These will be added to occasionally.
(Maybe weekly if you're good. No refunds if the schedule slips.)
Here's a link to my infamous Fake Dr Pepper Roundup.
And now, the reviews. Click one of these links to jump to the appropriate section, or if your browser doesn't work when you do that, just scroll the heck down.
Rare Finds From Chinatown
The Bacon Section
Don't Drink That
Coming next update: Veggie Burgers, eww!
Chinatown's a great place to shop if you're willing to buy things which are (a) cheap, (b) not labelled in English, and (c) a few years old. You gotta admit you can save a bundle buying all your food there. (At least in Boston's Chinatown. I can't speak for the others.)
Eeeeeeeuuuuuuuggggggh! Thumbs down.
Durians are a popular Indonesian fruit, which is a big fluorescent green ellipsoid (about the size of a football) covered with little green pyramids. (Imagine a pinapple in the world of Tron.) They are yellow on the inside, sometimes with big pink worms for extra color. And they're all sticky outside. And they smell bad. Bad. I mean they smell bad in the way that an open sewer smells bad, only a lot closer to your face. (It's always described as smelling like sewage.) Tourists in Indonesia are always advised to hold their noses while sampling this delicacy. (Me, I have a hard enough time with the tar-colored rice pudding.)
Anyway, know those cheapo beige sugar wafer bars (the Styrofoamy things inside Kit-Kat bars) that you can buy at the drugstore for forty-nine cents a pound? Garden Co. (Hong Kong) makes them in artificial durian flavor. (Isn't it scary that someone would try to invent artificial durian flavor?) Anyway, I presume these wafers taste more non-threatening and much less intense than a real durian. (I've never actually eaten the real fruit, although I've made the mistake of touching them.) Before unwrapping the package, you wonder if the cat's been sick. Unwrapping it, you wonder if the cat's gonna be sick. These wafers smell to high heaven. (And remember, there's just a tiny smear of artifically-flavored frosting in the middle of the sugar wafers.) Bringing one of these to your mouth, with your nose an inch away, makes you inhale vile vapors which smell like onion and garlic (only more sulfurous), with enough of a hint of dirty diapers to make you ill. These wafers are much worse-smelling than onion or garlic, but quite similar to them. Definitely some sulfur here; I imagine Hell smells like a durian wafer.
Anyway, I held my breath and took a tiny bite of a corner of a wafer. It tasted like rancid sugary cardboard. I started chewing, and made the mistake of having to breathe. I repeat: Eeeeeeeuuuuuuuggggggh! This test was terminated after the attempted consumption of .01 wafer.
Click here to see Kibo's photos of the wafers and a real durian.
Click here to see Kibo's list of links about durians.
Not to be confused with assorted other goodies, such as things sold in bags like potato chips, or the shrimp toast squares found on Chinese buffet tables. The shrimp chips I'm talking about here are the puffy flowers of deep-fried starch which come in bright pastel colors. You can get them as appetizers at Chinese eateries, particularly in mall food courts. (You can buy them precooked in huge plastic bags in Chinese bakeries, but they're more fun warm.)
They don't really have any flavor to speak of, being deep-fried starch that may once have been near one-tenth of a ground-up dehydrated baby shrimp. (The colors don't mean anything. When will people learn?) The chips begin life as round clear poker chips about an inch across. Get some oil good and hot (the hotter the better; use at least two inches), throw in a handful of the poker chips, and in a fraction of a second they will explode into big wads of colored foam, much like popcorn magnified by a factor of ten. Then fish them out immediately, set them on a stack of fifty paper towels to cool, and think of a good use for grease-soaked paper towels. Because they taste like the oil they were cooked in, use your favorite oil (I like canola. Don't use peanut oil unless you want a flashback to mall food of the early eighties.)
Shrimp chips combine the crunchy fluffiness of fresh popcorn with the grease of homemade fried chicken. They're great while they're still warm and greasy. They keep for quite a while once cooked, but later they taste like cold Styrofoam. (Know those biodegradable packing nodules they use instead of expensive Styrofoam these days? Those are just puffed starch, too. Eat one and compare.)
When buying shrimp chips, many companies make little boxes (a few ounces) which will fry up to a bucketful (using up a couple cups of oil) for about two bucks. Or, you can do like I did, and spend $9 on a five-pound can (about a foot tall) which will make, I estimate, about twenty Hefty trash bags full. (I don't know how many 55-gallon drums of canola oil I'd need.) I've been working on the five-pound can of poker chips for months and it's still three-quarters full.
I recommend shrimp chips because you can easily make large quantities of non-nutritious finger food any time. I've never heard of anyone making their house explode by dropping five pounds of raw chips into a bathtub of boiling oil, but it could happen.
Click here for picture.
Tohato's "Beano", from Japan (not to be confused with the Beano enzyme that prevents intestinal gas) is a snack which looks like green Cheetos. Instead of corn puffs covered with artificial cheez, these are pea puffs. Yes, peas. The taste is hard to describe; it's sort of like pea soup, also reminiscent of peanuts (I don't know why), and lots of MSG. But the Cheetos-like texture is the odd part. I like these (they basically taste like salt and MSG, and they're crunchy, so I have nothing against them.) And while we're on the subject of Cheetos-like oddities...
Click here for picture.
Thumbs neither way.
I don't know the actual name of these, as the package was in Korean and did not have the sticker that foods imported to the USA are required to have (ingredients in English, etc.) These are genuine Cheetos brand snacks that are not cheez flavored, but strawberry. I'd had Japanese Cheetos snacks which were unflavored corn puff balls with bits of seaweed stuck to them; these are bright pink puffs. (Shaped like Chester Cheetah's paw.) Glossy with sugar, they taste no different from, say, Frankenberry or any other artificial strawberry snack. They bored me.
The package offered Space Jam t-shirts and an offer for Space Jam "Tazos", whatever the hell they are; there was one Tazo free inside. It was an octagonal piece of cardboard with notches in it and a picture of a Space Jam critter on it. Apparently Tazos are like Legos only less fun because if someone gave you a single Lego you wouldn't have to go all the way to Korea to get another to connect it to.
Thumbs neither way.
I like good hot & sour soup, the kind which is actually spicy and is dark brown and salty and full of weird unidentifiable things (tofu, wood ears*, bamboo slivers, lily buds.) Bad hot & sour soup is yellow dishwater with vinegar in it.
Dehydrated hot & sour soup is flavorless, and is available in packets from many manufacturers, often under weirdly garbled names like "Hair Like Vegetable Soup". This particular variety (Doer brand; "Everybody Is 'Doer'") has little shreds of something black which looks like hair. (Nori?** Wood ears? Hair?) It's slightly spicy, but basically it's a glass of clear corn starch soup with what looks like hair floating in it. Doesn't taste bad, but not interesting either.
* Wood ears = black tree fungus = mushrooms that grow on tree bark. They're things that look like little pieces of brown vinyl, often used in Asian food.
** Nori = seaweed = the often spicy black papery stuff that's used to wrap sushi. Available in big sheets if you want to make paper dolls.
Who doesn't like bacon? Nobody sane! The question is, who likes bacony food substitutes?
The operative principle here: in America, certain spices are used only in specific cured meats. Thus, you can fool anyone into thinking anything tastes like sausage if you put sage in it; mace makes anything taste like a hot dog; and liquid smoke (not a spice, but you know what I mean) will make anything taste like bacon, ham, and/or mequite grilled chemicals.
Bacon tastes real good, and I don't know why people have been buying fake bacon for so long. (You can get real bacon bits in little yellow cans from Hormel: these are great. Or just cook bacon.) The progenitor of all the modern bacon bittish things was Bac*Os. When I say "Bac*Os", I'm not talking about the fuzzy little Grape-Nuts like pink gravel you find on salad bars. I mean real Bac*Os, the original. They were (and are) rock-hard reddish-black flat chips, looking something like Magic Rocks before adding the Magic Solution.
They taste like anything else (liquid smoke flavor), but the key point is that on a real Bac*Os chip, you can break your teeth. (Caving in to market pressure, years later they also started making Bac*Os Bits, which are the chewable pink ones. But you can still get Bac*Os Chips for some reason.)
Anyway, don't eat these. They're rocks.
Click here for picture.
Thumbs neither way.
A few years ago, they discovered that lazy people would buy pasta salad in a box (it's a box of macaroni and a packet of powder, like Hamburger Helper.) Betty Crocker's Suddenly Salad line now includes "Italian Pepperoni". ("Italian Pepperoni" is one of those wonderful terms you only see in supermarkets, like "salsa style sauce with queso style cheese" and "Italian brand sausage".) I made a box of this and ate it.
It wasn't bad. I cooked the bow ties, added the oil and packet of pink powder, and got... bow ties in oil with artificial bacon flavor. There is, of course, no pepperoni anywhere within fifty miles of where this is manufactured. (The box says "ARTIFICIALLY FLAVORED GREAT-TASTING PASTA SALAD", which should be a warning: anything which claims to be delicious on the box isn't.) The pink powder contained some artificial bacon bits (with extra paprika to make you think they were pepperoni) and some small carrot slices, which were the best part. Anyway, it was edible, but I can't recommend it because if you really wanted to make bow tie pasta with oil and artifical bacon bits, you could make something far better with no less work.
Yes, I know these are for dogs. But I've eaten Bac*Os, which are rocks with artificial smoke flavor, so I figured there was no way this textured crud product could be much worse or different.
They're kind of like artificially softened cardboard (mmm, glyceriny) with artificial smoke flavor and WAY TOO MUCH SUGAR! Yuk! As the commercials say, "DOGS ARE SO STUPID THEY'LL EAT THIS JUNK!"
Click here for pictures.
You're going to call me crazy for liking this. Nobody else I know can stand it. This is another thing you can buy in Chinatown; there are many brands of pork sung (along with beef sung and pork fu, which is almost identical.) Here I'm trying Formosa brand pork sung.
