Food in the 80s was a working parent's dream and a foodie's paradise. Sit back and imagine the aroma of pesto, spicy chicken wings, or quiche, then take your taste buds on a trip to yesteryear to indulge in some savory, spicy, sweet, and decadent memories of the most popular food and candy from the 80s.
Popular 80s Convenience Food
During the 80s, home-cooked meals shifted from the stove to the microwave. The increasing demand for quick, easy, and convenient foods resulted in the popularity of microwave dinners, frozen foods, and out-of-the-can and out-of-the-box meals. What more could busy parents ask for than a breakfast that went from freezer to toaster and out the door? Of course, if all of this was too much work, there was always the nearby McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, or Taco Bell.
Let's all clap for Lean Cuisine, the perfect quick and easy way to manage your weight. It was introduced by Stouffer's in 1981. All Lean Cuisine meals contained about 350 calories and provided a healthier alternative to other frozen dinners. Lean Cuisine is still popular today.
Sloppy Joes weren't the cover girl of sandwiches, but they were at the height of their popularity during the iconic 80s. The combination of ground meat, onions, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce piled high on a hamburger bun was a regular evening meal for many American families in the 80s. And Sloppy Joes were made even easier by Hunt's Manwich Original Sloppy Joe Sauce.
Ramen Noodles Cups
Ramen Noodles became trendy in the 1980s. Why? Because according to the NYC Village Voice, Ramen Noodles were "wickedly cheap" and "edible raw." Yes, they were a quick, easy and portable meal; all you had to do was add hot water to the cup, stir, and eat.
Remember having Impossible Cheeseburger Pie for a weeknight dinner? In the 1980s, Bisquick started putting recipes for "Impossible Pies" on the back of its baking mix boxes. They took off because they were such a timesaver. You just poured everything into a pie tin, put it into the oven, and it magically turned into a pie with crust. An Impossible Pie was impossibly easy to make.
Popular 80s Food for Foodies
Ironically, even as there was less and less home-cooking, more and more people became interested in cuisine during the 80s. Books such as Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen and Martha Stewart's Entertaining became popular best sellers. New magazines like Food & Wine informed everyone about the latest dining fads. Having reservations at the most fashionable restaurants or hosting a party that featured the latest trends for your guests to indulge in was far more important during the 80s than actually knowing how to cook.
When diet-conscious Americans proclaimed that seafood was clean, pure, organic, and exceptionally healthy if eaten raw, sushi became hip. It became a full-on craze, and an enormous number of Japanese restaurants and sushi bars opened by the late 1980s. Still, sushi walked the line between Japanese tradition and American innovation.
Tex-Mex became all the rage in restaurants and grocery stores during the 1980s. Whether it was simple chips and salsa, guacamole, sizzling fajitas, tacos, or other offerings like blue cornmeal, jicama, or squash blossoms, Americans couldn't get enough of Mexican-inspired food. But Tex-Mex wasn't just an 80s fad: by 1991, ketchup had been replaced by salsa as the number one condiment in the United States.
"Pesto is the quiche of the eighties," a line from the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally, captures the 80s fascination with Italian cuisine. During the 80s, people ate popular Italian dishes such as Eggplant Parmigiana, Chicken Piccata, Tournedos Rossini, and fried calamari. They enjoyed the taste of sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and fresh basil pesto.
Cajun and Creole Cuisine
During the mid-80s, there was a massive renaissance of hot and spicy Cajun and Creole dishes. Jambalaya, gumbo, and crawfish became popular and were served all around the country. Perhaps the most popular dish that emerged was blackened redfish. The fish was dipped in clarified butter and blackening spices, then seared in red-hot iron skillets. By the end of the 80s, blackened anything was the rage, as long as it brought the Louisiana bayou to mind with its Cajun flavor.
French Onion Soup
In the 70s, Americans started taking a keen interest in French cuisine. Fancier French restaurants were serving nouvelle cuisine, with all its detailed and artistic presentations. More casual French restaurants specialized in crepes and fondue. However, by the mid-80s, they tended to have one popular item in common: French onion soup.
Eastern European Cuisine
If you were at a fancy restaurant or a catered event during the 80s, you're likely to have encountered Chicken Kyiv and Beef Stroganoff. Chicken Kyiv consists of pounded chicken breasts rolled and stuffed with herb butter, then breaded and fried. Beef Stroganoff is a stew containing onions, and sliced beef, laden with mushrooms in a cream sauce made entirely from sour cream.
Buffalo Chicken Wings
Buffalo chicken wings soared to popularity in the 1980s, just as sports bars were popping up across America. It's no coincidence that every sports bar served Buffalo Chicken wings. They were inexpensive, and spicy chicken wings made people thirsty, which led to more beer sales.
The 1980 movie Urban Cowboy started a cowboy trend, and in 1982 Longhorn Steakhouse was off and running. Longhorn was so popular it fostered a herd of cowboy-themed steakhouses.
Popular 80s Brunch Food
Can you imagine life without an occasional Sunday brunch? Brunch became very popular in the 80s. So, too, did cravings for tasty eats with a bit of sweet and savory flair.
The Monte Cristo Sandwich
The Monte Christo Sandwich is a made-in-America classic brunch treat. It's a fried ham and Swiss cheese sandwich that's batter-dipped and deep-fried, then sprinkled with powdered sugar, and served with jam.
Popular in the 70s, quiche enjoyed its heyday in the 80s when it became a brunch favorite. Still, quiche was also served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You added fruit for breakfast or brunch, salad for lunch or dinner, and your meal was complete.
Popular 80s Party Foods
Remember the fantastic array of party food the host set out for guests during the 80s? There was everything from potato skins topped with bacon, cheese, sour cream, and green onions to cheese fondue to deviled eggs. No party table was complete without these party pleasers.
Seven Layer Dip
Wild about Tex-Mex? Dive into the seven layer dip with its colorful layers of guacamole, salsa, cheese, and toppings. This beloved dip was part of the sudden widespread craze over Tex-Mex cuisine during the 80s. Still, it was only one of the many dips that rose to fame during the 80s. The decade of the dip included Hidden Valley ranch packet dips that were added to sour cream, spinach artichoke dip, and avocado dip (or, you might call it, guacamole).
Soup served in a bowl of hollowed-out bread had been around since the Middle Ages. But the 80s put a new spin on bread bowls, and guests were guaranteed to find dip in a bread bowl, with some assorted veggies on the side for dipping, on every buffet table during the 80s.
Baked brie was a huge crowd pleaser in the 80s. A wheel of brie, smothered in a condiment such as apricot jam or mustard, wrapped in puff pastry (or crescent dough), and baked. Voilà - you had a cheesy starter that went perfectly with sliced apples and crackers.
Popular Decadent 80s Desserts
The 1980s are sometimes called "The Decade of Decadence." This is certainly revealed in some of its decadent desserts.
Chocolate Decadence was well named and is the most iconic dessert from the 80s. It was an extremely rich flourless cake, and its main ingredients are semi-sweet chocolate and eggs, with a pinch of cayenne served with fresh raspberry sauce.
Who doesn't love Tiramisu? This Italian dessert became popular in the 80s (its Italian origin is debatable.) Tiramisu is made from mascarpone (soft, buttery Italian double cream cheese), eggs, coffee, sugar, chocolate pieces, and Italian ladyfingers, called savoiardi.
The 80s were all about luxury chocolates, and that included truffles. The popularity of chocolate truffles spread quickly during the 80s. Truffles are soft balls of chocolate rolled in cocoa powder or chopped nuts, and they were often served at the end of restaurant meals or given as DIY gifts during the 80s.
