Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Indonesian Candy/Taiwanese Crackers

     Since I had only one example for each of these areas, I decided to combine them.  Today I'll be talking about about a type of ginger candy from Indonesia, and a wheat cracker made in Taiwan.  Both were from Wegman's supermarket, although from different actual stores, as I recall.
     The Indonesian company is called Paberik Kembang Gula Pasuruan Sina.  I think.  Due to some language barrier issues, I'm not entirely sure what the company's actual title is.  A stamp on the bag read the long name I just listed, but on the website it referred to the manufacturer as being "P T Sin A" or just "Sin A."  So apologies if I'm messing up their name.  I had some problems with their website, too.  The Google English translation of it seemed a bit rough, in the areas of grammar and usage.  What I took away from it was that Sin A is ginger-mad.  The products I saw advertised were all made with this item--ginger chews made with peanut butter, mango, orange, and peppermint flavors.  Another page mentioned how ginger is able (allegedly) to cure or treat seemingly every disease or chronic condition, such as asthma, nausea, digestion disorders, and migraines.  Their "tips" page also had some curious healthy living advice, under the categories "sign wind," "drunk trip," "maintaining stamina," and "adding morale," all supposedly accomplished by various ginger concoctions.  Again, this advice might have been poorly translated, or simply a cultural difference, but I did find it entertaining.  (To be fair, I usually enjoy ginger as an additive or flavoring--I'm just skeptical that it's some magic cure-all for all the world's woes.)  I tried the Ting Ting Jahe variety.  As some trivia, this product was mentioned in a complimentary way by characters in William Gibson's classic sci-fi cyberpunk novel "Neuromancer" (1984).
     The company that made the crackers was Wei Lih.  I bought the BBQ (barbecue) Cube flavor of the GGE wheat cracker line.  Other offered flavors include Mexican spicy, soy sauce, seaweed, and original ramen noodle.  While reading up on this I stumbled across a website called "The Ramen Rater."  It's tagline is, "Thousands of instant noodle reviews since 2002."  I find it amusing that a person has an entire website devoted to this limited type of food.  The Rater is self-aware, though--one of the queries on the FAQ section is, "What's your deal?  Why ramen noodles?"  (For the record, the Ramen Rater also reports that he's interested in sci-fi, MLB's San Francisco Giants, and calculators.)
     The Sin A Ting Ting Jahe chews were individually wrapped.  They were honey colored, with a white powder dusting.  They were soft, chewy, and slightly sticky.  The taste was alright.  Slightly ginger-y, but not overpowering.  However, the packaging was terrible--really tough to open.  I had to use scissors to do so.  I'd be willing to try the other flavors, though, especially the peanut butter kind.
     The GGE BBQ Cube crackers were small discs, less than one inch (or about 2.5 cm.) in diameter.  They were made up small pieces of wheat/potato/oils/spices compressed together.  Visually they reminded me of stuck together orange maggots, to use a probably unappetizing comparison.  At first I thought they were okay, but nothing more.  But as I ate more, they really grew on me.  They had a nice BBQ zing to them.  I finished the entire bag, and would readily buy these again, or try the other kinds.
    I'll end this with some personal trivia.  Despite my (middle) age, and after having been an undergrad college student to boot, I've never had ramen noodles.  Maybe it's time to give them a try.  And now I know a website that can give me advanced reviews on pretty much every kind in the world, I expect.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Unusual Spreads/Butters

