When it comes to exotic foods I’m willing to try almost anything once. (Sometimes more than once; I’ve eaten over 100 species of mushrooms, 90% of which I picked myself.) And I remember being the only American at a conference in Manila once who was willing to chow down balut (hard-boiled duck embryos sold by street vendors working for duck abortion mills). They were sort of okay if heavily salted and washed down with quantities of San Miguel beer, and while I wouldn’t deem the taste indescribable I doubt you want me to go on about it.
In my never ending quest for exotic foodstuffs, every few months I stop by my favorite Asian supermarket to stock up on quirky condiments, sauces and spices, and replenish my ingredients for my healthful morning mushroom, ginseng, and ginger tea. (That morning slug may be the only healthful thing I do most days.) My mammoth mart is run by Chinese but features foodstuffs from all over East Asia, fresh, frozen, dried, pickled, and salted. There’s a huge fish counter featuring live prawns, frogs, and mollusks and three guys chopping, filleting, and gutting at least 20 kinds of fish (eels too!), a meat counter that I tend to avoid, and a selection of fowl that includes head-on chickens and ducks, gizzards, feet, tongues, squabs, sparrows, and some weird black-fleshed chickens I tried once and didn’t care for. (I hope the color isn’t something they put in their feed.)
My shopping trip to that august alimentary emporium yesterday focused on condiments and tea ingredients, but I also brought home some chicken carcasses and feet to make matzoh ball soup with. (I’m told adding feet when cooking stock intensifies flavor and enriches with collagen. I tried it and found the stock does gel nicely.)
The check-out girl accepted my payment and motioned me over to the service counter, saying something like “lee-seet.” When I asked the lady there what my stopover was about, she initialed my receipt (Ah, I see) and handed me a premium, a golden sack full of smaller gold sacks, each a portion of Vietnamese instant coffee drink. I received this: Acquaintances have told me they enjoyed the coffee in Vietnamese restaurants, so I was willing to give it a try. Wondering what “3 in 1” meant, I perused the back label, where I learned that the product “is prepared from the finest Buôn Me Thuột coffee beans, finest creamer, and sugar” and “promises rich natural aroma and premium taste.” All that with only 90 calories,m 13 g of sugar and 2 g fat, all saturated. (Bear in mind that the FDA cautions adults not to eat more than 28 grams of sugar a day, but that could change, I suppose.)
It seems that in the decades since they gave us a licking, the Vietnamese have learned our food technology well, because my 20 packets of Vinacafé held a modern cornucopia of ingredients, seventeen in fact:
The action-packed extras in Vinacafé constitute 86% of the product. That sure beats my Folger’s classic roast instant coffee crystals, which only contains one. But the good news is that this robust brew will remain good to gulp down until March 2018. Ah, the shelf life!
They say “good things come in small packages” but I doubt that very many show up in gaudy ones. I think I’ll hold off opening this one until I figure out a safe means of disposal.