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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

Chili, pretzel & salt Magnum

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I love chocolate, and I love ice-cream, so for me there’s nothing better than a Magnum. I’ve always loved their smooth velvety ice-cream with its crispy chocolate coating. During my trip to Florence, Italy I stumbled upon a Magnum restaurant where you could assemble your own creation. I, of course, had to try.

I chose the dark chocolate coating and jumped on the savory sweet wagon with a sprinkle of pretzel, salt and chili flakes. The pretzel and the salt worked wonderfully with the dark chocolate. The chili flakes on the other hand were too overpowering. My mouth felt like it was on fire.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 5

Yak yogurt

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When I visited Xiahe a few weeks ago I sampled many local dishes I had never tried before. Many of these dishes had yak at their foundations. Yak yogurt is one of these dishes, though I had tried it once before.

Yak yogurt is not very different from regular yogurt in taste, but it’s much lumpier in texture. It’s almost as if it’s past its expiration date. The beauty of the yogurt is that it tastes so fresh and sour, not like most store bough yogurts. I guess that’s mainly because it’s locally made without any additives. If you want it sweet you can always add a little sugar yourself.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 9

Coconut water espresso

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The advertisement for the coconut water espresso at Starbucks in China certainly looked appealing. There was a clear layer of juice on the bottom with a rich coffee floating on top. Unlike many other ads, the coffee actually looked like the picture. That was a promising start.

The first sip was equally promising, as the straw sucks up the sweet coconut water, and then hits the bitter coffee. It made for a nice combination. After a while though, the two layers get muddled up and you are left with what in essence is a sweetened coffee. It tasted great at first, and pretty nice towards the end, so all in all not a bad score.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8

White chocolate with bacon

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I’ve written before about the uprising of savory sweets such as salty caramel. One of the most popular of those is candied bacon. There’s something about the combination of sugar and salt that simply works. The first time I tried a bacon dessert was at a small tapas bar in Bali, Indonesia. After a great meal of Asian fusion tapas I ordered a white chocolate pudding with bacon that tickled my interest.

The pudding turned out to be a smooth and creamy ganache that tasted beautifully sweet. It was topped with small cubes of bacon that I assumed would be crispy and crunchy. Unfortunately the bacon was neither crispy nor crunchy but chewy. As is so often the case, it wasn’t the taste that I didn’t like, but the texture. I’m sure if the bacon had been crisped up I would have enjoyed the dish a lot more.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 5

Aberdeen Angus Chips

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There’s not much to say about these potato chips, other than don’t waste your money on these. There was no taste of steak, and certainly no distinction between these and any other plain salted potato chip.

Two sentences is all I got, well that makes three now.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 4

Larb bread sticks

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Larb is a classical northern Thai salad which can include all kinds of meat or fish, but I associate most with minced pork. The meat is cooked with fish sauce and lime amongst others, and then mixed with chili and mint.

It’s the mix of chili and mint that I love so much about larb, as well as the Thai style mixing of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. These larb flavored bread sticks I found in Hong Kong must have been imported from Thailand, as it had Thai writing on it.

The sticks tasted very nice and savory, though I couldn’t distinguish between sweet, spicy and sour. What was nice was that the sticks were not dusted with powder, but had big grains of the spice mix on it, which would give small bursts of flavor in your mouth and stayed true till the very last bite.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8

Molecular Xiaolongbao

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Xiaolongbao is probably the most famous food in Shanghai. It’s a dumpling filled with some meat or shrimp with a heavy dose of soup. When you eat it, you first poke a little hole in the dumpling and drink the soup. Only then do you eat the actual dumpling. If you don’t drink the soup first, it can squirt out and burn your lips.

I happened to be in Shanghai when there was a food festival going on. There were quite a few famous chefs who head many Michelin-starred restaurants throughout the world. One of them was Masterchef Canada judge Alvin Leung who helms the 3-starred Hong Kong restaurant Bo Innovation. He was in Shanghai to open two new restaurants on the Chinese mainland.

One of the dishes he presented was a molecular soup dumpling that I had heard so much about. I was presented with one big spoon with one big jiggly ball on top. It was a sphere of soup based on Ferran Adria’s method of spherification.  Through the magic of science the soup had formed an outer skin, leaving the inside fluid. When I bit into it all the soup came gushing out giving you a similar sensation to a normal soup dumpling. \

I was stunned. I couldn’t help but keep grinning. It was just such an amazing experience. Not only was it textural sensation, it also tasted superb. From that day on I consider myself a fan of Alvin Leung. Hopefully one day I’ll have enough money in my pocket to visit Bo Innovation.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 10