Hot pot chips

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Potato chip producer Lays came up with a few local flavors here in China. One of these is a hot pot flavored chip. Hot pot is the Chinese version of fondue where people cook meat, fish and vegetables in a big pot of soup. It’s typically very spicy and flavored with Sichuan peppercorns that have a numbing effect. No wonder these chips are labelled “spicy and numbing”.

I’m not usually a big fan of Sichuan pepper, as the numbing effect is just too overpowering for me. These potato chips, however, benefit from just the right amount of seasoning. The spiciness is there, and not just in the background. It hits you, and it hits good. It doesn’t numb your tongue though, and you can easily get through a whole bag without losing a drop of sweat. Where other potato chips have tried to impart a strong flavor, Lays numb and spicy had come out victorious.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 10

You can still choose my next dish here.

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Beef cheeks

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On my never-ending quest for high quality food for low prices I came across a lunch deal at Jason Atherton’s “Social Wine & Tapas” in London. You could choose 5 small dishes for less than 25 pounds. There were about ten tapas to choose from, and one of the ones that caught my attention was a braised beef cheek.

Now I’d had some wonderful stewed pork cheeks before in Paris, so I had high hopes for this dish. The meat came served on a bed of lentils, so it didn’t look that appealing. It was like 50 shades of brown. But, it more than made up for it in taste. The meat was so succulent, you could eat it with a spoon, and the flavor was so intense. Imagine leaving a pot of gravy on the stove for just a bit too long and it reduces to a thick syrup.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 9

P.S. do vote for my next dish. Brains, balls or blood?

Crab pretzel sticks

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There seem, to be as many different pretzel sticks as there are potato chips. The catch of the day is a crab flavored bread stick. On opening there was a distinct fishy aroma. Whether that’s a good sign of things to come, I was unsure.

At first there was a very distant flavor of seafood, but unfortunately it wasn’t very pronounced, and was gone from my palate almost instantly. I was left eating plain pretzel sticks that smelled fishy. Now I know why people say “something smells fishy” when they don’t trust something as I don’t trust Pretz to make a decent pretzel stick anymore.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 5

P.S. please help me chose my next dish by leaving a comment here. Brains, blood or balls?

Halo Halo

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Teaching in China has the great benefit of long holidays and many nearby places to choose from. One of my travels during spring holidays was to the Philippines. I know the locals there are super proud of their food, but I just wasn’t blown away by it. One dish I loved though was a dessert called “halo halo”.

In essence it’s an ice-cream sundae with lots of added goodies. Some of those additions are were quite foreign to me, such as corn, purple yam ice-cream and some plantains. I thought the dish was amazing, especially in the beautiful surroundings of Spanish Vigan. On their own I might not have enjoyed the purple yam or corn, but mixed together it all worked quite well.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 9

P.S. remember you can still vote for which dish I will try on my next holiday to Poland.

100th post: help me choose my next dish

This is my one hundredth post on my blog, and I decided to make today’s post a special occasion. Today I won’t describe what unusual food I’ve eaten, but I am calling on my followers to help me choose what to eat next.

From July 9th to July 12th I will be on holiday in Poland and I’ve made reservations at a wonderful restaurant called Ed Red in Krakow. This place is renowned for their grilled steaks and use of local produce. Their menu also offers a lot of starters from the nose-to-tail dining category. Of course I can only choose one starter, but which one will it be?

Have a look at the list of starters below, and leave a reply to tell me which dish to choose. Obviously the dish with the most votes is the one that I will be going for. And now for the menu:

* Stuffed pig’s head with mushrooms on lentil salad

* Veal offal 5 ways – liver, sweetbread, tongue, cheeks, cerebellum

* Marrow bone with ox tail jam, radish and herbs

* Blood sausage with onion preserve and apple on fried bread

* Mountain oysters (bull testicle) with smoked white chocolate sauce and pickled grapes

Mangosteen

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The mangosteen is a tropical fruit that grows in South East Asia. When in season it’s easy to find here in China, though it isn’t traditionally cultivated here. The fruit comes with a thick red or purple shell that is difficult to open without a knife. The trick is to push in the bottom with a thumb, creating a hole.

