Oreos: Omnipresent, Overzealous, (Un) Original?

These days, Nabisco’s diminutive Oreo might be a mainstay in supermarkets, convenience stores, and vending machines. However, these black-and-white sandwich cookies received great inspiration from the Hydrox, the original, introduced by Sunshine Biscuits in 1908, four years earlier than the Oreo.  Whether or not you prefer the darker chocolate of the Hydrox – or that it still tastes as good as it did back in 1908 (quite an exclamation) – there’s no denying that the origin of both cookie names is unusual.

Whereas Hydrox is a portmanteau of hydrogen and oxygen, the two elements composing water, it was also controversial in that the term “hydrox” was more commonly known as both being a company selling hydrogen peroxide (for bleaching and for disinfecting), and as another term for soda. Doesn’t sound like the most appealing name for food, hey?  Might as well name your firstborn “Student Loans.”

The history of “Oreo” is even more dubious, as it either refers to the Greek word for mountain (Όρος “oros”) – since the cookies originally were slightly mounded – or the French word for gold (or), because the first packages were golden.

Alas, we’re not here to cover the background, or the rivalry between the two brands.  Instead, we’re going to focus on Oreos – and their knock-offs – from all over the world.

The discoveries were mostly in North America and East Asia – no shock there – but there will be a nuanced example at the end.

The United States

Nothing too unique found in the US; yet, three of the brands don’t even hail from the country. Then again, there’s the token glutenfree “Oreo,” but I wouldn’t touch those with a 10-meter cattle prod.

To start off this post’s language lesson, “giro” in Spanish means “turn,” which reflects the most famous way Oreos have been eaten.  Also, although there is a word for sandwich (샌드위치 senduwichi) in Korean, the Lotte package abbreviates it to 샌드 “sendu.”  Japanese does this too; the verb “to make into a sandwich” is サンドする (sando suru), literally “to sandwich.”

Mexico

Considering the bright colors, I could stick this package on the back of my metaphorical bike, in lieu of a yellow reflector.  Found in Mexico City, this Oreo “trio” offered a combo of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, better known as the Neapolitan.

Cambodia

The Lotus Strawberry Mini Leo come from Thailand, but I saw them in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  C’mon Thailand, you can be much more creative with your flavors.

Taiwan (ROC)

Though the product doesn’t quite look like an Oreo, the name sure does. But are Orievo the biggest offenders?  Stay tuned.

Bought the Goriorio at an Indonesian store in Kaohsiung.  The cookies were so artificial tasting that the wrapper probably would’ve tasted better.

China

Mango and orange Oreos, made in China.  So, replace the mango and orange with Styrofoam and dish soap, and then you’d be correct.

Nah, I’ve been craving Hunanese food lately, so I’ll lay off of the reality for a bit.  They weren’t bad, but the grape and peach ones were another story.

Apologies for the inferior photo quality, but the most important aspect of the photo is clear enough.  “Ord.”  That’s a good one.  But might it be shorthand for the Chinese ghost city aka Ordos?  No.  No way.

Indonesia

These Indonesian “Dueto” look like pieces of chocolate instead of sandwich cookies.  Maybe marshmallow is in the middle?  Tidak (no), it’s not.  They were also extremely artificial tasting. But what’s that sneaking into the photo on the bottom?…

Ooh, now we’re talkin’.  Tried these coconut delight Oreos in Solo (Surakarta), and they were addictive.  Deliberately took the photo in front of the sign which translates as “ginger alley 3.”  Ginger-flavored Oreos?  Perhaps one day…

Japan

Soft Strawberry Oreos?  The darn things will fall apart in the milk all too quickly.  I’d bake ’em first.

Cream Clan by Happy Pocket.  What???

Egypt

Egypt decided to join the fray, and surprise, their “Borio” brand is the winner of the least original yet mostly likely to cause a chuckle award.


Which Oreo (or Oreoesque) cookies would you like to try first?

