[Eds: Rumon is re-joining us as guest blogger after a couple of months off. Absence makes the tastebuds fonder...]
Full disclosure (in the unlikely event you haven’t already seen straight through me): I’m a self-serving princess when it comes to these 365Foods guest blogs.
To date, I have: (1) sipped Victoria’s best cappuccino(s) and drank very tasty classic cocktails (in some of Victoria’s plushest digs); (2) eaten brilliant local ice cream (and chocolate) while wondering what the hell a Violins-related day was doing in the food calendar; and (3) been given a fab excuse to bring together a crowd of friends ’round a molten vat of chocolate.
Tough go fo’ sho’.
So it shouldn’t surprise you in the slightest that Princess Carter once again signed on for some seriously light lifting with his latest guest appearance.
Oh yeah, sure, there’s some food item or other involved, but this is about the field trip, folks. Victoria’s Chinatown, oldest in Canada, spanning a block (and a bit) along Fisgard Street at the north end of downtown. History, culture, colour and, why are we here, fine fine foods – even if Waspy me hasn’t a clue the identity of half the foodstuffs I’m looking at displayed tantalizingly – and refreshingly at odds with the sanitized presentation of typical grocery stores – at street edge and along cluttered shelves.
But that’s the point of this foodism (foodyism?) we so love, isn’t it? The interest in new, different, foreign, unique, surprising, comforting … but at root a deep interest in the luxuriant variability and flavours of the wonders that cross our palate. And in Chinatown, wonders abound, whether for the eyes (and camera) or for the mouth and stomach (just ask the good ladies behind the magnificent rebar Modern Food Cookbook, which will leave you scurrying with great frequency into the labyrinthine shops of Chinatown, in search of some random ingredient you’ll naught find anywhere else (“Ethnic Foods” aisle? Ha! Good luck finding your Kaffir Lime leaves there.)
And so, no surprise I happily agreed to source, consume and describe for threesixtyfive … rummage … what the heck was it again?? … Chinese Almond Cookies for the associated National Day (?? must have been getting short on days).
And things were looking good. Fascinated with iPhone photography, I figured I’d do an entire thematic shoot with my phone (further full disco: I completely gapped and left my Nikons at home) and waded into the kaleidoscopic fray, snapping context images as I went, loving as though it was the first time seeing them the nooks and crannies, “Thai Massages” advertisement and other miscellanea. Eventually I had to get to the task at hand and dove into the most chaotic shop I could find (a hard task to quantify), revelling in the rare urban grocery shopping excursion for this rural dweller, snapping more shots as I went, much to the concern and chagrin of poor grandmama behind the counter.
Aha! There they are: almond cookies. Two kinds even. Which to buy? Going on pure aesthetics (who me?!), it was an easy enough call, but the pretty box truly had me when I read this on it:
Almond Crisp Cookies: Carefully-selected quality materials plus elaborate processing bring you and your family the warmth and sweetness (emphasis mine)
“Elaborate processing”? Oh, c’mon, that’s a clincher for sure! Right?
I don’t know what the heck’s going on with the “processor” back at the ranch, but the result is some kind of anti-alchemy. The ingredients in these suckers are actually great, almost back-to-the-land (zero preservatives etc.), but something wrong happens in the factory during that elaborate processing that makes these cookies taste … metallic. This is not the interest we foodies speak of; not one of the variables we wish to engage in our mouths.
The moral? Run don’t walk to Chinatown (or wherever you can locally find foods that test the bounds of your squeamishness). Relish the colours, smells and intrigue. Take your camera. Buy the craziest thing you can find. Communicate somehow with the shopkeep how they suggest you might prepare it for table. Head home and get creative.
Just leave the damn almond cookies on the shelf.
Ladies, Princess needs to wash this flavour out of his mouth and wants back to chocolate and booze, thank you very much.
Epilogue upon reviewing the photo slideshow: Crap flavour notwithstanding, these cookies were a bit of a life-saver on the way home. Coming off my first track workout of the year the day before, in training for the Times Colonist 10k, I ran home from Chinatown at the end of my shopping/photowalk trip, cookies in the running bag strapped to my shoulders. At ~ km 16 of my 17km route, right after dropping off my running companion, I ran smack into a (figurative) brick wall, bobbing and weaving from the impact and desperately in need of sugar … and elaborate processing. The photo of my hastily-torn-open bag tells the inevitable remainder of the story.