The fruit itself is made up of different white segments resembling a garlic bulb. The flesh is soft to the point of being creamy. The smaller segments can be eaten whole, but the larger sections have a hard pit inside, which you’d better just spit out.

Mangosteens are juicy and sweet, a real treat on a hot spring or summer day. There is an earthiness to the fruit, but the flavor isn’t very strong. If I had to choose another fruit to compare it to I’d say a ripe peach would come close.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8

Sea urchin tacos

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I never knew you could eat sea urchin until I saw Anthony Bourdain practically salivating all over some uni during one of his trips to Japan. If he likes it, I thought, it must be good. Bourdain is the god of food after all.

I thought uni was a Japanese thing, but I came across some at a food festival in Shanghai, where I also tried Alvin Leung’s molecular soup dumplings. Here the uni came as a topping for a small canape-sized taco. The taco shell was stuffed with a salad and topped with one sliver of yellow sea urchin roe.

I never liked fish as a kid, and I still don’t enjoy things that taste overly fishy, such as caviar, so I was a little hesitant. To my great relief, there was no fishy taste to worry about. Actually I thought there wasn’t a big evidence of any flavor, so I was left underwhelmed. On the bright side, the creamy uni the crunchy salad and the crispy taco shell did make for a great textural play. I’ll have to try some plane uni next time I see it, so I can get a better taste of it.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 7

Cheesecake pretzel sticks

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I’m used to trying out different flavors of pretzel sticks by now. My flavor of the week is cheesecake. This variety has the flavoring on the inside of a hollow pretzel stick. Inside the tube is a creamy filling that makes for a great mouthfeel in combination with the bread sticks.

Flavor wise, however, there’s nothing to it. It doesn’t remind me in the least of a great American cheesecake. That’s a real shame, because these creamy centered sticks have a great potential.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 6

Fried ravioli

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In 2006 I was living in America on an exchange program from university. My hometown at the time was Springfield, Missouri, birthplace of Route 66. Over the 5 months I was there I must have gained about a pound a week as I had never seen such variety and availability of food before. I don’t blame American food, there is a lot of healthy stuff. I can only blame myself for systematically avoiding the healthier options, and going for fried food instead. Hey, can you blame me? Everything tastes better fried.

When I say everything, I genuinely mean everything. I’d eaten deep-fried pizza in Scotland before, and had heard of the mystical deep-fried butter. During my last week at university I ventured off campus to have a nice lunch at a local Italian restaurant, where a dish of fried ravioli caught my eye.

Fried ravioli was invented in St Louis, the biggest city in Missouri, not too far away from Springfield. It’s a normal beef stuffed parcel of pasta, but instead of boiling it, it gets fried in oil. The result is a crispy shell with a soft center. I can only assume that to Italians this must be sacrilege, but I must admit I rather enjoyed my fried ravioli. It came with a lovely marinara sauce for dipping.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8

Ginger cola

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I’m addicted to Coke. Coca Cola that is. I would drink it all day long, if it wasn’t so socially awkward to drink it in the morning. I mostly drink Coke Zero, as they don’t sell Diet Coke around here. Recently I found some ginger flavored Coco Call in a supermarket in Shanghai, and of course I had to explore.

I like ginger a lot, it lends itself to both sweet and savory dishes, and a ginger beer can be very refreshing. I thought ginger cola would be a more refreshing version of regular cola, like for instance Coke with lemon.

Unfortunately the flavor of ginger didn’t come through very strongly. It was there, in a savory medicinal way, but it was very diluted. The trace of ginger that I picked up was nice, but I just wished it could have been more eminent.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 7