Friday, September 24, 2010

Strange foods

I don't have a functional camera at the moment (well, I don't have a functional version of Photo Shop for my computer... long story...), so I'm not able to provide visual proof of this for you.  You'll just have to take it on trust.  The other day I discovered in my local 7/11 Lemon Tea-Flavoured Potato Crisps.  Why?  Why, in the name of god, why???

Unnecessary experimentation with flavourings for simple snacks is by no means a uniquely Chinese quirk.  (I'm far more annoyed by the unfathomable discontinuation of flavours that actually work than by the relentless introduction of new varieties that are obviously pointless.  I will never forgive Lay's for withdrawing their delicious chilli-flavoured crisps ['chips', if you must, Yanquis] from the market a few years back.)  No, this seems to be a common vice across East Asia, with the Japanese regularly hogging all of the 'most exotic'/'most unbelievable'/'most disgusting' prizes.  Their inventiveness in the field of ice cream is particularly notorious.  (An even longer list here!)  Hmm, a garlicky ice cream to keep those pesky vampires away, anyone?

And I just recently discovered this blog (by a Canadian who spent several years in Japan), which features the improbable wonder of Genghis Khan brand Lamb-Flavoured Caramels.

You know, I do find my curiosity piqued by this last one.  I mean, they can't be as bad as mooncakes, can they?


JES said...

I will be surprised and disappointed if this post's title (let alone its content, let alone the operative word in your last sentence) doesn't draw Moonrat into the open.

Now that you've got me thinking about this, I'm not sure that I've ever eaten or drunk anything truly exotic and, um, weird. When my first book came out, my family threw me a party at a really nice restaurant with an unconventional menu, not easily classified as to type, and for a few years afterward I bragged that I'd been adventurous and eaten wild boar.

There's a cooking series on TV called "Chopped," in which four professional cooks/chefs compete through three half-hour courses (edited for time) of appetizer, entrée, and dessert; one of them gets eliminated ("chopped," get it?) by a panel of über-professionals after each course, until after dessert one is named the *cringe* "Chopped Champion." (Although technically, the champion is the one who hasn't been chopped.)

The competition aspect is nothing unusual, and the title of the show is dumb, and the host can be a little... smarmy. (His contributions must be edited that way -- he's normally a pretty funny guy.) But one element sets the show apart: for each course, each contestant receives a picnic basket of surprise ingredients which s/he must use in preparing that course. And some of these ingredients are very, very surprising; the combinations of ingredients almost always are. (The contestants may use other ingredients; what's in the boxes must just be among them.) Wikipedia cites as an example an episode in which the appetizer course required the chefs to use "watermelon, canned sardines, pepper jack cheese, and zucchini."

That the chefs can improvise tasty, well-prepared courses from such stuff, in such short order, consistently amazes me. (So does their ingenuity in coming up with the names -- often French-sounding -- of their dishes.)

Froog said...

Hm, that Chopped sounds like an evolution of Ready, Steady, Cook! (the US version called Ready, Set, Cook!, I believe), a hugely successful cookery show which used to run on teatime on BBC2 every weekday (and possibly still does). I love regular cookery shows, but am rather more resistant to these ones with a very contrived competition element to them. Ready, Steady was all right, because the emphasis was on dishes you could cook quickly, and on working within a budget - rather than on just finding the most outlandish combinations of ingredients you could think of.

I wonder if Keith Floyd ever made it over to the US? He died a year or so ago, and I was thinking of adding a post about him to my 'Unsuitable Role Models' series over on The Barstool. He was the first of a new generation of TV cooks, starting out back in the late '70s or early '80s - my childhood. He was a larger-than-life character, a great British eccentric with a wicked sense of humour; and he was also notoriously a bit of a lush (he always favoured recipes that included wine: a glass or two for the pot and the rest of the bottle down the chef's throat while he worked).

He had a devil-may-care, slightly shambolic style. And I think he always cooked on location - sometimes in quite trying circumstances, such as outdoors in poor weather, on in the galley of a small boat.

Also, he chose The Stranglers' Waltz In Black as the theme tune for his TV series - how could you not love that?

Froog said...

It seems Moonrat is too busy to join us this weekend.

She has in the past expressed a passion for mooncakes - at least for the Japanese varieties, which are doubtless rather more appealing than their Chinese counterparts. Most of the fillings we get here - at least up in north-east China - are, as I have complained before, super-heavy, sweetened sawdust - mixed with candle wax.

Don Tai said...

LOL Lemon tea potato chips! BTW Here in Canada Lays has withdrawn sour cream and onion and replaced it with Dill Pickle. Same sour taste but no cream. I would so buy chili or jalapeno flavoured chips, but alas they are not offered here in Canada. One company offers bacon flavoured chips.

The Japanese have some truly odd snacks, and they really sell. While living in Japan I once saw a package of florescent green things that looked like Cheetos, long, slightly fluffy tube looking things. They were labeled "Green Snack", with no ingredients list. There was no way I would eat much less buy that! Later that day I saw one of my Japanese students eating the very same snack. I took her bag, looked at her, shook my head and returned it to her.

Froog said...

'Green Snack'? Really? No, I wouldn't touch that with a bargepole either.

A lot of Chinese snacks seem to involve squidgy things (unidentifiable animal parts, mostly, I think; although some of them could be weird forms of tofu, or...?) doused in chilli oil. My buddy Big Frank used the generic term SLIME to refer to foodstuffs of this ilk.