Yak butter tea

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When you think of Tibetan food, often the first thing that comes to mind is yak butter tea. As Tibetans live at a high altitude, they don’t have access to a lot of natural resources. Most of their diet relies on yak and barley. The food is often quite stodgy and fatty because the locals need to keep their energy levels up to cope with their surroundings.

I recently visited the Tibetan town of Xiahe on the outer stretches of the Tibetan Plateau. Naturally I tried some local dishes, including a mug of yak butter tea. To make yak butter tea a local black tea is mixed with yak butter and a pinch of salt. The result is somewhat of a buttery popcorn flavored drink. I expected it to be very pungent and strong, but in fact it was very subtle and tasted like any regular cow butter.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 6

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Red bean spring rolls

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I’ve said before that I don’t like red bean desserts. There’s something off-putting about the texture to me. When I saw these red bean spring rolls at the supermarket, however, I was a bit confused as to whether these were sweet or savory. I decided to try them anyway.

The bean filling was very thoroughly mashed, like refried beans, and didn’t have that weird texture it can sometimes have in desserts. It wasn’t sweet, so far all I know it could have been filled with any type of bean. It all tasted a little bland, but worse was that it was quite dry to eat. It could have done with a sauce. I just don’t know if it’s caramel or chili sauce that it needs.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 4

Braised pork chips

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My potato chips flavor of the week is braised pork. That brings a big expectation with it. Braised pork and salty potato chips sounds like a great combination, but as is so often the case this fried potato snack did not pack a punch.

The taste of pork was hardly noticeable, and after a few bites wasn’t there at all anymore. This was yet another case of “did not live up to expectations.” I still give it a 4 for the taste test, and natural potato chips are still nice to eat.

Braised pork chips

Ginger tea Kitkat

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The ginger tea KitKat turned out to be my favorite among all the unusual KitKat combinations from Japan. As soon as you bite into it, you get a big spicy hit of ginger that matches so well with the chocolate. Sure, I can’t detect any tea flavor, but I really don’t think that matters much. This is one delicious snack. I wish I could get it here in China all the time.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 9

 

 

Water chestnuts

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Water chestnuts are in fact not related to regular chestnuts at all. They’re the fruit of a species of water plants, common here in China. I believe I may have eaten them once or twice back in Holland, but always canned. In China, of course, it’s much easier to get fresh ones. And then you can see that they do look like their namesakes after all.

Water chestnuts are shapes like small flat balls and have a brown skin that needs to be peeled. Once peeled a white, potato-like fruit is left. When you eat it raw it resembles an apple in texture and even in taste. It’s not overly sweet or overly sour, so it can be used as a filler and an added crunch in any salad or stir-fry. It won’t give any overpowering flavor, but it adds a bit of texture. I stir-fried mine with chicken, pineapple, ginger and a Thai sweet chili sauce, serving it over rice. It turned out rather nice, like a sweet and sour chicken.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 6

Seaweed chocolate

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I’ve tried different kinds of chocolate before, such as white chocolate with lemon, but even I was taken aback when I found a bar of seaweed chocolate. I’d never heard of such a thing before. It turned out to be white chocolate mixed with seaweed and crispy rice for texture.

There’s really only one word to describe it: weird. It really was. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great, but it played with your mind. You know when you try something that you don’t like, but you try again just to be sure you don’t like it.

It definitely tasted of seaweed, more specifically nori, which is used to wrap sushi. It also definitely had that sweet creamy element of white chocolate. Writing about it, I’m still confused. Do I like this, or not? I guess I’ll have to try again.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 7

Luwak Coffee

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Luwak coffee is one of the world’s more expensive delacies with one kilo costing up to $700. It’s also known as cat-poo coffee because of the way it’s made. The fresh coffee berries are eaten by Asian palm civets. After it has been digested farmers pick out the berries and roast them like any normal coffee. After a thorough cleaning, of course.

I’m not a big fan of coffee, but during my recent trip to Bali, I came across a place where you could sample some of their coffee, including luwak coffee. I know this is a tourist place, and the beans here are farmed, and not from the wild, but it was a good opportunity for me to try without a heft investment.

Some people say it’s just a novelty item, and there is no great taste, but I disagree. I really felt the coffee was incredibly smooth, not bitter at all. I didn’t even need to add any cream or sugar, it was great on its own.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 10

Jackfruit

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The jackfruit is like the little brother of the strong smelling Durian. It’s similar in shape and size, often the size of a football helmet adorned with spiked. Jackfruit also emits a strong smell, a sickly sweet smell of a room full of flowers. Jackfruit is usually eaten on its own, though in some countries it’s turned into a curry.

The flesh has a chewiness and a bite to it not unlike that of cooked chicken. I guess that’s why it makes for a great curry. The flavor is sweet, like its smell, but it also has a slightly spoilt taste. This is where the durian comparison comes in.

Personally I like jackfruit a lot better than durian, as it doesn’t just taste rotten, but sweet as well. However, I’m not a big fan either. Sometimes you come across a piece of flesh that does taste more “off”, and it’s hard to swallow.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 5

Nitrogen ice-cream

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The great chef Ferran Adria is credited with revolutionizing food through science, creating molecular cooking and inspiring chefs like Heston Blumenthal, Grand Achatz and Alvin Leung. It seems like the Michelin starred restaurants of today are not complete without spheres, smoke, jellies, and foams. The go-to ingredient for these kind of chefs is liquid nitrogen.

During my trip in Bali, I was drawn in by an ice-cream parlor that makes its ice-cream on the spot using liquid nitrogen. That was something I had never tried before, because you can usually only find it as part of an expensive tasting menu. I asked the waiter to “cook” me up a batch of popcorn caramel ice-cream, and away he went.

Machines started whizzing, smoke started rising and after a few minutes my ice-cream was done. I was surprised at how good it turned out without churning. It had a great silky smooth texture. The taste was wonderful as well, sweet caramel topped with a handful of popcorn. I wish they’d started selling these here in China.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test 10

Iberico ham chips

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Snack gold, the same makers of the truffle potato chips I tried and loved before, also came out with an Iberico ham flavor. I picked it up in a supermarket in Hong Kong, expecting to be transported back to Barcelona where I took part in an Iberico tasting session.

Like the truffle chips, these potato slices were perfectly cooked and crispier than any other I’ve ever tried. The texture really was outstanding. The flavor of Iberico ham, however, was nowhere to be found. Yet another examples of a potato chip that does not deliver on taste.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 5