Bom Apetite! A Bunch of Brazilian Bites

Since my first visit to Brazil in 2007, it occurred to me that I still didn’t know much about the culinary landscape in that massive country.  Sure, there’s the crowd-pleasing açaí, and the churrascaria that makes you walk at a 90-degree angle after indulging a bit too much, but what else is there?  A second visit to Brazil in 2016, via Manaus to visit Iguazu Falls and Rio de Janeiro, helped me learn just a bit more about the vast Brazilian culinary landscape.

Manaus, Brazil - Cupuaçu Juice
How nice of them to place it in a measuring cup; is that how nutrition labels are done in Brazil?

As I mentioned above, my layover in Manaus – the largest city in the Amazon basin – was not only long, but also from 22:30 ’til about 05:00.  With those hours, and without having visited the city before, I decided to wander around the mostly deserted streets looking for snacks to check off the list.

Finally, I ended up at some casual late-night outdoor cafeteria with a welcome list of tropical fruit juices and shakes.  Though acerola was tempting, it’s rather easy to find added to drinks in Japanese convenience stores.  So, cupuaçusem/não açúcar (without/no sugar, as usual) was the easy choice.

It wasn’t a terribly memorable flavor though.  Somewhat creamy, slightly sweet and sour, but nothing too inspired.  What the heck, Amazon??  Even the Brazilian tap water had more going on.

Next.

Pão de Queijo Manaus Brazil
Pão de Queijo, Manaus Airport, Brazil

Pão de queijo, aka cheese bread, usually made from cassava flour and Minas cheese.

This is by no means an ad for the above chain; it wasn’t good.  However, it’s my only surviving photo of pão de queijo, taken at a time where sleep had been missing from my schedule for nearly 36 hours.

In short, they’re savory.  They’re addictive.  They’re unhealthy.  Demorou! (Heck, yeah!)

No wonder they made it onto the list.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Brigadeiro
Brigadeiros desserts in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

BrigadeirosSupposedly, they were created at a time when fresh milk and sugar were hard to come by, so someone decided to mix sweetened condensed milk, butter, and chocolate.  But then, what was in the chocolate?

In any event, these too, are difficult to stop eating.  If they were all mashed together into one giant pie, I wouldn’t have even tried them this time.  Damn their convenient take-away size.

Tapioca Vegetarian Sandwich Açai Shake
Tapioca Vegetarian Sandwich and Açai Shake, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A couple of friends had mentioned that I should check out a casual Rio chain called polis sucos to have a glass of açaí.

After trying it a few times during that trip, I really didn’t take to açaí. The flavor transported me more to the Pacific Northwest of the US – which is usually a good thing for food – than to anywhere tropical, though it was by no means as dull as the cupuaçu.  Also, the tapioca sandwich was grainy and probably has a cousin in sandpaper.

Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil - Churrascaria
Churrascaria (Brazilian All-You-Can-Eat), Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

Thankfully, the exchange rate between US dollars and Brazilian reais was still favorable.  Consequently, I had to try one of the all-you-can-eat barbecue places.  In addition to the numerous cuts/types of meat, they also had some Lebanese/Syrian and Japanese items, likely due A) to the influences on Brazil by immigrants from those countries, and B) to common places of origin of tourists.  The drink is cashew apple juice.


Do you think a comida foi na moral (the food was better than expected)? What would you try?

Delightful Seafood at Marajillo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

pulpo zarandeado / octopus nayarit-style mexico
Pulpo Zarandeado, Restaurante Marajillo, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I’ve got to show a hint of appreciation to a lackluster Airbnb for having introduced me to one of the best octopus dishes I’ve ever tried.

Marajillo, a small, noisy restaurant and bar in the middle of nowhere touristy Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was mostly a bright spot during my brief stay in that tourism hub. Although I cannot recommend the comparatively bland and insipid ceviche Vallarta, the pulpo zarandeado, chicharrón de pescado (fried fish resembling pork rinds), and aguachile were excellent.

