There is no greater faith than that of a man who trusts the packaged fish snacks of another culture.
My dad is a multi-cultural sportsman. That is, he loves to experiment in the sandboxes of other nationalities as a sport. He enjoys their movies, listens to their music, lights their incense, drinks their teas and partakes of their foodstuffs. It’s a loving sentimentality that I’m fundamentally interested in.
I inherited this trait from him, so it’s not uncommon for me to wander optimistically through the snack and dehydrated meats aisle of the local Asian grocery store, 99 Ranch Market, as though I don’t know any better, which I absolutely do. I totally know better than to blindly grab at imported Asian snacks. I don’t mean that in an ethnically insensitive way — I’ve always appreciated the integrity and style of my Asian friends, I just mean that due to lack of exposure over the years, I’m not very likely to palate many of their best fishy tidbits. But still I’ll poke through their grocery racks and look at all the goods and it’s not unusual for me to throw a few bags of weird stuff into my basket. I love the breath decimating Boy Bawang and some interesting peanut confections called Nagaraya that my Bebeboo has brought to my attention, but I’d say that 85% of the time, I’m completely disappointed and appalled by my selections. Pickled radish, Chinese beef jerky, dried pollock fish snack? What the living fuck am I thinking?
The snacks are often pretty funky tasting, laced with salt and MSG, potentially full of fat, cholesterol, lead, melamine, arsenic, mercury, human papilloma viruses and influenza. As an example of this, I was in LA’s Chinatown on Tuesday February 24th, dicking around in the Folksy Medicine section of a popular two-story red-colored Chinese supermarket on Broadway. There were NUMEROUS folksy remedies that were clearly (cough cough) labeled as dangerous, of course on the very bottom of the package with a irritating 2-inch sticker that was folded in half upon itself and could “just accidentally fall off” because it was adhered to the box by a 1/16″ sliver. This sticker, as difficult as it was to read, identified many products to contain, According to the State of California (flip the sticker over) cancer-causing poisons. The Sea Horse Genital Tonic Pills depicted here from my camera phone are exactly such a delicious cancer-causing medicine. Oh, I forgot to mention, The Sea Horse Genital Tonic listed as its first ingredient inexplicably contains LAND HORSE testicle bits. A savory thought, I know, considering the duplicitous ocean theme, but that’s wacky Asian snacks for you — uh, I mean folksy medicines. I will admit that most of the boxes I saw had the ubiquitous statements of not being endorsed by the FDA, etc. Though I don’t read Chinese and couldn’t tell you if the translations were honest to the English illiterate.
As you know, I have a morbid fear of shady Chinese restaurants. It is almost impossible to get me into a Chinese restaurant unless it has either “Panda” or “Express” in its name. I’m not sure exactly why that is, except that I went to a few of ’em here and there when I was a kid and they always kind of creeped me out. Roasted ducks hanging by the necks, dirty fish and lobster tanks crammed with someone’s meal-to-be. And of course television played a role; undercover consumer advocates would sometimes catch evil chefs doing horrible things in the kitchen, like smoking and dropping ashes into the bok choy. It’s obviously an irrational fear as there are thousands of very high quality Chinese restaurants out there in the world, but it’s a phobia of mine. So even I am at a loss for why I’ve been experimenting with shady Asian snack delicacies. I guess I genuinely like to be disappointed in life while spending money here and there on things that almost make me puke. Blecch! Who doesn’t?! But now perhaps it’s time to hang up my scholar’s cap and reach for the Doritos when I’m peckish. Or some Boy Bawang.
[c] 2009 Russ of America