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?

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:

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!

Javanese Buffet at Bali’s Warung Kolega Restaurant

Spicy fish, braised eggplant, pandan pancakes stuffed with sweetened coconut … if you’re looking for a primer in Javanese food with a hint of Balinese flavor, look no further than my video from Warung Kolega restaurant in Legian, Bali:

Mexican Tequesquite, aka Slack Lime

Last week, I took a trip to Roosevelt Ave. on the eastern frontier of Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City.  The mission expressly revolved around eating food from Mexico.  Continue walking east on Roosevelt Ave. towards Corona, and finding a taco will be as easy as finding a plastic surgeon in Seoul.

I walked into a Mexican supermarket called Bravo and strolled right up to the wall of spices, herbs and who-knows-what.  Sometimes, I-know-what, with a fair amount of culinary travel experience in Mexico under my belt; but even if I didn’t know Spanish, some foodstuffs like albahaca (basil), perejil seco (dried parsley) and tomillo (thyme) might still be familiar.

But then we have this one …

tequesquite slack lime mexican product
Los Compadres-brand Tequesquite (or Slack Lime) Mexican Cooking Product

Known as such.  What am I supposed to make of that? Did someone royally screw up spelling mesquite?  At first glance, it looks like clay, or stale psyllium husks.

Tequesquite, what are you? Similar to salt but composed of various minerals, it originates from the depths of various lakes in what is now Distrito Federal (Mexico City) and the state of MichoacánTrivia time: Name two more Mexican states (if you say Texas, I’d like to see your globe).  The word stems from the Náhuatl language, whereas tetl means rock and quixquitl signifies gushing or sprouting.  During the dry seasons, the beds of salt lakes such as Texcoco would be exposed, thus giving rise to the practical uses of tequesquite.

Aztecs and their descendants predominantly used tequesquite to leaven corn dough, but it was also used to soften corn kernels, as well as preserve the green color of nopales, or cacti.  On your next trip to Mexico, when you order a tamale or a corunda, its triangular cousin from the state of Michoacán, you might have tequesquite to thank.

From the Wayback Machine re: mexconnect.com

Oh, and as for assigning it an English name, there’s a possibility that builder’s or slack lime are contenders.  Slightly off-putting for use on supermarket shelves, but I can hear an avant-garde Home Depot calling its name.


Have you ever made tamales or corundas?  Are you able to find tequesquite?

Exploring Turkish Antakyan (Antioch) Cuisine at Hatay Sultan Sofrası

In one of my favorite countries for eating, is Antakya the BEST region to eat?

In the southern tip of Turkey that juts into Syria lies Hatay province, well-known for its ancient Roman mosaics, playing host to the sole remaining Armenian village in the country, and the city of Antakya, formerly known as Antioch. For a bit of history, Antioch was founded in ~300 B.C. by Seleucus I Nicator, a comrade of Alexander the Great. Due to its geographic position by the Mediterranean, it was a major center of trade, at one point even rivaling Constantinople and Rome for its wealth and architectural  grandeur.

Consequently, merchants from all over the Middle East, Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean would trade in Antioch, often bringing ingredients from their homelands with them. Thus, dishes that you would see in today’s Antakya stand out amongst other regional Turkish foods, not simply because of its geography, but also due to its erstwhile bustling centers of commerce.

hatay sultan sofrasi restaurant antakya turkey
Enjoying a Variety of Antakyan (Antioch) Dishes at Hatay Sultan Sofrası, Antakya, Turkey

For example, you might notice more cumin, walnuts, and chickpeas on the menu in Antakya than elsewhere in the country. In fact, one of the principle dishes in that area is called aşur, a surprisingly chewy yet undeniably decadent mix of chickpeas, walnuts, cumin, onions, peppers, and bulgur wheat (used in tabbouleh and its Turkish cousin kısır). Indeed, considering its location in the Levant (comprising Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, as well as Hatay province), many dishes are more emblematic of that part of the world than of Turkey.

Henüz aç mı? (Hungry yet?) Check out my video below from the restaurant Hatay Sultan Sofrası, located in downtown Antakya.

