( *aka, interesting finds from our local supermarket, Part One of many......)
So, I had lunch the other day with a few friends, one of whom I haven't seen since our wedding last November. This friend looked me straight in the eye in the manner of one about to begin a heart-to-heart and said, 'SO. I want you to tell me..........what was the weirdest thing you ate on your honeymoon??' Whew. That one I can handle. ;)
She was referring, dear readers, to our 2-week honeymoon in Hong Kong, one of the world capitols of eating as far as I (and 7 million Cantonese) am concerned, but certainly also home to many edibles that would fall under the categories 'weird' or 'bizarre.' I racked my brain--I mean, it's not like we ate snake (that was the rehearsal dinner, true story!). 'Um, I ate......a lot of questionable things in steamed buns? And I ate my first whole crab, but that was delicious? I discovered how much I like fried baby octopus on a stick....and I ate whole duck's foot stuffed with fermented soybean paste?' The last one had her turning a delicate shade of green, and I knew we had a winner. For the record, I really do love fried baby octopus on a stick, and I think it's a damn shame that it isn't regular street/fair food around these parts--I could sure go for one right now. But the entire episode got me thinking, just what constitutes 'bizarre,' anyway? One man's bean curd-stuffed whole duck's foot is another man's deep-fried Twinkie, after all. So, as Mike and I kind of fancy ourselves amateur Andrew Zimmerns (he of 'Bizarre Foods' fame on the Travel Channel), but are sadly lacking in the travel budget these days, we have decided to take our vacations in our imaginations and at our local supermarkets for the time being. At least until my book deal comes through. ;)
Up first: two contenders in the 'beverage' category from our local LeeLee Asian Market. The first of these was completely new to me, a Taiwanese canned thing labeled 'Rice and Peanut's [sic] Drink,' and........ohhh boy. Rice and peanuts it certainly tasted like. Rice and peanuts (and sugar) it certainly consisted of. See??
It was a weird beverage from start to finish. The thick texture wasn't unfamiliar or even unpleasant, it was slightly reminiscent of a Thai iced tea. But the vegetal, boiled peanut taste was a little strange, and the slight grittiness from the rice content was a little weird to contend with as well. Basically, it lacked the two things I love about a classic Thai iced tea: the intense, condensed milk sweetness and fragrant tea flavor....all this while possessing all the questionably drinkable (even gaggable?) qualities of a drink this thick and milky. It was a little difficult. As I called out to Mike, 'It's not bad! I just.........don't think I'm going to drink any more of it.' And sure enough the other half of the can languished in the fridge for a week.
Our second contender was a proven Laurel favorite from the past (and thus kind of a cheat, but when you've put yourself through canned-rice-and-boiled-peanut drink, what's a little cheating, after all??) known as 'Basil Seed Drink.' Brace yourselves, it looks horrifying. Are you ready?
See?? I told you. It looks like something from a petri dish in a fertility research laboratory, I know, but the taste and even the unusual texture should be no great shakes for anyone who is accustomed to & loves Asian style 'bubble tea.' Sure, the slimy, bubbly objects about to use your throat as a fleshy waterslide aren't tapioca 'pearls' but gelatinous basil seeds, but still. This honey-sweetened, popular Southeast Asian drink is honestly delicious, despite its resemblance to a tadpole-ridden water sample from the Black Lagoon. Ever so faintly licorice-y (even bubble-gum-y?) in the way of sweet basil leaves, the taste is mostly sweet and refreshing. The overall impression left my this drink is mostly that of the slimy, gelatin-coated seeds rushing past your lips with every sip, but if you can stand the sci-fi-like experience (or if you're into that sort of thing; apparently I am), it's quite a treat, really. Basil seed drink, who knew?? I think I love you.
More 'Bizarre Foods: Home Edition' posts to come soon! The Asian market alone should prove quite the wealthy source for material--after all, we still have frozen ant eggs to try, and durian fruit, and red bean paste ice cream, and dried squid snacks, and fresh pork uterus, and so many, many more treats! Coming soon!