Although the verb zarandear generally refers to shaking and jostling something, in cooking, it refers to a style from the central western Mexican state of Nayarit. In this case, it means to split something — usually fish — from head to tail, and grilling it on a rack over hot coals. My dish at Marajillo was pulpo, or octopus, one of my favorites from the wide world of mariscos mexicanos, or Mexican seafood:

Tetetlán, an Architectural Gem of a Restaurant in Mexico City

Avocado Pizza Tetetlán Mexico City
Avocado Pizza at Tetetlán

Originally the location of horse stables for a client of Luis Barragán, Mexico’s most well-known modern architect, Tetetlán, a Mexico City restaurant specializing in local ingredients, is the result of an extensive remodeling effort by an art collector.

Although a bit snobbish, I was quite taken by the combination of the emphasis on local ingredients — for instance, some of the greens on the avocado pizza were grown at Xochimilco, an ancient irrigation system — as well as Tetetlán’s architecture.

Tetetlán main dining room Mexico City
Tetetlán Restaurant Main Dining Room, Mexico City, Mexico
Tetetlán small dining room Mexico City
Tetetlán Restaurant Secondary Dining Room, Mexico City, Mexico

If you’d like to experience it before you experience, watch my quick review of Tetetlán:

Is this the Best Japanese-Style Food Hall Outside of Japan?

As that stubborn country in the East Sea continues to only roll out a departure mat to its own citizens, those of us who are glad to liberate our wallets of yen continue to seek alternatives. Let’s take Southeast Asia as an example.

While in Singapore last month, I visited my two favorite places in the city: Singapore Botanic Gardens, and Takashimaya Ngee Ann City, on the busy Orchard Road shopping street.

Since my first visit to the city-state in 2004, I had been a fan of the Takashimaya department store. It had become my choice ersatz Japanese food hall — called デパ地下 (depachika) — when in town, with many of the seasonal and regional food festivals, bakeries, and liquor you’d expect to see in Japan.

For a very small, ehem, taste of the Takashimaya depachika, please have a look at my YouTube video:

Two Local Dishes in Antalya, Turkey

In order to attend the Dubai Expo 2020 right before it ended on March 31st, I was looking at creative routings from Amsterdam. Flying direct was expensive, so perhaps there was an intermediate point that would be both a new place to a visit, and a way to lessen the cost of the trip.

SunExpress, the joint Turkish-German airline transporting frozen Europeans to warmer resorts in Turkey, came through; they not only flew from Amsterdam to Antalya, one of the most popular tourist cities on the Mediterranean, but also had a convenient (albeit seasonal) flight to Dubai. Done deal!

Now that a short weekend stay was arranged, it was time to start searching for Antalya famous foods. I asked the flight attendants about what to eat, and they all mentioned two particular dishes, piyaz and kabak tatlısı. Antalya hotel staff concurred.

I’m a bit familiar by now with Turkish food, but I had no idea what either of those things were. Even better!

Let’s start with piyaz.

piyaz turkish meal antalya

Piyaz refers to a (white) beans salad, although it stems from a Persian word meaning onion. In Antalya, piyaz receives the red-carpet treatment, getting served with tahin (tahini/sesame paste), tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, and olive oil. The tahini makes it very rich, and the vinegar adds an unusual flavor profile not commonly seen in Turkey, save for some pickle recipes.

Oddly, as much as I repeatedly praise Turkish cuisine, the vinegar threw me off. That said, it’s an excellent dish to scoop up with local bread, then topping it with köfte (minced meatballs/skewers).

On the other hand, there was the dessert.

pumpkin dessert antalya turkey
Kabak Tatlısı (Pumpkin Dessert) in Antalya, Turkey

Kabak tatlısı translates as pumpkin dessert, and wow did that hit the spot. Pieces of pumpkin are candied in sugar syrup, then are topped with tahini and crushed walnuts. Some recipes use kaymak, or water buffalo clotted cream. Given that pumpkin is the star, it’s a colder weather dessert; indeed, when you’re eating out in Turkey, you might want to ask the waitstaff about what’s in season.


Have you been to Antalya?