Tarta de Santiago (Spain)

Before diving into the titular dessert, I should cover a bit of history of the background of the tarta de santiago.

James — known in Spanish as Santiago — was named by Jesus as one of his 12 apostles, making him privy to Jesus’ preaching and predictions.  As a consequence of his loyalty to Jesus, James was martyred by King Herod in the year 44, after which his remains shipped to coastal Galicia, a region in present-day northwestern Spain.  Eventually, he was reinterred in what is now Santiago de Compostela; his burial site is exactly where in 1075, King Alfonso VI commissioned the construction of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  Nowadays, this cathedral is as important a spot for Catholic pilgrims as the Vatican and Jerusalem.

As with just about anything historical, it’s difficult to say whether or not James had visited Hispania (today’s Spain and Portugal).  However, he is viewed as the patron saint of both Spain and Galicia, having helped the Catholics fend off the Moors in a mythical 9th century contest called the Battle of Clavijo; if you’ve never heard of the Mandela effect, it’s when a large number of people think something has happened, yet the event never did.

Riveting, but where’s the dessert?

spanish tarta santiago
Tarta de Santiago, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

To prepare a tarta de santiago, or “pie of James,” the primary ingredient is peeled almonds.  It is said that almonds have been in Spain since the 600s, and that the tarta de santiago has been around for hundreds of years; though, no one is sure for how long, and if almonds have always been the main ingredient.

Other main components include eggs, lemon zest, and sugar; coincidentally, if gluten is a problem for you, this dessert can be made without issue.  To distinguish it from other almond-based pastries, the remate, or final touch, is adding powdered sugar on top, along with the design of the cross of Saint James the Apostle.  The design of the cross also became the symbol of the Order of Santiago, a group founded in the 12th century to protect pilgrims and defend Catholics; the cross’ reddish color refers to the blood shed by James when he was martyred.

I tried the tarta de santiago in Santiago de Compostela twice, and found it to be subtle as far as almond-based desserts go, with just the right amount of lemon flavor to balance the buttery sweetness of the almonds.  Try it à la mode, with vanilla or raspberry ice cream, for extra goodness.

Muchimhoe, the Seafood Feast of Daegu (South Korea)

Daegu muchimhoe street sign
Entering the Muchimhoe District, Daegu, South Korea

Given Name: 무침회*
Alias: Muchimhoe
Place(s) of Origin: Daegu, South Korea
Place Consumed: Daegu, South Korea
Common Features: Seafood (but not fish), gochujang*
Background: I’d be hard pressed not to find a good meal from the Korean peninsula…heck, even that duck bbq in Pyongyang was quality.

After checking in at my hotel in Daegu, I asked about representative dishes from the area.  Aiming for multiple meals that would make a marine biologist blush, it appeared that I forgot to look at a map in the planning stages of this trip (meaning, three hours before I left)- Daegu isn’t exactly on a coast.  OK, but it’s not far from one either.  A staff member reminded me of this, and proceeded to introduce me to “muchimhoe street*.

muchimhoe meal
Muchimhoe with Korean banchan, Daegu, South Korea

Verdict: Excellent, as expected.  Ssam* up the gochujang-laced seafood mix into the lettuce, add a bit of egg and dig in.  Even with the overpowering taste of gochujang, I was able to make out the turban shell, squid and conch, but there were definitely other mollusks present.  Generous amounts of sesame seeds were sprinkled on top, and there weren’t any bones either, so there’s another +2.  A very aquatic affair, with seaweed and sea grass as part of the banchan, and the soup had a salty, “beachy” tinge to it.

Amusingly, the grandmotherly-type figured that as a foreigner, I’d have no idea how to eat anything (Korean).  However, she took this a step further and literally fed me the first bite.  So…if you’re into that kind of thing, keep it to yourself.