     Back in my July 25,2015 post, I discussed some odd jams and preserves I'd tried.  Recently, in the Southeast Virginia Kroger, I saw some more odd ones, and couldn't resist.  To be technical these were a spread (rose hip), and a butter (plum).
     I'd heard the term "rose hip" before, but in the context of an ingredient in vitamins or nutritional supplements.  But I wasn't exactly sure what a rose hip was.  It turns out that they're the fruit of the rose plant.  And they are used for many different culinary creations.  They're in herbal teas, syrup, breads, mead, and wine, in addition to the jams/jellies/spreads.  The Hungarians made a rose hip flavored brandy, called "palinka," and the Slovenians have a rose hip flavored soft drink called (awkwardly enough, for English speakers), "cockta."  Nutritionally they're good sources of Vitamin C (explaining why they're often in vitamin supplements) and also contain beta-carotene.  But rose hips have an interesting drawback, too.  They contain hairs which are very irritating.  So much so that novelty itching powders often use them.
     I discussed plums a bit in my hybrid fruit post on May 22, 2015.  As a review, their form is incredibly diverse.  Their outer skin can be red, purple, amber, green, yellow, or blue-black.  Their interior pulp can be orange, pink, green, or yellow.  Like rose hips, they're quite nutritious.  They contain decent amounts of Vitamins K and C, and also fiber, potassium, and copper.  Also, like rose hips, they sometimes used in alcoholic beverages.  Serbians make a traditional plum brandy called slivovitz.
     But I was most amused by one of the plum's nomenclatures, and why it's changed.  The typical name for a dried plum has been "prune" for a long time.  However, plum sellers grew concerned that this name had negative connotations.  Specifically, prunes are seen as synonymous with wrinkles, old age, and constipation (they combat this condition very effectively).  So the preferred term is now "dried plums," and not prunes.  So adjust all your conversations and correspondence about this dried fruit accordingly, lest Big Plum find out and set you straight.
     Anyway, back to the actual food.  Both were made by Maintal, a German company.  Each was sold in a 12 ounce jar, and cost about $3-4.  The plum one was a reddish-purple in color.  And it wasn't very sweet.  It was alright, but not as good as most jams/jellies/butters/spreads.  Not really tasty, nor dramatically terrible.  Just kind of "meh," as the expression goes.  Sadly the rose hip one was fairly similar.  It was reddish in color.  It also was not very sweet, and not that interesting or exciting, in a positive or negative way.  I could basically take it or leave it.  Some of my friends at work expressed interest, so I gave them the remaining six ounces or so of both jars.
    So for both, I like the fact that the manufacturers tried some different fruits for the flavoring, but the end result was drably mediocre.  In a way I almost wish that they were utterly putrid--at least I would have felt some passion for them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Hemp Bars

     I was a little surprised when I saw hemp snack bars for sale at Wegman's a while back.  Obviously, marijuana laws have been changing rapidly in the U.S. lately.  As far as I could tell (various sources had conflicting information) currently 20 states allow it for medical use, and 8 allow it for medical use and recreational purposes.  Also, I've heard about hemp clothing being sold in America for some time--I think actor Woody Harrelson has been touting these for over a decade.  But I was unaware that foods made with hemp were legal.
     The manufacturer of the hemp bars I tried, Manitoba Harvest, has an informative website.  In addition to showing all their products, and talking about their company's history, they also include a brief history of hemp in the U.S. and Canada (as you can guess from their name, they are a Canadian company).  For example, evidently Louis Herbert (a French botonist) was the first to grow hemp, in what is now Nova Scotia way back in 1606 (in Port Royal).  Moving on, America's first three Presidents (Washington, Adams, and Jefferson) all grew it, and the Declaration of Independence was drafted on paper made from hemp.  During World War II, with rope supplies desperately needed, a campaign was set up to encourage folks to grow all they could.  It was called "Hemp For Victory."  On the negative side, here in the U.S. it's currently illegal to grow hemp except for research purposes, although it is legal to sell it.  Our neighbors to the North made it legal to grow for industrial purposes in 1998, and Manitoba Harvest quickly formed to take advantage.
     The website also discussed hemp's nutritional benefits, and cleared up some misconceptions.  For the former, hemp seeds are apparently high in protein, and omegas, and also are significant sources of magnesium, fiber, zinc, phosphorus, and iron.  For the latter, the hemp used in their food contains less than .003% THC (Tetrahydrocannibinol), the psychoactive substance in marijuana, so it won't get you high, even if you eat huge quantities of it.  They also report that their products won't cause consumers to fail drug tests.
     In addition to the three types of hemp bars (chocolate, vanilla, and apple cinnamon), Manitoba makes Hemp Hearts (raw shelled hemp seed), Hemp Heart Toppers (for ice cream, etc.), Hemp Protein Powder, Hemp Protein Smoothies, and Hemp Oil.  The bars themselves are made from hemp seeds, organic coconut palm sugar, organic brown rice syrup, organic flavors, sea salt, pectin, organic sunflower oil, and spice extracts.
     I bought the two that I saw offered, a chocolate and the vanilla.  The chocolate was shiny and dark brown, with visible embedded hemp seeds.  And it was....atrocious.  Weird, sweetish, and utterly nasty.  I couldn't finish it.  A complete disaster.  The vanilla one was whitish, and also with visible seeds.  It was just okay in taste.  Definitely vanilla-y.  Decent, but not great.  I could finish it, but I don't think I'll buy it again.  I might try the apple cinnamon kind, but it'll probably depend on how I feel that day.  Their other products don't seem appetizing, either.  As with the Hi-Chew Japanese candies of two weeks ago, the folks who run the company seem like good, well-meaning people, and the website was cool, but their actual products were mediocre to terrible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--English Barley Waters