Crème brûlée had been around for centuries in Europe. Still, it had a significant moment in the 80s when it appeared on the menu of Le Cirque restaurant in NYC. It's said that "Le Cirque's crème brûlée launched a thousand copycats." Consisting of a rich vanilla custard base topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel, Crème brûlée became a restaurant staple, with many flavor variations.
Popular 80s Snacks and Candy
If you were an 80s kid, you know all about snacks. Cool Ranch Doritos, Planters Cheese Balls, Hot Pockets, Tofino's Pizza Rolls, Bagel Bites, Hostess Pudding Pies, Pepperidge Farm Star Wars Cookies, and Peanut Butter Boppers were all popular in the 80s. Not to mention Dairy Queen Blizzards and TCBY frozen yogurt. Then, of course, there was the candy. Words can't express an 80s kid's love for the candies below.
The Willy Wonka Candy Factory produces some of the most beloved candies in the world. But a candy named Nerds? Nerds are represented by the odd, peculiar, colorful mascots on the candy packaging. Each piece of candy consists of layer upon layer of sugar. And each box contains two flavors, each with its own compartment and opening. Wonka Nerds were first sold in 1983 and were named "Candy of the Year" in 1985 by the National Candy Wholesalers Association.
Wonka Runts, as the name suggests, looked like runt fruits and were fruit flavored. First sold in 1982, Runts were part of the Willy Wonka candy lineup that was popular during the 80s and offered the same whimsical fun as all the Willy Wonka candies.
Did you know the name Skittles comes from a sport of the same name, because the candy resembles items used in the game? Or that Skittles' theme is "taste the rainbow?" It was 1979 when Americans first got to "taste the rainbow," and these multicolored, fruit-flavored, button-shaped candies sailed "somewhere over the rainbow" in popularity.
Everyone loves Twix, that great-tasting candy bar with "chocolate, caramel, and a surprising cookie crunch." But did you know that this beloved twin candy bar was once called Raider Bars? Of course, when Raiders Bars emigrated to America in 1979, they needed a new, catchier name and became known as Twix.
Remember the scene in Steven Spielberg's classic 80s movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial where Elliott lures E.T. with a trail of Reese's Pieces? Although Reese's Pieces were first introduced in 1977, this enchanting movie made Reese's Pieces famous. These yummy little candies have a peanut butter center with a colorful crackling coating and look similar to M&Ms. Curiously, Reese's Pieces only got the gig when M&Ms declined.
Hey, you guys, remember The Goonies? It was a fantastic 1985 adventure film based on a story by Steven Spielberg. The Goonies was about some kids fighting bad guys and running from booby traps while hunting for treasure. Remember the scene where Chuck befriends Sloth by throwing a Baby Ruth at him, which Sloth gobbles up? Baby Ruth, a chocolate-covered peanut and caramel nugget candy bar, had been around for years. The Goonies did for Baby Ruth what E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial did for Reese's Pieces.
Big League Chew
Like the big-league baseball players, every 80s kid wanted Big League Chew bubble gum to chomp on while watching their favorite baseball team. Big League Chew came in a pouch-like packet and was shredded to look like the chewing tobacco the players in the big leagues used.
Inappropriate? Yes! Candy cigarettes had been around for a while, but it was the "anything goes" 80s, and smoking was hip. Candy cigarettes came in packages with names like the popular brands of cigarettes: Marlboro, Lucky Strike, or Jolly Viceroy. They were made out of bubblegum or chocolate; some even had a light dusting of powdered sugar that produced a puff of smoke when you blew on it. Surprisingly, it wasn't until 2009 that Food and Drug Administration, under the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act, banned the production of candy marketed as cigarettes.
The Anything Goes Decade
The popular foods, snacks, and candy of the 80s reveal a lot about the wonderful, decadent "anything goes" decade. Learn more about this amazing era by taking a trip down memory lane with this 80s nostalgia. Then raise a glass and toast your fond recollections with some classic 80s drinks.