Supermarket Specialties, Part 1: Turkey’s Migros

Every time I’m traveling somewhere, I will visit a local supermarket. Part of the reason is to check out food souvenirs, then there’s also forgetting — or misplacing — a toiletry (without hyperbole, I have about 11 nail clippers), staff preparing food for you while you shop, and the best part, making a picnic out of a bunch of local eats.

I believe some countries do supermarkets miles better than others, having found that Belgium, Spain, Thailand, and Turkey steal the show for their variety, local foods, and overall quality of what’s available. Belgium has the sweets and butter, Spain tomatoes and cheeses, Thailand a mix of Thai and international eats, and for our first part in the supermarket series, Turkish supermarket chain Migros

If the Word Salad Sounds Too Healthy, Try Indonesia’s Gado Gado

Gado gado (gado means “mixture” in Indonesian) is a blend of peanut sauce with morning glory (aka water spinach), lontong (sticky rice), boiled potatoes, eggs, fried tofu, and bean sprouts, among other ingredients. And yes, it’s a carbohydrate dream or nightmare, depending on how you view them.

It’s a staple at Indonesian restaurants throughout the world, although according to the Wall Street Journal, was only invented in the 16th century in Batavia (present-day Jakarta), once Portuguese and Spanish traders brought over peanuts and chili peppers from South America.

Gado gado, a mixture of peanut sauce, vegetables and carbs, Bali, Indonesia

For a look at the traditional way to prepare this Indonesian food classic, check out my video below. I enjoyed this version of gado gado in Bali, and introduce a few other Indonesian specialties, too.

Selamat makan! (Bon Appétit!)

My First Podcast Interview: Malcolm Teasdale’s “The Travel Addict”

Sweet, my first podcast interview!

After selling his business years ago, Malcolm Teasdale, the affable host of the podcast series “The Travel Addict,” ramped up his travels beyond that of just client meetings. A fellow member of the traveler’s century club, Malcolm invited me to chat last week about expat life, as well as working in Saudi Arabia and East Asia.

If you’d like to give that episode a listen, please check it out here. Let me know what you think!

A Quintessentially British Lunch

A “quintessential British lunch” is quite open to interpretation; indeed, replace the word British with any other — let alone Welsh, Scottish, or Manx — and there’s just as likely to be a debate.

Of the handful of times that I’ve visited the United Kingdom, save for a couple of trips to Belfast and Edinburgh, I’m mostly stayed in England. I know, I know, it shouldn’t be that way, but I’ve had to go for work, too.

Nevertheless, I’ve gotten a bit familiar with eating in the UK, e.g. finding new flavors of potato crisps, and where to find the nearest Marks & Spencer to see if they have my favorite chocolate tortilla chips in stock (obviously, they taste better than they sound; I suppose that’s why they’re never in stock).

It has become quite clear to me that, while British food, say Yorkshire pudding, shepherd’s pie, and a ploughman’s lunch, are good, the country seems to excel in the unhealthy. After all, it’s the home of Cadbury, the place where I first discovered Kit Kat peanut butter, flapjacks, and …

fish and chips.

fish and chips English lunch
Fish and Chips, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Mushy Peas, Malt Vinegar, York, England, United Kingdom

Although I rarely eat fried foods, there’s something about the combo with the malt vinegar that really sells fish and chips to me. My first experience with that popular food was at a London restaurant called Geale’s, back in 1993.

If you’re curious about a brief backstory of fish and chips, Sephardic Jews from Portugal and Spain fled persecution in the 1500s, taking with them the tradition of preserving fish in flour the day before the Sabbath (Saturday) so that it could be cooked Saturday after sundown (cooking was prohibited on the Sabbath). Only in the mid-1800s did the meal start to grow mass appeal, when it began to be sold in Lancashire and London.

I only thought to order it with mushy peas after discovering how good they were at a Nando’s Peri Peri restaurant, only to be let down because Nando’s didn’t prepare these.

For me, however, the pièce de résistance was the sticky toffee pudding. If that were as easy to get in the U.S. as it is in England, I’d be in <<huge>> trouble.

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