     When I beheld the barley waters in the local Kroger down here in Southeast Virginia, I was puzzled.  A beverage made from barley?  The only one of these that I'd heard of was most kinds of beer.  A type of beer is called "barley wine," but those two were the only ones I'd heard of.
     But it turns out that there are indeed barley water soft drinks, of course, and furthermore, they are actually not uncommon throughout the world.  The English and Greeks both make versions, as do certain areas in India, and various parts of Eastern and Southeast Asian nations.  Some folks serve them hot, some cold, some strain out the barley from the liquid, while others don't.  Fruit juices are a common additive, for flavor.
    There were two types for sale, and I got them both.  Both were made by Robinsons, an English company which was bought up by the huge Britvic Soft Drink company in 1995.  Britvic is currently the #2 soft drink producer in the U.K., and among other products they sell (some as franchises of other companies) are Canada Dry soft drinks, Corona beer, 7 Up, and Pepsi.  Robinsons might be best known for making Fruit Shoot, a beverage designed for children.  They're also a sponsor of Wimbledon, the major tennis open tournament.
    Anyway, the two kinds I got were lemon and orange.  Oddly, even though they were both the same size (28.7 ounces, or 850 ml.), the orange one was close to a dollar more in price.  The orange was a bit disappointing.  It certainly does taste orange-y (it should--both types contain 17% or their respective juice) but it was rather bland.  It was orange in color, and had a peculiar mouthfeel to it--it was rather thick.  I guess from the barley flour which makes up 2.5% of its total.  It wasn't bad, exactly, just a bit dull.  And way overpriced at about $6.50 per bottle.
     Happily, the lemon flavored one was quite different.  The mouthfeel/texture was similar, much more substantial than a typical soft drink, and quite cloudy, almost milky.  But the taste was the opposite of its sibling--very strong.  I enjoy tart and sour flavors usually, and this pushed this to the limit.  Way more fully tart than any other lemon-flavored soft drink or lemonade that I've had, without being overly, unpleasantly so.  I really enjoyed this one.  Even at the very high price of about $5.50, I might pick up another or two before I leave this area.
     A closer inspection of the bottles revealed something interesting, and a little embarrassing.  These Robinsons are concentrated drinks--you're supposed to cut them with water.  1 part Robinsons to 4 parts water.  Which may explain why the lemon one tasted so strong!  In my defense, I didn't read the directions on the bottles before I had them because who does that?  Unless you have a special medical condition or food allergy, just about every drink is served by opening the can or bottle and drinking it, or pouring it into a glass.  In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't dilute the Robinsons with water.  The lemon was powerful and strong, and thereby compelling and tasty.  And the orange one was already a bit insufficient in taste--adding water would have made a barely adequate drink incredibly weaker and tasteless, like a light beer.
     So, although I really liked only one out of two, I'll be looking for other types of barley waters.  Certainly the drink shows the possibility of being a worthy beverage.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Japanese Chewy Candies

