How To Eat Like an Asian
Asian Childhood SnacksBy Mark Liao
As a kid, we all had some fantasies that in retrospect were just plain weird. Some of us longed to be covered in green ooze and become giant mutant turtles. Others wanted to have a bulletproof, talking car you could communicate with via your watch.
I was no different; my crazy childhood dream was to be locked overnight in a supermarket. Just imagine how many prepubescent food fantasies you could fulfill. I would never run out of Magic Shell for my Haagen Daz ice cream and I could actually have an entire bowl of Lucky Charms with only marshmallows.
But here’s where you and I probably differ in how we would take advantage of our one night of good fortune. As little kids, when you were downing Fruit Rollups and Shark Bites, I was raised on dried squid jerky and pickled plums. Let’s face it; our priorities would be a bit different don’t you think?
So today, I am going to try to resolve this little issue. Submitted for the approval of the midnight society, I call this article, (queue weird powder that makes the campfire roar) Asian childhood snacks.
As in any culture, snacks can be divided up into roughly two categories: salty and sweet. Let’s start with the sweets.
One of the best parts of the Asian supermarket snack aisle is the candy packaged in chains of little packets, each with a different flavor. They usually hang on the ends of the aisle and contain an assortment ranging from chocolate covered fruit flavored gummies to Japanese super sour hard candies that make you cry.
Perhaps my favorite of all such packaged snacks is the round little crackers about the size of large chocolate chips. Reading the English translation, these little guys are made of potato starch but they are, oddly enough, sweet. I really couldn’t care less (grammar people across campus are screaming right... now) because they are amazing. They’re usually a light beige color with an artificial crown of brown so you think they were individually baked. If you hold them in your mouth for a little, they kind of just melt. On my recent trip back to Taiwan, my grandmother kept making fun of me because she considers these snacks baby food; babies can’t choke on them.
Another popular snack is Pocky. The familiar red box contains roughly twenty or so chocolate covered cookie sticks. This snack of Japanese origin is packaged by Glico and has gained so much popularity they’ve even got David Beckham endorsing it. Of course there are now a hundred and one different flavors out there ranging from marble tea chocolate flavor marketed at men, to white chocolate with almonds flavor marketed as the “sophisticated” Pocky. Bottom line, there’s a type of Pocky for everyone.
Now some of you might remember Koala Yummies, tiny koala shaped cookies filled with chocolate, strawberry or vanilla. You can still find Koala Yummies at most of your local Asian supermarkets, sometimes even in jumbo sizes. Sadly, they no longer come in a giant octagonal prism full of hundreds of tasty Koalas... now they come in bunches of individually wrapped packets each with about fifteen or so cookies. Be careful not to buy the cheapo imitation brand with the scary looking panda on the box.
Shifting gears into the saltier types of snacks, I know there are things out there that most white guys would be squeamish about. I remember seeing a page in Maxim on tiny roasted whole crabs, then seeing them next to the squid jerky on a trip to Super 88. So I’m just going to lay it out there for you guys and you get to decide whether or not to go for it.
Almost every culture around the world has some form of jerky. Since beef was, and sometimes still is, a luxury in Asia, we had to find alternative meats to salt, dry, and preserve. I can honestly say that nothing will beat a nice piece of Taiwanese pork jerky. It has the same great flavor of a Chinese sweet sausage and is much more tender than any American jerky I’ve ever had. The only thing that may make you hesitate is the fact that it’s sometimes a bit greasy in its packaging.
As for your preserved seafoods, I highly recommend the squid jerky. Now I know it sounds odd, but we’ve already established that squid is good in any form. Just remember, calamari is good even if it’s not fried. Squid jerky usually comes in two types: the stringy shoelace type that is prepackaged, and the long flat pieces that are sometimes stored in rolls. Both have their appeal. The stringy ones are chewier while the flat pieces are much softer. Hey, just be grateful I’m not trying to convince you to eat dried anchovies or those little cubes of dried fish wrapped in brightly colored foil that could be easily mistaken for candy.
Sticking to the theme of seafood, a good alternative to your Ruffles or Pringles would be shrimp chips. I really can’t tell you why they’re called shrimp chips; the ingredients list dried shrimp but you don’t see tiny little shrimp swimming around in each bag. In any case, I’ve yet to meet someone who wouldn’t devour a whole bag. These are really tame, once you get over the dried seafood part. The best type to buy is the Calbee brand. Calbee also makes great sweet potato chips as well as those snap pea-like snacks Trader Joe’s repackages for resale. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with a cartoon snap pea complete with arms, legs, and creepy smile.