Sunday, May 03, 2015
deconstructing the snack
I collect snacks.
"Collect" may not be the correct word. It conjures up a Hummel-filled home somewhere in Topeka. And that certainly is not the word picture I intend to paint.
Let's just say, I am a hunter and consumer of snacks. Some people track and shoot elk. I look for tasty between-meal morsels. Especially, when I travel.
Mexico had almost broken me of my snack habit. When I first moved down, I was enthralled with the chili-lime flavoring in almost all local snacks. But that quickly wore off. Having become bored with the flavor, I stopped eating them.
But travel always offers the hope of new flavors. In England, I am a slave to pickled onion crisps (potato chips) and prawn crackers. In China, it was cucumber-beef-tomato potato chips. In Japan, it was a handful of tiny dried shrimp.
For me, the more exotic-tasting, the better. If I had run across a packet of smoked sea cucumber flavored snacks, I would have nabbed it.
Of course, I may have seen one and simply missed it in Japan. China labels most of its food with both Chinese and English characters.
Not the Japanese. Their attitude sees to be if a potential customer cannot read the package, that is simply too bad. And I understand it.
English is the language of the United States. Spanish is the language of Mexico. Japanese is the language of Japan. If you want to get by in any country, you need to know the language.
The photograph at the top of this essay is the lower portion of a snack bag I bought in Yokohama. I mistook the cheery bespectacled figure at the right for a wasabi root.
My first taste told me I was mistaken. It is clearly a sugar pea. (Or, as the Chinese translate the words: "honey bean." Which sounds vaguely like a term of endearment.)
The snacks inside were mainly flour and food coloring exuded in a form that looked vaguely like a pea pod -- and tasted of something vaguely vegetable. There are snacks in The States that carry off the impression better, but are still not my cup of sake.
What I found far more interesting that Mr. Pea Pod or the package's contents were the cheery symbols on the left.
Some of them bore an obvious meaning. The chicken and the pig, for example. I am going to assume that chicken and pork played a role in the flavor, though I tasted nothing porkish. Maybe it is a warning that eating the snack would leave the eater looking like either Porky or Petunia.
The top three were not so easy. The middle symbol has to be wheat -- I assume warning the tiny portion of the public (up to 6%, I understand) who suffers from gluten issues.
Having found the Rosetta stone for flour, I deduced the symbol on the left was milk. Even though it looks a bit like a urine sample. Do people with a lactose intolerance suffer even if the food has been cooked to the consistency of styrofoam?
The symbol on the right stumped me for a bit. Oranges? Limes gone bad? A wall-eyed happy face?
Then, it hit me. Flour. Milk. What else do you need for a baked good? Eggs.
And I have the same question. Do people with egg allergies have a reaction if the eggs are cooked into the product? Or are these warnings there for vegetarians who may stray into the world of egg-flesh-milk eaters?
It was a fun exercise. But the world seems to be getting a bit complicated with all these warnings. Alice's "eat me" cake seems to be naive when compared to these sign posts of impending death.
There are only two stops left to hunt down exotic snacks. Cyrillic script in Russia will disguise my choices, but I am looking for something made out of bear. And in Canada? How about a seal-flavored cracker?
At least, I will be able to read the package.