Although I'm a rehabbed fatty, the inner fat girl inside of me lives on, which can be problematic when I return to old stomping grounds, i.e. the Asian grocery store. The days of a pigtailed me gallivanting through an Asian grocery store throwing whatever shiny thing that caught my eye into my mother's shopping cart are long gone, but that doesn't mean the urge isn't there. My, ahem, more matured and discerning palate wouldn't fathom indulging in such unacceptable practices, but that inner fatty can't help but emerge to remind me of those joyous times filled with sugary treats and empty calories.
If I were to rank my favorite Asian processed foods on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being on the level of "Meh, I can live without it" and 5 being "Screw you, matured and discerning palate," it would go a little something like this:
Meiji Strawberry Yan Yan Score: 4 Country of origin: Japan It's the pink spherical container that does it for me. It screams sugar and chemicals -- mmm, my favorites. Plus, vanilla is boring, and I'm not that much of a chocolaholic. I prefer Yan Yan to the more popular Pockys because of the semblance of control I feel I have with the dipping sauce. The only con I find with the Yan Yans would be the icing-to-cookie-sticks ratio. There simply is never enough icing for the number of biscuit sticks in the container. It's the hot dog-bun to-wiener conundrum all over again, so I can't give it a 5.
Calbee Shrimp Flavored Chips Score: 5 Country of origin: Japan These are my earliest and fondest memories of my entrance into the Asian junk foods romance. When I was a toddler and my parents were living with my maternal grandparents, my grandmother would religiously buy a small 25-cent bag of these crustacean flavored puffed flour chips for me every time she went to the market. She didn't have a lot of money and worked until her last days, but this little token meant the world to me because I knew I was always on her mind. To this day, I can't walk past these chips and not think of her.
Prepared Cuttlefish Score: 3 Country of origin: Various coastal Asian countries The great thing about this dried squid-family snack is that it is a relatively low calorie "treat." The bad thing is (beyond the fact that it's a dehydrated marine animal) opening a package will unleash a curiously fishy hell that might repel friends and coworkers. There's also the matter of a metallic aftertaste and smelly breath. Better to eat these in the privacy of your own home.
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Chin Chin Grass Jelly Drink Score: 4 Country of origin: Taiwan This must have been the equivalent of childhood crack for me. My taste buds were addicted to the sugary liquid and could not get enough of the chewy jellies dancing jigs in my mouth. The only downside that keeps the drink from being a 5 are the stubborn jellies at the bottom of the can that were impossible to be coaxed from their deep, dark basin. I'd blow an eardrum trying to suck all the remnants out with some cheap skinny straw.
Pocky Score: 1 Country of origin: Japan Sure, I'll have one if you're offering. Otherwise, I'll pass. See Meiji Yan Yan.
Taisun Mixed Congee Score: 2 Country of origin: Taiwan Many of my childhood breakfasts consisted of these canned, brown-sugar-sweetened amalgamations of barley, lotus, glutinous rice, red beans and longan. While I think I'd still be fond of mixed congee if I ventured to buy a can at the market, why not just go to May's or any other Asian dessert shop to get the real thing and fresh?
There's plenty more that can go on this pseudo-list, but it would take more than one blog to cover all of the junk foods that are worthy of a mention. What about you? What are your favorites?