     I have Wegman's supermarket yet again, and a local one in Virginia, Kroger, to thank for these.  Both have decent (Kroger) to great (Wegman's) foreign/ethnic food aisles, so I was able to snag a good selection.  Specifically, today I'll be discussing four types of Hi-Chew, made by Morinaga & Company, and a gummy candy from Kasugai.  The Hi-Chews were technically made in Taiwan, but it's a Japanese candy, licensed by a Japanese company.  The Kasugai offering was made in Japan.
    The website for Hi-Chew was quite good, I thought--easy to navigate, and with a surprisingly detailed company and founder history.  I'll pass along a shortened version.  Taichiro Morinaga was born in Japan in 1865, to a poor family.  After moving to the United States in 1888, to California, two eventful things happened to him.  First, he converted to Christianity.  Secondly, an unknown person gave him his first piece of candy.  Morinaga was so wowed by this second experience that he decided to make candy himself.  He set out to learn the trade of manufacturing and selling candy.  Alas, he wasn't able to get an apprenticeship, or even a particularly useful job at any of the candy factories due to racism.  The only employment he could get was as a janitor at a candy factory.  However, Morinaga was nonetheless able to pick up at least some information, and he returned to Japan in 1899.  After success at making and selling his own candy via a cart, he graduated to a store, and finally, his own company in 1918.  Research told him that Japanese customers particularly enjoyed marshmallow candies, but Japan's relatively hotter climate caused these to melt too easily.  So Morinaga concentrated on other products, such as chocolate, and then in 1956, an early version of Hi-Chew called Chew-lets.  In 1975 Chew-lets were updated to Hi-Chew, and they took off in popularity.  Over the years they've sold over 170 different flavors!  Additionally, the company campaigned to celebrate Mother's Day in Japan starting in 1937, and they teamed up with the Army Medical School to produce Japan's first penicillin in 1944.  The company also owns restaurants, coffee shops, dairies, and golf courses.  And in 2015 Hi-Chew was approved as food for astronauts by JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.
     In contrast, I wasn't able to find out much about the Kasugai company.  They started in 1927, selling nuts and dried fruit.  In addition to the peach kind I had, they also sell kiwi, lychee, muscat (a type of grape), mango, strawberry, and yuzu (a local hybrid citrus fruit) flavored gummy candies.
     The four kinds of Hi-Chew I tried were the mango, green apple, strawberry, and grape.  All were packs containing small (about 1 cm. by 2 cm., or about .5 inch by 1 inch) rectangular, individually wrapped pieces.  All were whitish on the outside, with interiors the color of their flavor (purple for grape, yellow for the mango, etc.).  All did indeed exhibit their flavor as advertised.  But all were extremely disappointing.  They had a chewy, taffy-like texture.  But the taste was all off.  They were all sort of weird, and unpleasant.  It's rare that I have the same exact reaction to this many flavors of a food or drink type, but that's what happened.  I had a few of each kind and disliked them all.  And since a good sample size was consistently negative, I won't try any of the other flavors, like banana or cherry, or their sour kind.  I found their website to be fun, and their founder's biography to be inspiring, but the actual product was bad.  I didn't finish them.
     Kasugai's peach gummy candy, on the other hand, was pretty good.  These were small (nearly an inch in diameter, or about 2.5 cm.) pinkish-orange squat discs.  They were a more familiar texture, being similar to other gummy candies I've had, like gummy worms/bears, spearmint leaves, gum drops, or Chuckles.  They were slightly more fruity than the types I mentioned, and less sugary.  I prefer the American gummy varieties, but the Kasugai peach ones were definitely solid.  I would get these again, or try other flavors.  They also had an especially nice odor--a pleasantly strong peach smell.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Another Anthology is Out!

     I've been talking about this one for quite a while, and the book's out (for two days--I'm a bit late).  That book is "Cranial Leakage:  Tales From the Grinning Skull Volume 2", from Grinning Skull Press, edited by Michael J. Evans.  The Kindle edition is available on Amazon, for a price of $2.99.  The address is:
     Here's a set of one sentence story blurbs for some of the tales inside it:

A religious order believing themselves to be entrusted by God with certain secrets, will stop at nothing to keep those secret safe.

A haunted movie theater holds the key to a famous Scream Queen's return to life.

In an attempt to recapture his glory days at the height of the apocalypse, a bitter, insecure security guard commits a desperate act.

There is no art without sacrifice, as an aspiring poet is about to discover.

A random act of kindness turns out to be a nightmare for one family.

A demon goes out of his way to do good deeds, much to the confusion of his trainee.

Three detectives receive an assignment that lands them in an evolutionary nightmare.

A night auction that deals in human suffering attracts a clientele out of our worst nightmares.

     And here's a list of the featured authors and their story titles:

1) The Alchemist's Brotherhood by Sasha Abernathy
2) Empress of the Zombies by Mark McLaughlin
3) Post Apocalypse by R.T. Tandy
4) Snow Bound by Damir Salkovic
5) For Art by Ben Pienaar
6) Another Mouth to Feed by Adrian Ludens
7) Meet the Wife by Ken Goldman
8) The Ifrit by Deedee Davies
9) 9-1-1 by Alan Murdock
10) Slashes of Joy by Chris Phillips
11) Polythene Bags by V. Sparrow
12) The Anteater by Robert Stava
13) Sweeter Porridge by Kevin Bampton
14) The Legend of Thaddeus Bilodeau by Michael J. Labbe
15) Urban Legends by Lyn McConchie
16) A Night to Remember by Alex Liakos
17) Teddy's Bear Picnic by Joshua Dodson
18) Night of Twenty-Four Cats by Seaton Kay-Smith
19) Darwin's Revens by Jonah Buck
20) The Night Auction by Catherine Grant

     My story is "Cruel to be Kind."  And finally, here's the cover: