ferment sushi with rice. It wasn’t tasty, it stank, but it was a way to preserve protein for fishing villages. It was tasty, but you had to hold your nose!
The fish that inspired me to write this post. This fish was considered so disgusting that people would literally bury the tuna under the ground to make the muscles ferment, which managed to make the fish barely palatable to the poor sods who had to eat it. The fish did not manage to shake it’s status as a poor man’s food, even being used for fertilizer and cat food during it’s ignominious history.
Fish eggs, otherwise known as caviar, have been eaten since the 12th century in Persia (Iran) and what is now Russia, and was eaten by the bowl full with porridge by fisherman. It was considered a by-catch, or waste, when they would sell the fish. Yet it was plentiful, and not even considered edible by anyone but the lowly fishermen who ate whatever they could at the time. That was until Ivan the Terrible developed a taste for it, its status changed and it immediately became a delicacy for the aristocrats.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Were there any foods you remember being way cheaper in your childhood? Feel free to share it in the comments!