The most exotic meal of all

 Roast lamb with homemade mint sauce, roast potatoes and kumura, peas, Auckland Because I've lived nearly my entire adult life in Thailand, a place where eating things such as raw blood is relatively commonplace, and because some people mistakenly consider me an authority on such bizarre foods, I'm more than a bit embarrassed to reveal what I'd consider my first exotic meal.

It was almost certainly a meal I ate when I was about 12, just before I made my first trip abroad. I had been invited to have dinner at the home of an ice hockey teammate, an Australian, and was served roast lamb. It was my first time ever eating the meat (I believe this was also the same day when I first tasted Vegemite -- you can imagine the cumulative culinary shock to my system), and I remember wondering beforehand if I'd be able to get it down. Even the dinner table, topped with exotic-sounding condiments such as mint sauce and chutney, a gravy boat, cloth napkins and the family's special plates, not to mention the family's somewhat formal table manners, were intimidating and foreign and a world away from my family's informal and very American concept of dinner.

In the end I had no problem eating the lamb, and even enjoyed the meal, but had largely forgotten about the whole experience until recently, when on my recent trip to New Zealand, I was invited to have roast lamb with my buddy Hock's family.

We began, naturally, with a leg of lamb:

Preparing the leg of lamb, Auckland

which we seasoned and studded with garlic and rosemary.

Hock made mint sauce according to his grandmother's recipe:

Making mint sauce, Auckland

which involved grinding fresh mint, sugar, salt and malt vinegar to a paste in a mortar and pestle.

He also made his grandmother's fish pie:

Fish pie, Aucklan

a delicious mixture of smoked fish, scallops and shrimp held together by a thick roux.

While all this was baking, the kids came by with chocolate slice that they had made:

The kids with chocolate slice, Auckland

and Grandma Chris topped her famous and delicious eclairs:

Making eclairs, Auckland

After nearly two hours in the oven, the lamb was done:

Hock slicing the leg of lamb, Auckland

the home-grown onions, potatoes and kumara (a type of local sweet potato) roasted:

Roasted potatoes and kumara, Auckland

and the fish pie baked:

Fish pie, Auckland

and we sat down to a roast lamb dinner, my second in 20 years:

At the dinner table, Auckland

This time around the meal didn't feel nearly as exotic, and was even somewhat homey and familiar, confirming for me that all these years in Thailand have conditioned me to eat anything, even roast lamb.