I always love to read those "man-on-the-street" columns in my local newspaper. It seems that frivolous questions rather than weighty ones inspire far livelier and intriguing responses. In the same spirit, I collar friends, relatives, and total strangers to ask them inconsequential questions on culinary matters.

Q: What's a favorite food of yours that you first encountered in a foreign country? 

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Les: Before my work took me to Japan for the first time, my only experience with Japanese cuisine was the samurai chefs at Benihana. Not exactly traditional Japanese cooking.

So to my great surprise, my first meal in Tokyo consisted of these little tidbits of I didn't know what. My host went to great lengths to instruct me on the correct etiquette for eating them. I fumbled at first. But I soon caught on and ate the whole platter with relish.

Only afterwards did I learn that I had been introduced to sushi. And I survived! (I was raised in a very traditional middle-class Jewish family where it was believed that no food should be eaten until it had been cooked for at least four hours.) I gave full credit for my surviving eating raw fish to the prodigious amounts of Japanese whiskey we drank. After all, my mother taught me that alcohol kills all germs.