Glossary
* 무침회 muchimhoe – “muchim” = mixed with various seasonings; “hoe” = a dish with raw food
* gochujang 고추장- fermented, spicy and slightly sweet red chili sauce made with glutinous rice and soybeans; if you’ve eaten bibimbap, you’ve likely seen gochujang
* muchimhoe street – if you look at the linked map, take exit 1 from Bangogae (반고개) metro station, and walk towards the red pin.  The red pin is Naedang-dong (내당동), the most famous area for this specialty in Daegu.
* ssam 쌈  (Korean) – “wrap”

A Very Brief Introduction to Food in Chinatown

Some of my favorite neighborhoods in any city are the Chinatowns.  Since childhood, not only have I been curious about the Chinese characters, but also the grocery stores, wet markets, and traditional Chinese medicine dispensaries.

Even though I’ve spent a significant time in China and Hong Kong, I still get a kick out of how easily one can find certain products a short train ride away.  So, here’s your crash course on some staples – and specialties – that might be at a Chinatown near you.

Chinese dates
A Pile of Chinese Dates, Changsha, China

Jujubes/Red Dates (红枣/hóng​zǎo)- I can’t get enough of them…the dried version, that is.  In fact, I rarely saw the fresh kind, but the dried is a nice snack, not so much if you forget that there’s a pit inside.  In China, jujubes can also be found in soups, milk and yoghurt, the latter two styles being frequent cravings of mine.  They often hail from the northwestern region of Xinjiang.   Slightly smoky, somewhat sweet and nothing like the Deglet Noors and Medjools commonly seen in the US.

supermarket jellyfish
Jellyfish for Sale, Supermarket, China

Jellyfish (海蜇/hǎi​zhé)- This is the edible variety; in other words, steer clear of the 水母 (shuǐ​mǔ)!

I’ve only eaten jellyfish a couple of times, with the first being somewhere in Manhattan in the late 90s.  It was colored orange, and you could slurp the tentacles much more skillfully than spaghetti.  Unusual texture to be sure…salty lanyard, maybe?

salted eggs
Chinese Salted Eggs, China

Salted Duck Eggs (咸蛋/xiándàn)- Looks like I was taken to one of those scam-riddled gem shops, doesn’t it?  Probably not.  Even worse, it’s a bunch of preserved duck eggs packed in moist, salted charcoal.  Because that’s a thing now.  If this hasn’t already whetted your appetite, you’ll find that the egg has become gelatinous and holds a firm, bright yolk, perfect for representing the moon.  In mooncakes.  Nasty, but only when when a salted duck egg rears its unwelcome self in the middle of one filled with taro or coconut.

Which reminds me, I’ve eaten a slew of possibly unusual foods, but a durian mooncake stuffed with a salted duck egg sounds like the edible equivalent of eating sashimi on the banks of the Ganges.

supermarket kelp
Two Types of Kelp, Chinese Supermarket

Kelp/Brown Algae (海藻/hǎi​zǎo)- more and more, I’m seeing this in health food stores, and it’s likely due to kelp’s high iodine content.  In other words, it’s possibly beneficial to your thyroid.  In other words, good for metabolism, hair and skin.  Which is to say, in ten years, this will probably be disproved, but most importantly, kelp wouldn’t know that.

turtle shells market
Turtles and Turtle Shells for Sale, Yueyang, China

Turtles (龟/guī)- A symbol of longevity, but that’s history.  Just like the turtles that used to be in those shells.  So it could then be a picture of a 鳖 (biē), a soft-shelled turtle.

Turtle shells were used historically in China to predict the future; the carapace (shell) would be heated, with the resultant cracks being interpreted by fortune tellers.  Furthermore, in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM/中药/zhōngyào ), the shells are used to “tonify” the kidneys and liver.

lotus pods seeds
Lotus Seeds, Chinese Street Food, Wuhan, China

Lotus seeds (莲子/lián​zǐ)- it’s a bonus photo, because I only found these on the street.  Seasonal yet plentiful, lackluster yet crunchy and generally not worth the small effort needed to be enjoyed.  Cheap though, and could tide you over until your next kelp turtle sandwich.  All you have to do is visit a city park and start picking away at the lotus pods.


See anything you like?

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