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

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

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

Red wine steak chips

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From the makers of the sweet mayonnaise chips I mistook for asparagus chips comes a red wine steak potato chip. That sounds promising to say the least.

I bit into the first chip expecting a savory umami overload. Instead I found myself biting into something that resembled charcoal. Not very nice to say the least. I get that steaks can be flame grilled over charcoal, but then please use the steak as flavoring, and not the actual charcoal.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test 4

Green tea & chocolate egg waffles

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Hong Kong is the birthplace of egg waffles. That’s a big waffle of egg-shaped bubbles connect to each other by its own pastry. I’ve had it before in China when the little egg bubbles were hollow and it was just one crispy skin. Honestly I thought that that was the way it’s supposed to be.

Until I went to Hong Kong and visited a food stall called Mammy Pancakes. This place is recognized by Michelin and was put on their list of best street food places in Hong Kong & Macau. Naturally that draws attention as well as crowds. After waiting for about 20 minutes I was finally handed a green tea and chocolate waffle.

Yes, I said green tea. That’s the go to dessert staple here along with red beans. I’ve said before how I think it tastes grassy, but hey, I have a blog to keep up about unusual food. I wasn’t going to go for plain chocolate.

The waffle was heavenly. Really. The egg puffs were soft and chewy, and the outside was crispy and crunchy, making for a great play on textures. The green tea flavor was there, but there wasn’t even the tiniest trace of grassiness. Of course the flecks of chocolate sprinkled mixed within the batter was not something I minded either. If anyone finds themselves in Hong Kong, do yourself a favor and visit this stall.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 10

Chinese black chicken

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There are various breeds of black chickens in Asia. These chickens have black skin and meat. Some of them are completely black, whereas the Chinese “silkies” have white feathers. In China black chicken meat has been eaten since the 7th century for its medicinal properties. It’s still eaten today, mostly as a soup.

I’ve always been curious about this “other dark meat”, and when I found it in a restaurant with my favorite food, truffle, I couldn’t resist ordering a bowl. Unfortunately there was no apparent taste of truffle, but the black chicken was definitely there. The chicken looked a little strange with its black meat, but it tasted no different than any ordinary chicken. It was good chicken though, juicy and falling of the bone.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 7

Tsampa (barley cakes)

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In a previous post I mentioned that Tibetans have barley and yak as staple foods, due to limitations on what they can grow and breed. The perfect example of where these two ingredients mix is “tsampa.” Tsampa is a cake made of ground roasted barley and yak butter, often with a little extra sugar. It forms a soft cake with the texture of fudge.

Because the barley is roasted before use, the cakes have a very nutty flavor. Now I will eat just about anything, but I just don’t like nuts. It wasn’t something I loved eating, but at least I could finish it, and with a little added yogurt it tasted a lot better.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 4

 

Stir-fried yak

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Yaks are an important source of food for the Tibetans, as it can live at high altitude. We don’t normally see yaks in Europe or Asia, but in the Tibetan region they are quite common. A yak is a bovine, so it more or less a different breed of cow. Sure, it’s hairy and it has big horns, but I was expecting its meat to taste much the same as beef.

On a recent trip to Xiahe, a Tibetan town, I found myself having to choose how I would like my yak cooked. I opted against a steak, as I haven’t had many good experiences with steaks in China. Instead I went for the sizzling platter. Pieces of stir-fried yak came together with onions and peppers on a cast iron plate mixed with some chili and spices.

The yak meat did indeed taste almost exactly like beef. I just had the idea it tasted even beefier than regular beef. Though it could have just been because it was locally bred on the grasslands and not stuck in a cage somewhere.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 9

Green tea chocolate

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For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll be aware of my struggle with green tea desserts. The matcha powder used can taste very earthy and grassy when used too heavily. Blown over from Japan, matcha desserts are abundant here in China.

Recently I picked up a bar of green tea chocolate by Dove. The tea was mixed with white chocolate, which I think works better for the matcha than a milk or dark chocolate would. The grassy taste was there, albeit below the surface.

I didn’t mind it this time. Maybe I’m getting used to it. At any rate, it’s fun to see a green colored chocolate bar. It kind of messes with your senses a bit. There were some pieces of cookie mixed in with the chocolate, giving a nice crunchy texture every other bite or so.
Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 7