Pork sung is a Chinese breakfast food which has the texture of cotton candy (some say steel wool) and flavor of bacon. It's barbecued pork which has somehow been abused until all the muscle fibers have separated, resulting in wads of what look like red beard hair from the barbershop floor. It makes weird "crinkle, crinkle" sounds when you eat it. But it tastes somewhat bacony, so I like it.
The best thing I can say about whether you'll like it is: try some pork rinds. If you like pork rinds, you may like pork sung. (I think pork rinds are better.)
I'd rather swig swill than swallow these.
I hate licorice. Now imagine you just bought a big quart bottle of syrup which, when diluted twenty-to-one, would make strong licorice drink. Imagine the smell. Now stop imagining the smell... if you can.
If you're ever vacationing in Trinidad & Tobago, let me know if you can smell the Matouk's factory from everywhere on the island.
Thumbs extremely down.
Available at Trader Joe's, "'Naturally Aloe' Aloe Mountain Berry Natural Beverage" is one of a few flavors available (there's also "Citrus") in large opaque jugs. Besides the aloe juice, it's got other stuff in it, like ginseng, which is probably the reason it makes your throat sting. Like bees in convenient liquid form. This transparent drink has little flavor other than the zingy tang of your throat's pain. And, to make matters worse, it's chunky. Globs of aloe, which look like boogers, float around in the lower half of your cup and surprise you just when you think you've got a chance of finishing it.
I know a respected Hollywood filmmaker who likes this stuff!
Available mostly at convenience stores and other businesses designed to separate drunken college students from their money, Orbitz is transparent with colored dots floating in it. The bottle is clearly designed to suggest a lava lamp. (And it's clearly made by Clearly Canadian. There's a URL on the cap.) It's great-looking stuff, available in four colors: white, yellow, orange, and red. Each claims to have about four flavors.
Red is "bLueBerRy mElon sTrawBeRry" (in warped computer lettering, with "mElon" upside down so it says "uol3w") which tastes like watermelon bubble gum. It could be marginally drinkable if you like that tooty-frooty-loopy sort of artificial "mystery fruit" flavor.
Orange is the best of the bunch, "VaniLla oRanGe". It tastes like baby aspirin or your average artificial orange sherbet Flintstones Push-Up. It's drinkable if you're used to the taste of baby aspirin.
Yellow is supposedly raspberry. (Apparently they thought people would drink little balls but not blue beverages.) The bottle actually says "raSpberRy CitRus", which means it has no raspberry taste whatsoever, and "citrus" means it doesn't taste lemony or limey or orangey, but it tastes like sodium citrate, which is also the main ingredient in Alka-Seltzer. Anyway, yellow Orbitz tastes exactly like the new-and-improved less-salty Alka-Seltzer, only completely flat. Kind of similar to flat Fresca, too.
White is the vilest of all. It is "PinEapPle bAnaÑa cherRy coConUt" (with half of them upside down in addition to the random tilde.) It tastes like coconut flavored disinfectant.
Keep in mind that I've only described the flavor. It's the texture that is the most repulsive. As you drink it, the little balls pile up against your front teeth and then you have a mouth of tasteless little things which are too small to chew and too big to comfortably swallow. They could be oversize tapioca pearls or undersize salmon-egg bait for all you know. (They're actually just gelatin.)
Curiously, they changed the formulae several months after introduction: in addition to slightly tweaking the gelatin recipe (undetectably, except by reading the list of chemicals) they added more food coloring, changing the pink flavor to red (including the logo on the bottle) and now they've added a handful of red dots to the white flavor for visual variety.
When Orbitz were new and I bought my very first bottle, the cashier at the supermarket told me he had tried it and it made him throw up. Since then, a couple other people have told me Orbitz made them barf. I have no idea why something with so little content could do that (it's Alka-Seltzer without the aspirin! It's not even carbonated!)
Thumbs way down.
Swan's Citroma is "The Sparkling Laxative" and is available in at least two flavors, cherry and lemon (I seem to recall seeing an orange one once, too.) Osco and Walgreens also sell generic magnesium citrate, in exactly the same bottle, with a label saying "The Sparkling Laxative". Hmm.
It appears to be seltzer plus artificial flavor and loads of artificial color. (The cherry flavor says "Rectal blood... may indicate a serious condition. ... This product may cause a red color in the feces.") Opening a bottle of the red one, I was immediately greeted by a strong whiff of "strawbana" flavor, that same cheap chemical they use in bottom-of-the-barrel fake candy like "red laces". They're not even shooting for artificial cherry. I couldn't really taste the flavor, though, as it was kinda sour. The active ingredient is magnesium citrate. I.e. citric acid. I.e. Sour Patch Kids. Only about a dozen times stronger. THIS STUFF IS SOUR! And they wanted me to drink the whole 10-ounce bottle in one sitting, unless I wanted a child-size dose. ("Discard unused product within 24 hours of opening bottle.") Anyway, I only took three or four sips, with no detectable laxative effects or red feces.
Send suggestions for other things I should try! Currently I'm working on several kinds of "veggie burgers" and more Chinatown stuff (like that bottled shrimp sauce with the purple blobs between the whole shrimp.)
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|James "Kibo" Parryfirstname.lastname@example.org||last revised Feb. 24, '98|
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