When Lobster Was Spam: 5 Gourmet Foods That Used to be Cheap

#2. Polenta

Polenta is basically gruel, the food with the world's worst PR team.

But polenta is the gruel made from corn. Which meant that instead of looking forward to a case of the rickets and being forced to waste valuable calories on bursting into song, you instead got pellagra: a disease that takes something forgettable a like Niacin deficiency, and turns it into a disease that is also forgettable because it causes dementia... and death.

Much like gruel, working class families in Italy and Latin America largely depended on this corn mush, which can take an upwards of three hours to cook from scratch, has to be stirred constantly and tastes like something you'd feed to cattle.

"Polentoni" is actually an insult that means "polenta-eater" in Italian. While it's actually intended to describe Northern Italians as boring and flavorless, we suspect it's probably as a dig at the nasty skin condition they might have developed with their pellagra.

Have we mentioned pellagra also causes diarrhea?


It also steals your wallet!

Then How Did It Get So Fancy?

Celebrity chefs. Fairly recently, polenta went from being the dish that every rags-to-riches person thought they'd never have to eat again, to the dish that is costing them $25 in a restaurant run by the only person left on Earth not getting shit for wearing Crocs, Mario Batali.

This fine dining restaurant even did an all-polenta meal. But make no mistake, fine dining polenta is mostly still plain old peasant polenta that is sexed up for rich people. The Food Network's Rocco DiSpirito even has a special recipe for polenta in which the only special ingredient is that Rocco Dispirito is telling you about it.

You could take a few pointers, gruel.

#1. Sushi

The idea behind sushi is that you've got fish, plus stuff wrapped around it to preserve the fish. The fermentation of the rice kept the fish from giving you the types of illnesses you've only experienced through Oregon Trail. So originally sushi followed the formula of fish = "yum"; rice = "silica packet."

Back then the boozy, fermented rice was discarded, presumably because they were already pretty busy with all the opium. Then a 17th century Japanese doctor, Matsumoto Yoshiichi, hit upon the idea of adding vinegar to the rice to make it an edible part of the dish. This would be like if someone decided that a jar of pickle slices was now a soup.

Like most Japanese things, Sushi eventually became pocket sized. Sushi's portability, cheapness, as well as the allure of eating both a food and its wrapper at the same time turned sushi into the hot dog of the Japanese Edo period. The popular Sushi street stalls were the original fast food joints..

Then How Did It Get So Fancy?

Post-WWII, sushi arrived in the U.S. with the word "exotic" attached to it, which means Americans treated sushi the way that hipsters with asymmetrical haircuts treat anime.

Now there are sushi restaurants that charge up to $400 a meal (before booze) with a straight face. Masaharu Morimoto, best known for being the Iron Chef that makes Bobby Flay look like Richie Cunningham, writes in his cookbooks about the short, specific time limits he has eating pieces of sushi.

This seems reasonable until you remember that this is like a century from now reading a celebrity chef talking about how he can only eat his Chicken McNuggets exactly 236 seconds after they've left the fryer.




Lola subsists on a diet of flavored lip gloss and old pets, and she snarks football over at QuarterRack.

Next, check out the poor man's booze that will become tomorrow's new rich fad, in Nectar of the Broke: The World's 5 Worst Ways To Get Drunk. Or find out about some drinks that will never be sought out by the insanely wealthy, in Yogurt Pepsi: 14 Horrifying Soft Drinks Around the World.

And visit the rich man's Internet in our Top Picks section.

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