After writing a review of the strange beverage known as Marley’s Mellow Mood, I’ve found myself increasingly intrigued by the bizarre items that take up space on grocery and corner store shelves. I’ve often passed by a strange food product while hunting for Kettle Dutch Carmelized Onion and Smoked Gouda flavoured chips that has made me pause, occasionally picking whatever it is up to get a better look at it, and ponder what it tastes like. You know you’ve done it too. I guarantee, at some point in your life, you’ve noticed a weird food item at the grocery store and thought to yourself “Who even buys this stuff?”
I’ve therefore taken it upon myself to begin an exploration of these weird foods. Those non-brand-name, often funny smelling snacks that you’ve always wondered about will be documented and even consumed by Yours Truly, in an effort to…I dunno, find true happiness or some nonsense like that. So yesterday, I grabbed the long, wrinkly purple thing that can usually be found in my pants and set off for the local ethnic food shop. Yes, I made a penis joke about a ten dollar bill. But how could I not? It says “dix” right on it!
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The Divisoria Market was my destination for my first round of mind-expanding flavour exploration. Caitlyn suggested that it would be a good place to start, and she was totally right. The storefront that Divisoria occupies has been home to no fewer than three other businesses in the past five years. See that “Victoria’s Salon & Spa” sign? That’s not for the business next door – that’s a leftover from the last place housed by the building where Divisoria now resides. The front windows are full to the brim with strange Filipino and “Oriental Ethnic” foods, which of course means that the inside is a treasure trove of oddities.
Being that I’m a moron, I cunningly cropped out the two front window products I liked the most, but you can still see them in the top right and bottom right corners of the photo: BluSkies crackers (I pronounce it “bluskies”) and Cup Keyk cupcakes.
The inside of the store was as cluttered as the front windows would lead you to believe. I swear, at least half of all the stock was on the floor. The place also reeked of fish.
I wanted to select a nice mix of stuff that I thought might taste good and stuff that I thought would taste horrible. While the strawberry pudding was a strange kind of scented bathroom candle pastel pink, I felt pretty certain that it would taste about the way I expected. Likewise for the garlic flavour crispy chicken skin chips…but I’m definitely coming back for those, because they sound awesome.
Here’s what I ended up choosing (clockwise from the top centre): Gina brand guyabano nectar, Chin Chin honey flavour grass jelly drink, Annie’s Hany milk chocolate with peanut butter, Eng BeeTin Hopiakundol frozen Winter Melon Cake and Marty’s Baconette Strips.
If I had to predict the order from best to worst of the flavours of these assorted snacks and drinks, it would be something like this: Hany chocolate, Baconette Strips, Gina guyabano nectar, Hopiakundol winter melon cake, Chin Chin grass jelly drink. But frankly, I’m not betting on anything tasting good beyond the chocolate. So let’s start with that one, since it will likely be the most boring.
The chocolates are individually wrapped in miniature bars about the size of your standard Halloween candy bar. They have a distinctly grainy look to them, and the colour is a light milk chocolate brown, the colour of cheap chocolate usually received during Easter.
The taste is fine, though. The grainy look is because the peanut butter and chocolate have actually been mixed together to form sort of drier, chocolatey peanut butter bars. They crumble pleasantly in your mouth and are a perfectly passable snack. These are more for peanut butter fans than for chocolate fans, though. On to the Baconette Strips!
The packaging on this one bore some pretty awesome copy. Not only does the front of the bag declare in big letters that the “bacon-flavored snack” is “no-meat goodness”, but the back reveals some rather interesting ingredients.
The “Nature-Identical Bacon Flavor” is a bit worrying, as is the presence of Red dye no. 40, but the real red-flag, alarm-sounding ingredient is TBHQ, which was “added to retard rancidity”. I’m sorry, but if the word “retard” turns up in the ingredients of my snack, I tend to get a little scared. Let’s take a look at one of these things.
Okay, that’s basically what the bag advertizes. As the bacon flavour is simulated, the chip has a sort of dog treat bacony aroma to it. The chips themselves aren’t particularly remarkable, though. As Webmaster Mike put it: “They have the texture of Ringolos and the flavour of Hickory Sticks”. In other words, they’ve vaguely bacony corn-chippy things. Not bad, but there are better chips out there. Time for a beverage, I think.
I had no idea what a guyabano was when I bought this, which is the only reason this one is a gamble in my eyes. Most fruit nectars that come in these slim cans with blue labels are tasty, so it’s really just the mystery fruit that makes this one anything but ordinary.
The colour is a bit milky, but nectar is thick, so I guess that’s cool. Let’s have a taste.
It’s nice. Kind of a pineapple/banana/pear mix of flavours. Now to see just what a guyabano is anyway.
Oh. It’s just a soursop. I’ve had these things before, ages ago. They’re in the same family as the pawpaw, and they’re not flavourful enough for me to want to seek them out on a regular basis, but they’re also enjoyable enough that I won’t turn one down if it’s offered to me. One of those kinds of foods. Alright, time to get really weird as I try…the FROZEN WINTER MELON CAKE!
Before I open this, let me list off some key ingredients: mung beans, winter melon, sesame seeds, and onion. Waitminute. ONION? What is onion doing in what is essentially an ice cream bar? I can overlook the potential weirdness of the inclusion of mung beans (I’ve eaten and enjoyed Asian mung bean ice cream before), but adding onions is a step too far. Warning bells are going off in my head as I open this package…
Well those aren’t what I expected. Here I thought this would be some kind of ice cream sandwich thing, but instead I get four small cakes coated in sesame seeds faintly smelling of onions. I’m too chicken to bite into one of these blindly, so I’m going to cut it in half to take a look at what’s under all those sesame seeds.
Looks like custard all the way through, but the flavour is absolutely awful. The ingredients list gives a surprisingly accurate description of what you’re getting into with Hopiakundol, because the dessert really does taste like melon-flavoured bean paste, rolled in sesame seeds, and chased with a big stinky whiff of tear-inducing onion vapour. I don’t know how anyone could stomach these. I couldn’t even get through half of one, they’re so gross. But probably nowhere near as gross as my final item.
I have no idea what to expect out of a honey flavoured grass jelly drink. This is so far outside my comfort zone that I have no point of reference to help me determine what the taste of grass jelly might be. Judging by the picture of a glass of black sludge on the front of the can, though, it’s probably not going to be pleasant. I’m hoping it will be something like the tapioca pearls you can get in bubble tea. But somehow, I doubt I will get my wish.
Ugh. Look at how the little jelly bits clog up the can. The liquid portion of this beverage is the colour of black coffee and it smells like iced tea. The flavour is that of iced tea with honey added to the point of sickly sweetness, but the overall murky puddle colour and random squishy bits make it a somewhat stomach-turning experience to sample. Yuck. Avoid at all costs.
And so ends my first expedition into the realm of weird foods. I can’t say as I came away with any surprisingly tasty finds that I would gladly purchase again, but if I had to pick one, I’d say go for the chocolate. Chocolate’s always a safe bet. I’m still very perplexed at the inclusion of onion in those Winter Melon Cakes. If the onion had only been left off, I might have been able to enjoy a whole cake instead of choking down half of one and then running for the bathroom. Here’s hoping my next trip to Divisoria yields something really cool. I’m looking at you, garlic flavour crispy chicken skin chips.