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:

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:

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?

Three Tamales and a Cup of Atole in Atzacan (Mexico)

In 2019 I visited the small municipality of Atzacan, about two hours west of the eastern Mexican port of Veracruz.  For the budding linguists out there, the name Atzacan derives from three Náhuatl (a group including the Aztecs) words— atl, or water, tzaqua, or stop, and can, or place; in other words, “the place where the water stops.”

Founded in 1825, Atzacan is best known for its maize (corn) and beans, as well as an annual festival in April celebrating Santa Ana (Saint Anne), its patroness saint.

downtown Atzacan Mexico
City View of Downtown Atzacan, Mexico

Of course, I was there to eat.  Given the spectacularly diverse terrain in this part of Mexico – among sloping hills and tropical valleys, volcanoes and thus, fertile soil also pepper the landscape – I was tipped off about tamales and atole as being local specialties.

This was a cool find for at least a trio of reasons.  One, it’s Mexican food, so it’s mostly likely going to be delicious.  Two, it’s a locavore’s delight.  And three, my tamale knowledge was woefully limited until that day.

beans vendor Mexico
Beans Vendor at a Food Market in Downtown Atzacan

Although the tamal can be found in countless forms stretching from Mexico to Chile, I couldn’t believe how many types there were just in Atzacan!  

Again, given the terroir of the region surrounding this pueblo, ingredients as diverse as berries, chocolate, coconut, pineapple, bananas, and many other things could be mixed in with the masa, or nixtamalized corn dough, to prepare the tamal.

tamales atole
Chocolate Tamal, Strawberry Tamal, and a Cup of Corn Atole (not seen, the Rapidly Devoured Coconut Tamal)

As for the atole, the hot drink made of masa, cinnamon, water, and often raw cane sugar (piloncillo), it’s a particularly heavy pairing with tamales, though no less tasty.  Over time, atole, too has come to be prepared with guavas, pineapple, nuts, and other naturally sweet ingredients…to wit, its most famous cousin, champurrado, is made with masa, water, and chocolate.

My short visit to Atzacan was something of an eye-opener.  Not only did it provide more context to the breadth of hyper-local Mexican cuisine, but it also made me appreciate a bit more places that take pride in what they produce for themselves.

Exploring Indigenous Mexican Drinks: Tejate and Pozontle

As much as I trumpet Mexican food, I don’t often write about Mexico’s drinks.  Specifically, given the biodiversity and varied topography throughout the country, I’m also curious about what everyone was drinking before the conquistadors.

On the topic of indigenous and Prehispanic beverages, let’s look at a couple – tejate, and pozontle – which both originate in the present-day state of Oaxaca.

tejate drink Oaxaca market
Woman Preparing Tejate in Oaxaca, Mexico

Yes, tejate, the first of today’s two Pre-Columbian (before Christopher Columbus) drinks, is often seen in vats at markets and bazaars in Oaxaca.  Centuries before the Aztecs, the Zapotec peoples  – mostly the upper class  – of what is now the state of were enjoying tejate.  Its ingredients include water, toasted corn, pixtle (ground roasted mamey pits; incidentally, pitztli means bone or seed in the Aztec language Nahuatl), fermented cacao beans, and cacao flowers.  The cacao was most likely introduced to Oaxaca from Chiapas state in Mexico through early bartering.

Generally, tejate is served in a bowl made of jícara, an inedible fruit from the calabash tree:

mexican jicara tree
The Jícara Tree, Valladolid, Mexico

I consider tejate a light and very frothy drink, a bit bitter and not too sweet.  Though there are indeed, differences in flavors, I had a similar opinion regarding the less well-known pre-Hispanic Oaxacan beverage, pozontle.

pozontle vendor oaxaca
A Glass of Pozontle in Oaxaca, Mexico

On a visit to a random market in Oaxaca, I stumbled upon La Pozontoleria, a small kiosk serving up this foamy and slightly sweet “shake” more easily found at rural wedding ceremonies, baptisms, and during the Day of the Dead in traditional hillside Oaxacan pueblos (towns).

