It’s Food. You’re Supposed to Eat It.

Is it food?  You might ask that question at a buffet, or in-flight or just to tease your friend.  But can food be art?  I’m not sure, because I’m too busy eating it.

Kobe - Kikusui Kogawara WagashiHow about that?  Is that art?  No, I’m not talking about the photo, rather I’m referencing the biscuit, known as 小瓦 (the pronunciation is either kogawara or ogawara; the meaning is “little tile”), hailing from the Kikusui flagship store in Kobe, JapanWagashi, Japanese sweets better known as accompaniments to the tea ceremony process, are a specialty of Kikusui. In true wagashi fashion, without a sip of tea, 小瓦 gets blander with each successive bite.

In general, Japanese cuisine is known for its labor-intensive placement of various dishes in specific wares, and for a multi-course meal, serving  certain dishes in a rigid order.  In other words, you’ll probably leave hungry. However, my question is, do you care that your food spent more time in the powder room than you?  To quote one of the more unusual writers in the blogosphere: “It’s Food.  You’re Supposed to Eat It.”

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Kumis (China)

Ürümqi - KumisGiven Name: Kumis
Aliases: Koumiss, ayrag (Mongolia), 马奶酒
Place(s) of Origin: Central Asia
Place Consumed: Ürümqi, China
Common Features: Raw mare’s milk drink fermented by frequent stirring/churning
Background: Traditionally, kumis was consumed from a horse-hide vessel.  The inventors) must’ve really disliked horses.
I was visiting Ürümqi, capital of the Xinjiang (mostly Uyghur) autonomous region, snacking on fried bones over stale bread and anger-tipped peanuts, when thirst decided to take center stage.  What better way to squelch it than with an unwashed cup of uninviting kumis?  I had no idea what it was, and felt sick immediately afterwards.  You see, it was consumed hundreds of years ago because the fermentation process is supposed to kill off many pathogens left as a result of the kumis being unpasteurized.  The joke was on me, for that big block of ice melted part of itself into my nighttime activities.   Don’t worry!  I’m fine now.  Until I get offered another glass of it.
Judging by the taste, I could sense that it was fermented, but beyond that, it was more like “thick” water.  You know how when you turn on the tap sometimes and the water’s cloudy?  That’s on the right track.

Posted in China & Hong Kong, Drink, East & Southeast Asia, Street Food | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fugazza (Argentina)

Buenos Aires - FugazzaGiven Name: Fugazza
Alias: Not pizza
Place(s) of Origin: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Place Consumed: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Common Features: foccacia-style bread, mozzarella cheese, onions
Background: My travel companion liked to frequently snack, in addition to sitting and having a meal.  We’re talking about food here, so who am I to complain?  Her hunger pangs led us to a casual restaurant somewhere in that sprawling capital, and it didn’t hurt that pizza was on her mind.   What didn’t help was that we didn’t get served pizza.
Verdict: Instead, an oily circle of flavorless “uncheese”, topped with eggplant, olives, onions, and oregano awaited us.  Wait, where’s the tomato sauce?  Right.  No wonder we got weird looks from the waiter when I asked for a serving of it- fugazza DOESN’T do tomato sauce.  Come on, guy, we don’t digest by the book, so why not do us a solid and bring us a bowl of gravy?  After all, the name of the dish derives from the Italian word focaccia.  I’d try it again though, if the next version had salt.
Recipes: Fugazza

Posted in Central & South America, Main Course, Snack | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Judging Books by Their Covers

Engrish can be amusing sometimes, particularly when it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but how about when the consumer also suffers from food allergies?  What do you have to say for yourself, random brick-and-mortar in Fukuoka, Japan?

Fukuoka - Raisinuts

But there’s no blame to pin.  The packaging is such that you know you’ll be buying raisins and not nuts.  Not to mention, the transparent part is large enough for hurried patrons to notice that they’ve placed in their baskets an anomaly.  However, as the product name is in both Japanese and English, I can only hope it doesn’t become trilingual on the back

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Poke and Haupia (Hawaii, US)

I didn’t know much about Hawai’ian cuisine before my unexpected trip to Honolulu in 2008, except that I often noticed Mauna Loa macadamias on sale at airport duty-free shops.  There was something about burying food in the sand too, though I have no idea where I first heard about it.  Probably in a Don Ho song.  Upon admitting this, let’s take a brief glance.

Honolulu - Poke and Haupia YoghurtWhat we have above is the result of a long walk along a suburban - i.e., without a sign of foodHonolulu winding road that finally turned into what else…a strip mall.   Thanks to a local supermarket, I was able to start my short eating trek through Hawaii.  Thanks to my camera at the time, we know that it was composed of poke and haupia.

On second thought, it appears that I was hornswoggled.  In addition to fish, poke is supposed to be a bountiful mixture of sesame oil, salt, candle nut, seaweed, soy sauce, and chili pepper, but what I ate resembles the, eh, supermarket version.  It wasn’t bad, but there’s a good example of why I should’ve conducted some research beforehand.  For all I knew then it was the archetypical Polynesian seafood dish.  To try a more correct version, guess I’ll have to book a stopover on my way to nowhere I’m actually going.

OK, so we’re 0 for 1 so far.  How about haupia?  In fairness, it’s haupia-flavored yogurt, so that helps even less.  I do recall it tasting of coconut, which is close enough.  Right?  The taste might be more loyal to the name, but the texture is on a detour.  Haupia employs a thickening agent – nowadays, cornstarch – to allow coconut milk to become more of a pudding.  Interesting, as many Pacific islanders use coconut as a thickening agent for themselves…oh, who am I kidding?


Are you familiar with Hawaiian cooking?

Posted in North America, Snack | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Teh Tarik (Malaysia and Singapore)

Batam, Indonesia - Teh TarikIn fact, I had this drink at an Indian restaurant in Batam, Indonesia, but that island, as close as thirty-five minutes to Singapore by boat,  is so filled with unscrupulous Singaporeans – like the city-state itself – that it remains a valid place to try today’s subject,
teh tarik.

Yes, teh tarik, a sweet drink composed of black tea and sweetened condensed milk, calls Malaysia its home, though it’s nearly as ubiquitous in Singapore.  Though, I have a few bugaboos when it comes to food and drink, and not one is terribly logical.  The one involving teh tarik regards my mostly blanket disapproval of artificially sweetened beverages – does passion fruit juice really need Splenda? – but this Malaysian specialty is a notable AND rare exception.  I mentioned that it’s not a logical gripe, primarily because I have no problem with pairing teh tarik with kaya toast, aka buttery Singaporean goodness.

As for the meaning of the name, teh signifies “tea” and tarik is “pull” in Indonesian and Malay.  Pulling tea sounds like an act of torture in that part of the world, and in some respects, it is.  The origin stems from the act of the vendor having to quickly pull the concoction between two vessels, in order to skillfully mix the condensed milk with the tea.  For a clearer example of what that means, check out this video (it’s the same thing on mute).  The allure to some customers is that, while the peddler is preparing the sugary stuffr, not even a drop of it is splashed onto them, even though your expectations lead you to believe you’d become a teh tarik manusia, or human pulled tea.

Have you tried this before?  Feeling bushed after just two sips?

Posted in Dessert, Drink, East & Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Street Food | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

What’s the Opposite of Yummy? Yummy.

Jakarta - Ricotta Cheese (Yummy brand)Daybreak, JakartaThe scene: A supermarket at the Plaza Indonesia mall.  What’s on offer there?  Food.  Powdered milk is the norm in Indonesia, and I have a hunch part of the reason is that electricity is not always reliable.  Being in the tropics doesn’t help much either.  Though, since it’s an expat-friendly supermarket, some dairy products are even refrigerated.

I was in the mood for some cheese.  Strike number one.  However, I didn’t feel like paying expat prices.  Strike two.  Thus, I settled for ricotta produced by Yummy, an Indonesian company that exists for the benefit of no one. A question remains though- is any part of Indonesia known for dairy?  Breed some water buffaloes, and you’d be on to something…in West Sumatra.

In spite of that anomaly, let this post be a lesson for you:  if a container of Yummy ricotta costs less than a similar size might in Italy, an infrequent splurge is probably worth it!

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Snack | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments