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Asian Junk Food!

By Edited Jan 9, 2014 0 0

I found an Asian Market today, quite by accident, driving down White Lane in Bakersfield, California. Unlike a lot of Asian grocery stores, this one did not specialize. There were Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Laotian, even India foods. There was even a small food kiosk selling stir fried food and Thai style spring rolls. If you've never had Asian Junk Food, oh my God it's awesome – ever so much to chose from. Japanese: pink rice candy is like cheap mochi. The Bo-tan brand comes with a free toy, like Cracker Jacks. The taste is sweet, but bland and chewy from the distinctive texture of rice flour. If you want a similar candy with a bit of bite, try ginger candy, which has a neat spiciness. Mochi are Japanese rice cakes that usually have a sweet red bean paste inside made of azuki beans. Sometime the filling is black. Manju are similar but have a more cake like outer texture. Most people are familiar with dried squid and anchovies, yet many more dried and salted items are available in a real Asian grocery store. Each them with steamed rice if the saltiness is too much for you. Chinese salted duck eggs have a rich and creamy salty yolk that is very nice smashed up over steamed rice or crumbled into chicken stock. The same sort of dried food that Japanese companies make blandly are made by Thai companies with added kick from cayenne pepper. If you are unsure of cuisine a basic rule of thumb is the further North you go the less hot the food is. For example, Kim Chee from Korea has a little spice, but over all the food is not hot. Japanese food is hardly spicy at all. Southern Chinese, Southern Indian and Sri Lankan food, by contrast, can be thermonuclear hot! Yum. Thai food splits the difference. Vietnamese and Laotian food, like Korean food, has some spicy dishes and some not. Filipino peanut butter cookies are melt in your mouth. I'm not sure what kind of flour they use, but Asian cookies in general are very rich. Bread came late to Japan, so the pastries they make tend to be white, soft and more similar to French pastries than American donuts. Many Chinese and Japanese breads and cakes have azuki bean filling, which has a sweet pasty texture. Soft drinks are often soybean based. They are sweet and milky tasting. Also popular are drinks made from fruits that are not commonly made into drinks in the US. Passionfruit, guava, and mango are all more likely to found than cherry or grape. If you are lucky you'll find Thai tapioca drink or Thai tapioca pudding, both made from coconut milk. Beware, it's richer than American tapioca. Drinks are also made from the clear liquid in the middle of coconut, called coconut "water" or coconut "juice as opposed to "milk." These drinks are sometimes also flavored with lime or mango. You may think you've had ramen and there's nothing to it, after all you can get it by the case at Costco. In a real Asian market, you'll find some yummy new flavors. Korean companies make a super spicy hot version, Japanese companies make several different curry flavors. In addition to dried noodles there are several different kinds of fresh noodles: Udon, which are wide and spongey, Buckwheat noodles which are thin and grayish, and yellow egg noodles. Chow fun is like a Chinese version of Udon. In Japan, street vendors roast chestnuts during the winter and sell them to you by the bag. I found roasted, peeled chestnuts by the bag at the grocery store. In addition to eating them plain, they are yummy chopped up and added to fried rice, in stuffing, or whole in curries. Curry powers and pastes of every description were available. There are several distinctively Thai style curries: red, green, yellow as well as Tom Yum. I used to make up my own version out of turmeric, cinnamon, basil, garlic, cayenne and half a dozen other spices, imagine my delight at finding them already mixed and ready for sale. Just add coconut milk (or stock) for a nice plate of curry. Don't forget the fresh basil for garnish! Tea is the more common drink in Asia, and it comes in plenty of varieties. There was one full aisle with the green teas, white teas, and black teas with a separate aisle for ginger teas and diet teas. Ban-cha, meaning "branch tea" is the cheapest form of green tea. Pearl tea is better, and jasmine tea very fine with a smooth delicate fragrance. There is also something called "Gen-mai" tea with a roasted flavor. Indians drink a fancy tea after dinner called "chai" which has lots of milk, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg in it. Thai tea, served iced, is made with sweetened condensed milk. Asian "potato" chips are not always made with potatoes! There are some healthier varieties of this junk food, made with taro and other root vegetables. Also available are shrimp flavored chips. I've even seen sweet potato chips. Japanese rice crackers called "Furekake" (for snowflake) may be peppered with black bits of "nori" or sea weed for a salty taste. These are a crunchy treat. Japanese rice wine is called "sake" and may be drunk hot or cold in small ceramic cups. Buy yourself a little set to drink it authentically with your sushi or sashimi. Japanese beer is generally light. One famous brand is "Asahi" meaning "morning sun" – gotta love that! Actually the name comes from the newspaper of the same name which owns the brewery. The other very popular Japanese beer is "Kirin." Thai beer, "Singha" tastes almost the same to me as Kirin. A sweet after dinner liquor is plum wine. Chinese and Japanese companies brew it. Some items start out authentic and then get improved upon. Originally a Chinese goody, pork buns met their match in Hawaii with all the different local cuisines that mixed on a sugar plantation in the early part of the 20th century. Steamed pork buns got renamed "manapua" and are stuffed with every conceivable yummy thing from chicken curry to roast duck or even vegetarian sweet potato. Try one, you'll like it!



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