Pozontle’s four more recognizable ingredients are water, panela (unrefined cane sugar), and ground specks of cacao and corn.  The cacao and corn are rolled into little spheres, which are then dissolved in panela water.  The fifth ingredient, called cocolmécatl, is a vine in the Smilax genus that when ground, causes the rest of the pozontle mixture to foam.


Many of us might be quite familiar with Mexican dishes.  But when it comes to Prehispanic drinks, that’s an entirely different world equally worth discovering.

Ski Inn: The Lowest Bar in the Western Hemisphere?

A few years ago, I took a weekend trip to Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea, in Southern California’s Imperial County.

The Salton Sea was formed in 1905 from the spillover of a badly planned state irrigation system, and quickly became a weekend getaway from SoCal residents.  With a growing population, farming activity greatly increased in the region.  By the 1970s, however, agricultural pesticides and other chemicals contributed to the demise of the man-made Salton Sea, creating an incredibly saline – and dystopian – point of interest.

Scattered Fish Skeletons Form Today’s Bombay Beach Coastline of the Salton Sea

In addition to being on the coast of the United States’ own Aral Sea, Bombay Beach, in the former “Winter Tomato Capital of the World” of Niland, California just so happens to house another unusual claim-to-fame: the Ski Inn.

Sign at the Ski Inn, Niland, California

The Ski Inn – named for water skiing in the heydays of the Salton Sea -opened in the 1950s, and bills itself as the “lowest bar in the Western Hemisphere.”  Unless a bar opens up in Death Valley’s Badwater Basin, the Ski Inn, at 223 feet below sea level, might actually own that record.

It’s one of the last remaining vestiges of the once prosperous Salton Sea resort area, and has an unusual collection of dollar bills taped around nearly the whole interior of the bar.

If you’re ever in the area, you’ll be glad the Ski Inn is still open.  Shops and their hours of operation are limited, so go on in, pay the friendly folks a visit, and grab a burger and a brewskie.  Directions are here.

My Top Tastes of Twenty-Twenty One (Sorry, 2021)

We’re nearing end of the Ugo Boncompagni calendar, which means I will be sharing my favorite meals of the 2021.  Though 2020 understandably didn’t get much love in terms of culinary travel, 2021 flipped that pandemic fear around a full 180°.

Without further ado, let’s go eating around the world – fine, two continents – and discover the best of 2021.

Sopa de Lima, Jugo de Chaya, Sikil P’aak, Ix Cat Ik, Tradicional Cocina Maya-Valladolid, Mexico

Ix Cat Ik, Valladolid, Mexico

You might be thinking, he’s talking about the soup.  He loved the soup.

Actually, whereas the sopa de lima – Yucatan lime soup, and jugo de chaya – a Yucatan variety of spinach – were good, the star of the show was the sikil p’aak, a pumpkin seed and habanero salsa.  Both the pumpkin seeds – pepitas – and habaneros were roasted, and mixed with fresh tomatoes and chives from the restaurant’s garden.

I had a lot of salsa this year, but this one might be the winner.  Fortunately, tens of other salsas are all tied for second.

Aguachile, Tlaquebagre, Tlaquepaque, Mexico

Tlaquebagre, in Tlaquepaque, Mexico

From the city of Guadalajara, I took the metro to its satellite city of Tlaquepaque, hoping to see its famous upside-down umbrellas.  Nope, sorry, not this time.

However, the day trip wasn’t a complete loss, as I had stumbled across a real hole-in-the-wall by the name of Tlaquebagre.

Seafood was the name of the game, and I was craving shrimp.  I ordered an aguachile – “chili water” – a Mexican dish in which shrimp is prepared with lime juice and serrano or chiltepin chilies, and served immediately.  Add in avocadoes and red onions, and you’ve got yourself a delectable puddle of briny heat.

Seafood Picnic, Mc-Fisher, La Paz, Mexico

Mc-Fisher in La Paz, Mexico

Eating seafood on the beach in Mexico.  Yep.  And I’d do that all day long…eat seafood, that is.

Mc-Fisher, unusual name notwithstanding, was something else–  Stingray soup, octopus with melted cheese tacos, marlin tacos, a taco with all three of those ocean dwellers, SHRIMP and beans.  My only complaint was that the tortillas were meh, but I was pretty sure that the rest of the country could make up for that.

If you want good seafood, you want Mc-Fisher.

Smoked Salmon and Sweet Potato Tots, Calumet Fisheries, Chicago, USA

Over the summer, I had a long layover in Chicago.  Having already tried the adopted Chicagoland favorites –  deep dish pizza, hot dogs without ketchup, and my pick, giardiniera – I looked up hyperlocal spots.

Enter, Calumet Fisheries.

All the way in South Chicago, Calumet Fisheries opened in 1948, and became known for smoking fish on oak logs, in a smokehouse adjacent to their shop.

An order of sweet potato tots complimented the deliciously smoky, melt-in-your-mouth hunk of salmon that I ended up eating as if it were an apple.  It needed no extra flavoring, and would be most welcome as a Christmas gift sent directly to my plate.

Eggplant Tostada and Mixed Seafood Tostada, Contramar, Mexico City, Mexico

Contramar, Mexico City, Mexico

Don’t get me wrong, that mixed seafood tostada on the right was a treat.  It’s Contramar, after all, one of the more well-known seafood restaurants in Mexico City.

But I must say that their eggplant tostada – tostada de berenjena – was my vegetable dish of the year.  Or, berry dish?
It was buttery, yet you could still discern the mild sweetness of the eggplant.  Specifically, I ordered it since I seldom notice eggplant on menus in Mexico.  If Contramar, or any other Mexican eatery would do a grilled eggplant/meat combo, that would likely be on my list for 2022.

Eggplant, Shrimp and Ricotta Pizza, Broadway Pizza, White Plains, New York, United States

Broadway Pizza, North White Plains, United States

Shrimp on a pizza, what in tarnation???

(On closer inspection, there’s no meat on this list.  That has to change.)

The cashier said they don’t “normally allow shrimp as an add-on,” so I reminded me that they worked on tips.  A fistful of dollars later, and I had my slice of the year– breaded eggplant, shrimp, and ricotta cheese.

Next time, I will see if they could put all of that stuff in a calzone.

Flaky Buttery Excellence?, Blé sucré, Paris, France

Blé sucré, Paris, France

It’s my first time in Paris in 23 years, what am I going to eat?

Cheese, butter, and pastries, obvi.

Hey Paris, where’s “the best” pain au chocolat?  Hard to say, but Blé sucré is one recommendation.

So, I take my walk to the 12th arrondissement – district – and queue up for my first ever Parisian pain au chocolat.

Sold out.

However, as I stared at the empty space where that would have been, a baker whips out a tray of something even more tantalizing (in the photo, on the left).  I don’t know the name of it – perhaps you could help out – but it was a flaky, buttery, frangipane-filled viennoiserie.

Was there a more decadent dessert eaten in 2021?  Perhaps.  Was that decadent dessert more delicious?  It’s not on this list, now is it?


What were your top meals of 2021?

Cool Supermarket Trends: Smoking Chilies While You Shop (Mexico)

This year, I visited Mexico a number of times.  Consequently, I visited a lot of supermarkets throughout the country, from La Paz in the Baja California peninsula, to Campeche in the eponymous state, Mexico City, and even Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on the border with Texas.

How about that, I get to mention Matamoros in a post…

Matamoros – officially Heroica Matamoros – isn’t known for being a touristic city, unless you’re a Rigo Tovar fan, checking out  Playa Bagdad (Baghdad Beach), or you’re stopping by Brownsville, its neighbor on the US side.  However, in my quest to check off another airport -in this case, Matamoros International Airport – I spent a night there earlier this year.

In short, there’s not much to do.  But, it’s still Mexico, so there’s always good food nearby.

Given the drier climate in the northern part of Mexico, the food scene is a bit different.  You’ve got charros – Mexican pinto beans, machaca – dried, pounded, shredded, and spiced beef or pork, apple orchards, and a greater presence of chiles tatemados.

To wit:

Tatemar is a Mexican Spanish verb originating from the Náhuatl-Aztec word tlatemati, meaning “to put to fire”, or “to burn.” I came across this cool section of a Mexican supermarket chain called Chedraui, located not far from downtown Matamoros.  While you’re shopping, a staffer would help you smoke whichever chilies you purchased.

Wouldn’t you like to see that in the US?

Can I Eat It? Language Oddities in the Food World, Part 1

As much as I love eating food, I also like to learn where things in the culinary world come from, and even the etymology of ingredients.

Of course, there are a number of edibles in every language that stand out, and I’m not referring to their taste or health benefits.  I’m talking about the food’s name, and how similar it can be to a subject completely unrelated to the food world.

You know, the homophones – words sounding alike, homographs – words written alike – and homonyms, which encompass the two.

Other languages will follow in a later post, but for today, I will focus on a few standouts from English.

Mother

Here’s a good time to ask “what’s in a name?”

To make apple cider vinegar, yeast is added to apple juice, which begets the breakdown of sugars, turning them into alcohol.  Thereafter, certain bacteria are added, to convert the alcohol into acetic acid, eventually becoming vinegar (acetum is Latin for “vinegar.”)

Some believe that it is the bacteria – which causes the vinegar to be fermented – to be reason the term mother was adopted.  Others say that the mother is the cloudy sediment in unpasteurized vinegar which wasn’t fully fermented.  That latter story is backed up by the Middle Dutch word modder, referring to “dregs and lees.”

No matter which – ehem – old wives’ tale you believe, the mother is purportedly the healthiest part of vinegar, containing a greater concentration of probiotics to promote a healthier digestive tract.

Rye/Wry

Rye Field (Photo by Andrea Stöckel)

How do you go from rye, a cereal grass popular in delis across the US, to wry, an expression of disgust or disappointment?

Simple: when they’re out of pastrami.

Bread/Dough

In Turkish, ekmekistan means “land of bread”

Exercise equipment can be expensive.  To all of those in the anti-carbs bloc, would your opinion change if you had a lot of dough?  How about a lot of bread?

Consider that decades ago, there weren’t nearly as many choices for eats are there are now.  Bread was more of a necessity for survival.  Thus, having bread meant having money.

Pea/Pea Coat (and no, not that other similar-sound word)

Source: https://www.heddels.com/2015/12/the-history-of-the-peacoat-from-navy-to-normalcy/

Peas, the oft-derided legume of many a Western childhoods, haven’t gotten a break even in many folks’ adulthood.  (Pea ice cream, pea protein powder, pea…salmon?)  I’m a fan of peas – particularly those from Nando’s – but admittedly I look askance when they try to invade my frozen desserts.

Still, why did the pea coat borrow that word?  Another easy one.  The Dutch invented the pea coat in the 1800s, when they had one of the world’s strongest navies.  The Dutch word, pije (the “j” sounds like the “y” in yes), refers to a coat made of coarse wool fabric.

Ham Radio

Radio (Photo by Wellford Tiller)

An amateur radio operator is called a ham.  Why?  I’ve got a tricky – and perhaps disingenuous – answer for you.

According to this ham radio fanpage, it stems from a group of three radiophiles – whose last initials spelled out HAM -at Harvard in 1908.  More likely, it comes from clumsy telephone operators being called “ham-handed” in the late 1800s, soon after the telephone was invented.  Still another possibility was the British English pronunciation of amateur, which sounded more like “hamateur” to US English speakers.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Did you know that apples originate from present-day Kazakhstan? (Photo taken in Almaty, Kazakhstan)

This phrase doesn’t include a homonym; rather, it’s more of a euphemism.

Though reports of the phrase “how do you like them apples?” date back to at least 1895 – in that case, the reporter was gloating that one particular cotton vendor outsold every other – the phrase was popularized during World War I used mockingly to demonstrate levity. German troops fashioned grenades and mortar shells out of apple and plum tin cans, which led to US and British soldiers calling those improvised devices “toffee apples” and “plum pudding.”


There are certainly many more examples , but these were the first ones that came to mind.

%d bloggers like this: