Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Boosyuh Boosyuh (뿌셔뿌셔)

In seventh grade, I was in the school play. We had rehearsals every day after school, and at first we'd mostly eat snacks out of the vending machines. I remember eating a lot of Famous Amos cookies and Tato Skins. I'm not sure when it started exactly, or who started it, but for a while we were making our own snack and bringing it to rehearsals. Although I can't remember the snack's name or if we even named it, I do remember how we made it. We would take Kool-Ade, put it in a paper bag with (a lot of) sugar, shake it up, and then eat it. So ghetto Pixy Stix or Fun Dip, basically. We'd sit backstage waiting for our scenes and just lap this stuff up, our tongues bright blue or purple or whatever, and pucker our lips with every hit because only losers put enough sugar in to completely cloak the tang of the Kool-Ade. Eating that snack was ritualistic and communal. I can't ever remember eating it alone. We would eat it in a circle, discussing Sugar Ray's latest album or Adam Sandler movies or telling jokes from the inexhaustible dirty joke cloud that hangs above all middle school boys' conversations. If there were young ladies present, we skipped the latter of those activities. Usually.

Eating a mixture of Kool-Ade and sugar from a Ziploc bag is gross, at least from an adult's perspective. But from kid's perspective, there's some logic to it: Ziploc-Kool-Ade-Sugar (the term I just made up for the snack) offers the taste of Kool-Ade in a portable form. Further more, several packs of Kool-Ade and a sack of sugar is more economical than buying Pixy Stix or Fun Dip. It made perfect sense at the time. Forget buying a bag of Pixy Stix or a pack of Fun Dip for a higher price and ending up with handfuls of wrappers. Pixy Stix and Fun Dip, as far as we were concerned, were for people with no ingenuity, no DIY spirit. Kids who always used tracing paper and never drew free hand. Kids who bought Soap shoes, but never learned the best way to wax a curb and actually use the shoes. 

I don't want to eat Ziploc-Kool-Ade-sugar anymore. My refined palate (liking sushi means your palate is well-developed, right?) has no interest in it. In fact, thinking of eating the snack now makes me do the Michael Bluth face when his son describes the mayonn-egg. However, I understand the appeal of Ziploc-Kool-Ade-sugar for seventh grade me, and I especially admire the inventiveness of whichever of my Green Eggs and Hamlet cast-mates started the trend. 

Another snack I remember making, which reminds me of Ziploc-Kool-Ade-sugar, is raw-men. To make raw-men, you just get a pack of ramen noodles, smash it up on something sturdy with the heel of your hand, pour the seasoning in the bag, and then shake it like whatever the 2011 equivalent to a Polaroid picture is. A Wii-mote, maybe? Sure. Shake it like a Wii-mote. The trick is to add just the right portion of seasoning because the amount given in the pack is meant to be diluted in water, so it's much too strong to be dumped completely onto the dry noodles. If you use the whole pack, you'll end up with a belly ache. And nobody likes a belly ache. Like Ziploc-Kool-Ade-sugar, raw-men is portable and uses a Ziploc bag. Unlike Ziploc-Kool-Ade-sugar, however, raw-men isn't so much a cheap way to mimic other snacks. When I made raw-men as a kid, it was a way to circumvent the intended use of the food (is it okay to call ramen food? or is it like calling Sea Monkeys pets?) to get the exact snack you want at the moment. Sometimes I just wanted the crunch and taste of the raw noodles, and I wanted to eat it on the couch while watching Gullah Gullah Island, and I didn't want to worry about spilling the broth or dropping wet noodles on my Old Navy shirt. The essence of traditional ramen was there, but raw-men was more of a TV-time-snack-em than a makeshift meal.

Nevertheless, raw-men ultimately falls under the same category as Ziploc-Kool-Ade-sugar: fun and tasty for kids, but unappealing to adults.

Koreans are bonkers for ramen (pronounced more like "ramyeon" here), and their predilection for the stuff makes sense because ramen is much better here. The noodles have a bit more girth and the broth has more flavor. Furthermore, you can more easily tell the difference between the flavors (I'm guessing most of us don't notice or care whether stateside ramen is "beef" or "chicken" flavored), meaning you can separate wheat from chaff by exploring different flavors and brands. Which is kind of fun.

Now, Koreans have done what many youngsters do, combining ramen and junk food in a snack called Boosyuh Boosyuh, which means "smash smash" but should just be called raw-men. The key differences between Boosyuh Boosyuh and homemade raw-men are that the former is actually marketed to be eaten raw and the powder in the flavor pack has been optimized for dry noodles. When you think about it, making a product like Boosyuh Boosyuh is a smart idea; it makes money off of something kids have already been doing. 오뚜기 (Oddugi), the makers of Boosyuh Boosyuh, are selling to a demand that already exists, but has never been catered to this specifically. Oddugi just commercialized a DIY snack. People were already eating Boosyuh Boosyuh, but before they were buying it under a different name and preparing it contrary to the instructions on the packaging. Now they can just buy Boosyuh Boosyuh.

Here's the skin.

Here are the guts.

I know it seems like the idea of Boosyuh Boosyuh is stupid. Why don't kids just keep making raw-men? Is it really worth buying a new product just because it provides a slightly more streamlined way to eat what you've already been eating?

Also, adult me thinks Boosyuh Boosyuh is gross. To be more clear, I should say a whole bag of Boosyuh Boosyuh is gross, but it's fine in small doses. A handful or two of the dry, seasoned noodles brings me back to my basement, watching reruns of Saved By the Bell with my little brother Chase. Anymore than a couple doses, though, and adult mode starts up. My adult brain and taste buds remind me that, while it's okay to indulge in  pre-adolescent snacking practices occasionaly, Nostalgia alone can't get me through a bag of Boosyuh Boosyuh. Boosyuh Boosyuh is unacceptable.

I don't want to go into the socioeconomic or psychological processes that keep Boosyuh Boosyuh afloat (mostly because it's uninteresting and partly because I would suck at it), so I'll just present some evidence of Boosyuh Boosyuh's validity in the snacking world: One of my classes ate so much Boosyuh Boosyuh, and it became such a distraction during class, that I had to outlaw it for that class. P1B (the official name of the aforementioned class) is no longer allowed to bring Boosyuh Boosyuh to class as a snack, because for a couple months most of the nine kids in the class would bring a pack or two of it every day, and it became a nuisance. They would start preparing their daily Booshyuh Booshyuh fix as the bell rang to start class, pounding on the desks to break up the ramen bricks, and I'd walk into a class room full of thundering desks and spilled flavor packs. The students would approach me with zombie arms outstretched, holding chunks of dry ramen with their flavor-stained fingers, offering me a cut of their Boosyuh Boosyuh in hopes I wouldn't tell them to put the snacks away and get out their Reading Street books--in hopes I wouldn't kill their buzz. Usually I'd let the snack time rage for a couple minutes, and try to gain control once the students started asking to leave class so they could get a drink to relieve the Boosyuh-induced cottonmouth. I'd just let them all go at once, and then I'd get their books out for them while they were at the water cooler. When they came back they'd usually open their books, leaving red or orange fingerprint trails as they tracked down the correct page, and start studying.

However, after a few minutes they'd get the itch again, and I'd see them surreptitiously reaching into their backpacks for another bump. Once one kid grabbed a handful, it would send a wave of handfuls through the class. Then the unlucky few who didn't have their own stash that day would quietly try to score some from a friend who was holding. Small, whispered requests would give way to the kids standing shaky-legged during the middle of my lesson to hobble to their hookup's desk and beg for another handful--even just one chunk, they'd say. Even the chunk you dropped on the floor. The haves would lord their stashes over the have-nots. They would play mind games and make unfair trades: a pencil for a pinch, a Bakugan toy for a handful. I would ask them to sit in their seats and stay there, and the stash-less suckers would stammer, "Bu-but teacher...Boosyuh Boosyuh...I want."

I'm hardly exaggerating. I've seen The Wire, and these kids were season-two-Bubbs-level junkies, complete with rotted teeth. Boosyuh Boosyuh was a problem, and I had to shut it down.

So, yeah. I'm sure Boosyuh Boosyuh sells enough units to overcome adult bias and justify its seemingly redundant existence.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Oishi Sponge Crunch

There's this bit Louis CK does about Cinnabon stands in airports. I can't quote the whole thing, but the main idea is that the line at Cinnabon doesn't contain many different types of people--it's full of people as fat as Louis or fatter that have no self-respect.

Louis CK is a comedian, which means he exaggerates to get laughs. It's his job. In my mind, Louis specializes in just barely exaggerating mundane things enough to make them funny. In the case of Cinnabons, he hardly has to stretch the truth at all. We know Cinnabons are horrible for us and that you can actually feel your blood becoming goopy frosting while you eat one. We know we're not going to be able to make eye contact with the fit gal working at the adjacent Jamba Juice after we finish our Cinnabon. But a select group of us still eat them. We eat Cinnabons--and this the part of the Cinnabon Experience that Louie doesn't talk about--because they're delicious and we feel warm inside during the short window while we're actually eating. When you're alone at an airport after waking up early to catch your flight, you'll risk your health in exchange for the feeling of putting a sticky sweet Cinnabon in your face.

During my recent vacation to the Philippines, I had a five hour wait for my flight from Manila to Naga. Across from the Cinnabon stand, there was a convenience store. In the convenience store, there were shelves full of Filipino junk food. Presto Creams, Pillows, Boy Bawang, Clover Chips, Choco Flakes, everything. By the time I had wandered into the convenience store, I was about two hours into my five hour wait and I was exhausted and lonely. In the Manila airport, the walls are mostly just enormous windows, which is awesome when it's sunny, but especially depressing on overcast, stormy days like that one. So in the bright, artificial light of the convenience store, I was looking for a comfort snack. I didn't want something healthy or filling. I just wanted junk food that would taste like junk food and take my mind off of the wait and the clouds.

And then I saw a stash of Sponge Crunch next to some Fita Spreads. Sponge Crunch is made by Filipino snack behemoth Oishi, and isn't a new snack for me. I had eaten Sponge Crunch from time to time during the two years I lived in the Philippines. Despite having eaten it before, only then--that day in the airport convenience store--did I realize that the name Sponge Crunch is an oxymoron. Nevertheless, I think the ridiculous name is what made me pick Sponge Crunch as my snack for the afternoon: I needed something indulgent and bold enough to be described as both spongy and crunchy.

I forgot to take a picture of Sponge Crunch while I was there, but I hope you guys will forgive me, because I did dig up a commercial for it on YouTube

Sponge Crunch is the younger brother of Cinnabon. A bag of Sponge Crunch doesn't have the towering, frosting-soaked presence of a Cinnabon, nor does it have the calories of a Cinnabon. But after you eat a bag of Sponge Crunch, you will regret having eaten it. You will wonder to yourself why you didn't share the bag with someone else to split the calories and the guilt. Like Cinnabon, however, you will feel happy while you eat Sponge Crunch.

As I said before, Sponge Crunch is a silly name for a snack. First of all, I don't think we have the technology to make something that feels like a sponge but is also crunchy. Secondly, I don't know anyone that would want to eat something that is simultaneously spongy and crunchy. Oishi seems to be playing to a demographic that doesn't exist.

I suppose the beautiful minds at Oishi named the snack Sponge Crunch to emphasize how chocolaty the snack is--like the snack is this sponge that soaks up more chocolate than any other snack. Furthermore, the morsels kind of do look like little chocolate sponges in the sense that they have little sponge-like holes. With those things in mind, the name is slightly less bonkers.

The basic building block of the snack is a thick chocolate cookie-like ring, and this ring is stuffed with little bits of chocolate. So chocolate-stuffed chocolate, basically. Now, because of the extreme heat and humidity found in the Philippines, a lot of their chocolate products are slightly waxy to avoid melting. As a result, they're lacking in richness and flavor, so I tend to stay away from chocolate snacks there. Sponge Crunch, on the other hand, doesn't have that waxy taste. It can't exactly stand up to Swiss chocolate or whatever, but it doesn't taste fake. The crunchy aspect of the snack is pleasant, too. Honestly, I think the crunchiness is why the snack works. Because they're cookie-based, the morsels can't melt; they can stuff the things with real chocolate bits, which themselves might get kind of melty, but the morsels as wholes are still easy to munch on without getting melted chocolate on your fingers.

So yeah. Despite being detrimental to my physical and mental health in the long run, I like the short-term benefits of Sponge Crunch enough to eat them.

Anyway, back to the airport.

After I bought my bag of Sponge Crunch, I took it down to the gate where my flight would board in three hours or so. The rain was coming in strong spurts. Torrential downpour, five minute break, typhoon-level showers, fifteen minute break, and so on. The flight to Naga earlier that day had been cancelled, because that region was being hit the hardest by the storm, but they still couldn't say whether the upcoming flight--my flight--would be cancelled. So I ate and I waited, and while I was eating I was enjoying life. I was thinking of all the things I would do once the rain stopped. I was remembering days where I had spent entire afternoons wading through floods in the rain during my two year stay in the Philippines. I was humming along to the constant sound of rejected-Sega-game-music ringtones rather than being annoyed by them. (Honestly, though, please put your phone on vibrate when you're in a crowded, noisy place. Especially when said place has important intercom announcements. One more thing, Filipinos, while we're on the subject: can we all agree that texts do not deserve full-on ringtones?) I was content to just be there, eating delicious garbage and thinking about what I would do in the Philippines and what I'd already done there.

Once I had finished the entire bag of chocolate-stuffed chocolate rings, it was time to start the guilt cycle. I first looked at the woman next to me with pleading eyes that said, "Why didn't you help me eat these? You should have noticed how many there are in a bag and the fact that I'm alone, and then you should have offered to bear some of my burden." Then I put my hand on my stomach, trying to feel if my layer of fat had become noticeably thicker during the time I was inhaling the crunchy rings like one of the Jersey Shore guys might down a protein shake. Then I put my head in my hands and wept chocolate tears while I thought of my poor body trying to process all of that sugar.

After a couple hours and a free twenty minute massage, I had pulled myself together. By then, it was about ten minutes until boarding time. The intercom sounded, and a pretty Filipina voice informed us--first in Tagalog, then in English--that our flight was cancelled due to weather concerns. Although I was disappointed that my plans were being suspended for a day, at least I had another chance to eat a whole bag of Sponge Crunch by myself as a pick-me-up.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Aisya (아이셔)

Living amongst other adults in a college town for a few years made me forget how kids act. I could walk through my apartment munching on a snack, and usually not be hounded about what I was eating. Sure, sometimes my roommates would ask, but whatever was on TV was typically more interesting than what I was eating. 

Kids are very different from adults (duh). At school, every single kid I run into while I'm snacking in between classes asks me what I'm eating. Even kids who just barely started at our school--that can't even ask the question "How are you?"--find ways to inquire about what I'm eating, which usually involves the child pointing inside his or her mouth and saying "Teacher what?" followed by "Teacher give!" Having been a kid once, I know why they ask that question. I know why even the punk kids, the ones that that only interact with me by punching me as they run down the hall, take the time to ask me what I'm eating. They ask me because, as Jerry Seinfeld observed, their lives revolve around one goal: get candy. Their brains are 70% sugar, their blood tastes like root beer, and they only expand their vocabularies in order to get different types of candy and get it in larger quantities. 

One thing I can say about Korean kids, though, is that they are so much better at sharing than my classmates and I were back at Sage Creek. Sharing is just assumed here. Yeah, they use snacks for leverage with each other, and occasionally to exclude, but they never hoard. 

Their benevolence when sharing is an interesting juxtaposition to their cutthroat and manic attitude when acquiring the candy in the first place. "Oh, it's already in your mouth and it's actually just a Halls (which is considered candy here, by the way) and you have a sore throat and it's your last one? Pleaseteachergiveittome!" But then once they have the candy, they're handing it out to everyone in their class--even the jerk that just broke their favorite Doraemon pencil and dropped their Blastoise card in the urinal. They'll even share with the teacher (read: me) that they spend most of their time shouting over or ignoring while they fiddle with their cell phones. 

(Here's a quick sidebar about cell phones: One time a kid, who was first named Tiger but then changed his name to Dragon in order to have a more fantastic name than his classmate, Unicorn, asked me to help him spell a word. I started spelling it for him, and his phone rang. He held up a finger, said, "Wait teacher," and took the call. It was a wrong number. Of course, I apologized for any inconvenience I may have been during the call. The longer I'm here, the more of a luddite I become.)

So one day a student named Woojin gave me some candy called Aisya (I can't figure out the best way to spell this in English, but I believe it's pronounced like "ah-ee-syah") right as the bell rang. I said thanks, and pocketed the candy. 

When unwrapped, Aisya looks like this.

My next class was Longfellow, which is my most advanced and considerate class. While the students were busy doing a short writing assignment, and as a result of their intelligence and maturity, I figured they wouldn't go haywire if I ate the candy Woojin gave me. They must have heard the corner of the wrapper scratch against the inside of my pocket--a sound quieter than a pin drop--as I pulled the candy out, because they all took their eyes off their work. Then they played it cool, putting pencil back to paper, so I would feel comfortable taking off the wrapper, because once it was exposed their canine noses could determine whether the sugar content was worth hassling me over. At this point, based on their twitching noses, I'm thinking, "I probably over-estimated their maturity level, but I can't exactly put the candy back, because I know they know I have it. And I know they'll ask about it either way." So. I opened the candy and watched their eyes watch it while I put it in my mouth, cradling it in the center of my tongue. 

I pressed the candy to the roof of my mouth like I always do with soft candy to pretend that I'm somehow squeezing the flavor out. While I moved the candy around with my tongue, debating whether or not I should bite it, and thinking how much the texture reminds me of Mambas, and wondering if Mambas even exist in Korea, I felt the energy in the room shift. The kids were once intrigued by the possibility of candy. However, they had now figured that my pocket is not a clown car for candy, and thus couldn't be holding enough for everyone. They stopped sniffing the air and stared at me. I was amused by the absurdity of their reaction to one piece of candy but also worried that this might become a bigger situation than it ought to be. So I met their stares, trying not to look repentant, because I'm an adult that can eat candy whenever I want. I did feel bad in a way, though, because even the kindergartners know they should bring enough to share. 

Then Sue, a very sweet and soft-spoken girl, asked, "What's in your mouth, Chursu?" (which is a name they gave me because they like me). She asked me like a mom might ask: not angrily, but stern with the knowledge that I couldn't hide the answer. She already knew, but she also knew that it was important for me to actually say the answer. 

I picked that moment to bite the candy, which was a mistake. Because I hadn't seen the packaging, I also hadn't seen the drawing of the redheaded cartoon girl with major sour face. I'm not going to say Aisya is unthinkably sour. It's probably, like, in the middle of the Warheads sour power meter. Nevertheless, it was sour enough that my face was screwed up as I told Sue, "I think it's called Aisya or something. I don't know. Woojin just gave it to me." After that, Sue lost her motherly composure and tone, and whined, "Give me, teacher! Please!" which was the signal for everyone else in class to reach out a hand, like so many child beggars, and say the same. 

First, I explained that the correct way to ask is to say please give me SOME or please give me ONE. Next, I told them that I only had the one in my mouth, but I would bring some for everybody next time.

One girl in that class, named Jean, was brand new. She was on a lower level than the other kids, but her mom wanted her in an advanced class to help her prepare to study abroad at an all-English elementary school. If you were wondering, language can be absorbed just by sitting in a room full of people at a higher level than you. It's science--Bing it. Anyway, so Jean's mother put her in a class way above her English level where most of the kids are a couple years her senior. The first few days of class she didn't even say one word. Not even "I'm fine, thanks" when I asked how she was. She wasn't dumb or snobbish. She was just a naturally shy girl, out of her depth in a situation that would make even Kate Gosselin or Sarah Palin shy. (Look at me getting all political. My reference is the best and I definitely know enough about politics to knock Mrs. Palin on my snack blog). 

I think the class where I ate the Aisya was Jean's third time in Longfellow. The next time I taught them, I forgot to bring Aisya for everyone. Amazingly, nobody seemed to remember. During class, my failure to contribute to their daily candy quota wasn't mentioned. After class, however, Jean approached me and opened her mouth to speak. Up until this point, she had only communicated with me via nods and nervous giggles. I had spent 120 minutes in class, sitting right next to her, helping her with her assignments, and had never heard her speak. So, she walks up to me, opens her mouth, and says, " forget Aisya?" Candy is so powerful, you guys!

Ok. The story I just told took way longer than I had planned. I was going to type another Aisya story about Bobby and my co-teacher Kelly in which I gave Bobby a few Aisya and told him to share and a few minutes later he came running to me saying "Teacher! Come! Hurry!" so I hurried and he led me to the room where he'd been eating and said "Kelly Teacher is crying because of Aisya!" and sure enough Kelly's eyes were watering and she was coughing and waving her hand in front of her mouth like she'd confused sour with hot and I tried not to laugh because it's weird to laugh at the head teacher who is older and also way nicer than you. 

I was also going to unfold how weird it is that we eat sour things for fun like it's a mix between a treat and a dare and we do it to be brave and in someways we hate what we're doing but most sour candies have a sweet element too so we're rewarded but how the sweet element usually comes first (with the exception of Lemonheads) so it's a strange example of reward preceding trial. 

But it's getting late, and super long blog entries are even more arduous than super long magazine articles, because with blogs you are mentally expecting brevity. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Milkis (밀키스)

Milkis is a Korean soda that's made by Lotte, a local conglomerate. In some ways, it seems like Lotte owns Korea--there are as many Lotte Marts (which I would compare to Target and not Wal-Mart) in the cities here as there are Mormon churches in Provo, Utah. Lotte also owns an amusement park called Lotte World, two baseball teams, some major hotels, a chain of cinemas, etc. From any window in any apartment in any city in Korea, you could probably see something Lotte owns.

For me, what makes Korea seem even more Lotte-saturated is that edible goods made by Lotte aren't sold exclusively in Lotte Marts. In the states, stores like Wal-Mart, Smith's, and Target have their own food brands, sure, but you don't see Kroger products at the Flying J, right? Now, I'm no expert on how this works, but Lotte sells things with the Lotte name in every convenience store around here. Whether you're taking care of your snack attack in a 7-11, a GS25, or a Family Mart, you're gonna find Lotte snacks.

Lotte's ubiquity isn't even limited to Korea. In fact, the first time I had Milkis--which was also the first time I saw the Lotte brand--was in the states. More specifically, it was in a little Asian market that's attached to a Korean BBQ in Logan, Utah. I was there with Alex Erickson, my good friend and then-housemate. As much as I'd like to take credit for my personal discovery of Milkis, and tell you all that I found it while on a major snacking adventure, it was actually Alex that introduced me to Milkis. He had fallen for Milkis during his time in Sacramento, and was looking for a fix in Utah. Although I'm sure Alex--with his steel trap of a mind--could tell you for sure, I can't remember whether he had already bought Milkis at the place in Logan, or if we were there to see if they even stocked it. Either way, they did have Milkis, and so we bought some. This is what a can of Milkis looks like:

If you look closely at the picture above, you'll see a strangely-worded English sentence just beneath the strangely-rendered moon and strangely-airborne woman. The sentence says "new feeling of soda beverage" and Alex pointed it out to me with a chuckle while we brought our Milkis to the cashier. 

Although I realize there's nothing intentionally deep behind the phrase "new feeling of soda beverage," I like to pretend that it's more than just a case of bad grammar. I like to think that the people marketing Milkis were so stunned by its taste that they simply couldn't say anything else. In this dream scenario, one of the marketing gurus trying to think of a slogan for Milkis was a fluent English speaker. He knew that stringing the words "new feeling of soda beverage" together was outside the lines of standard English grammar, but he also knew that nothing inside the lines would describe Milkis well enough. He knew that the nonsensical slogan made the most sense. 

Milkis is a soda that straddles the line between the strange and the familiar. The classic soda elements are there: sugar, carbonated water...sugar. But the strangeness comes from the fact the "milk" part of the name Milkis probably wasn't chosen just because it sounds cute or something--powdered milk is an ingredient. This is what Milkis looks like:

I know you're thinking that Milkis just looks like watered-down milk, and you're not wrong--it really does! But calling Milkis "milk soda" wouldn't be fair at all. Sure, there is powdered milk in it. Sure, you could even call it milky or creamy. But simply adding carbonated water to milk would be disgusting, and Milkis is not disgusting. Surprisingly, Milkis doesn't even taste very much like milk. I have a hard time pinning down this Korean soda's flavor, but I would suggest that it tastes sort of like a liquified mix of yogurt and the cream part of an orange dreamsicle. I hesitate to offer that description, however, because I'm not sure that calling Milkis "liquid yogurt cream" sounds more appealing than just calling it "milk soda." On the other hand, Milkis does have the slight tartness of yogurt, but the overall sweetness and creaminess found in the center of a dreamsicle, so I feel confident that my description is accurate enough, even if it doesn't improve the beverage's PR. 

Here's the best part, though: unlike all the snacks I've featured so far on this blog, I'm sure that Milkis is available in the states. For all of you reading this in America, you can actually try the drink, enjoy it, and then send me a thank you note in the comments section of this post. As I already mentioned, I know the Asian shop on main in Logan has oodles of Milkis. There's also a Cambodian shop in Salt Lake (that maybe Alex could post the address for in the comment section) with a few different flavors of Milkis (banana and orange, I think, but I prefer the original flavor). I also know there are several other Korean markets in the Salt Lake area based on the google search I just did. Hey, there are even some Asian markets in Provo that might have Milkis. So try some. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Diget (다이제)

I have loved Diget (pictured above) for almost as long as I have been in Korea, but I have put off writing about it. One reason is because I don't know what to write, because Diget is a simple, aggressively non-exotic snack. There's no sense of "can you believe they eat this here?" with Diget, and so I can't just rely on writing about a unique eating experience in a new culture. The other reason--probably the main reason--I've been hesitant to write about Diget biscuits (I'm using the term "biscuit" in the British sense, because I don't think the words cookie or cracker apply to Diget) is that I feel weird liking them so much and eating them so often. 

I know I just said that Diget isn't strange, so I'll try to explain why liking it could be seen as strange by explaining the pronunciation of the snack's name. Most likely, readers that don't speak Korean would assume that Diget is pronounced something like "digit." I thought the same at first, until I learned to read Korean (slowly and not super accurately, but I'm right about this word), and realized that Diget is pronounced like "digest," but without the "st." And so I had another epiphany: the snack I have been having a love affair with is basically Metamucil in biscuit form, which is embarrassing and reinforces my hypothesis that I am more geriatric than youthful. 

So now I live a life where I can't make eye-contact with the cashier at the convenience store near my school who sees me buy a sleeve of Diget nearly everyday. I have to put my Diget in the hard-to-spot nooks of my desk area so my co-workers don't wonder if I have bowel problems. When students come into the teachers' room and ask what I'm eating, I play coy and tell them it's just a biscuit while covering my stash of Diget with an English Land book. If they knew I was pounding whole sleeves of Diget during my breaks, they would respect me even less than they already do. I would be the guy who can't understand when they make fun of me in Korean or make a decent number two without help. What's worse is that I didn't even start eating Diget because of digestive issues, but it would be more awkward to confront the issue and say, "Oh I don't, like, need Diget for, um, that reason. They just taste really good."

There is a good chance, however, that my paranoia about my Diget intake, and how I'm perceived as a result of it, is unfounded. I'm starting to think that there's no stigma attached with eating Diget here. Despite the fact that the biscuits are clearly marketed as digestive aids, I think that maybe Koreans don't see them as only that. Like how Goonies isn't just for kids. 

So lately I've been watching the cashier ring me up when I buy Diget, looking for her reaction to my purchase. She never seems phased. She never chuckles, sighs, or scoffs. Nothing. Not even the time when I bought two sleeves in one day. Of course, she could be such a pro that she never acts surprised by even the strangest of purchases. She could be the Queen's Guard of Family Mart clerks. 

But my observations don't stop there: I've also seen people eating Diget in public. Just sitting in the park, these people, munching on Diget and watching their kids rollerblade with their jeans tucked into the skates. That being said, everyone I have seen eating Diget in public has been at least 40, and people-of-a-certain-age tend not to care if their snacking choices are weird. Or perhaps they actually need help with their stool situation so badly that they don't have the luxury of medicating in private. Either way, people over the age of 40 aren't exactly the best people to judge snacking normalcy by. I need someone younger and hipper. Enter Bobby.

Bobby is 8 or 9 and comes to Wonderland in the afternoons for a few classes, and then sticks around until his mom gets him at around 930 in the evening. I ironically call him "King of Limbs" because of the way he just flops around all day, unaware of what any of his appendages are doing. 

Here's a true story about Bobby: I was sitting next to him during class once, and he sneezed into his hand seven times. I actually counted seven distinct but rapid sneezes. I told him not to touch me, because he has a habit of just sort of clinging to whatever is near him like a fast-motion vine, and he looked at me, smiled, and rubbed his hands all over my arms. I noticed a sore throat (one of about six since I've been here) coming on later that night. I guess I was dumb to give him the idea, but I'm sure his limbs would have found a way to infect me before he washed his hands no matter what I did. 

Anyway, so Bobby came stumbling into the teacher's room one evening and caught me, mouth full of biscuit and crumbs all over my shirt, snacking on some Diget. He asked what I was eating, and my my tower of biscuits was sitting right there, so I just pointed at the stack with my lips. Bobby then said, "Ooo! Diget!" and held out his hand. I gave him one. He ate it and asked for another. I marveled at what I was seeing--a young, hip kid was eating Diget and loving it. At first I was happy, thinking Bobby gave me proof that Diget is an okay snack for anyone at anytime. But then I wondered whether Bobby's zest for Diget meant anymore than an old person's. He is, after all, the snot-nosed-brat who thought it was funny to wipe his sneezy hand on my arm. 

So. Although I want to believe that Bobby eating Diget without needing to makes it normal for me to eat Diget whenever I want, I still can't entirely shake the idea that the biscuits are mostly seen as a snack for blocked-up baby boomers. 

But that doesn't mean I have stopped--or will ever stop--snacking way hard on Diget. I have found too many things to love about Diget to let my embarrassment or paranoia (both of which, of course, were exaggerated for effect in the preceding paragraphs) stop me from enjoying it. Diget is the perfect snack for my prep period breaks at school, because the biscuits are hearty enough that they give me some energy, but they're sweet enough to feel like treats. Grab a chocolate milk, a pack of Diget, maybe throw in an apple--baby, you got yourself a snack break

Sunday, April 17, 2011

McCol (맥콜)

A couple weeks ago I saw a band called The Mad Cannons play at a local bar. I did some research before seeing them and learned that they are a local band that, according to their facebook page, plays "very, very twisted hard rock covers and originals that make you twitch, shake and jump." They also mention that they "punch soft rock in the NO-NO place!" Very cool, guys. Very hardcore. I browsed through their pictures, and saw that the group is mostly made up of 30 or 40-something men, two of whom wear beanies while they play. Now, I don't want to make a blanket statement that older people can't make good music, because there are plenty of examples to counter that argument (Wilco, Paul Simon, Radiohead, Neil Young, this guy). I also don't want to suggest that it's impossible for men in beanies to make good music. Although I don't have any examples of good musicians who perform frequently in beanies, I'm sure there are some. But the pictures combined with their professed love of twisting hard rock and having contact with something's "NO-NO place" (which just isn't an okay thing for grown men to say; please use the phrase "swimsuit area" next time, you guys) tipped me off that I probably wouldn't like their music. However, the show was free, and all of my friends were going, so I went.

I know I said that I already had the impression that their music would not make me "twitch, shake and jump" in a good way, but that doesn't mean I went to their show determined to have a bad time. If anything, my low expectations and desire to be anywhere but work gave them an advantage in winning me over. But they didn't win me over.

The evening started off pleasantly enough. I got to talk with some friends and meet some new people. A band called Eerie McLeerie opened, mostly playing acoustic versions of 90s songs (for whatever reason, the only two I can remember right now are Blind Melon's "No Rain" and some song by The Verve that wasn't "Bittersweet Symphony"), and they did a decent job. Then The Mad Cannons took the stage. I actually stood up and wandered into the crowd to get into the spirit of things. They opened with Green Day's "Warning" and it was un...great. Although it was far from being their worst song of the night, the band's take on "Warning" taught me that their idea of putting a twist on hard rock songs is to add a violin and a couple of time changes. What makes it worse is that the guys would always have these smug grins on their faces after every flux in tempo. Now, I have no problem with the idea of covering songs, and I think that covers are often executed very well. So, while playing "All Along the Watchtower" faster than Hendrix played it is okay, looking out at the audience as if you deserve a blue ribbon on your brain for doing so is not okay.

So my initial impression of The Mad Cannons was right--they weren't my thing. Much of the blame rests on the violinist, who was usually off tempo, out of tune, and just too present in general. Songs don't need a constant, epic violin solo, full of 16th notes, to be interesting. The other members, although competent at their instruments, aren't blameless either. I feel like them trying so hard to give the impression they are hard rockers who like to mix things up made the fact that their music is actually bland and uninventive even more apparent. Like when Tobias Funke buys a leather outfit to make his daughter think he's cool, but ends up choking on one of the outfit's many ridiculous chains. If he would have just been a normal dad who does normal dad things with his daughter, he might have won her over. Similarly, if The Mad Cannons would just own up to the fact that they are not a bunch of bad-ass-genre-benders, but are basically in a neighborhood-dad-garage-band, they would be much more tolerable. Also, they shouldn't touch Neil Young or The Beatles.

The whole time I was watching The Mad Cannons, I couldn't stop thinking about McCol. McCol is a soft drink that looks like this:

The sprig of wheat (or barley maybe?) on the can isn't just a design flourish--it is essentially wheat-flavored soda. I consider myself an open-minded snacker, always trying to expand my snacking horizons, but even I was wary to try McCol. Based on everything I knew about the soda, I figured I wouldn't like it. The idea of wheat soda just doesn't appeal to me. Before I tried it, I thought, "You know? This is probably going to taste terrible. But it's cheap. And it's everywhere, so someone must like it. I'll give it a shot."

And you know what? It was terrible. Somehow, McCol is both too sweet and too wheaty--two things that I thought would be mutually exclusive. McCol is also too fizzy, which is something I feel weird saying about a soda, especially given my obsession with the hyper-carbonated Pop Cola (the Filipino version of Coke). The most demonic part about McCol, though, is the aftertaste. The stale wheat flavor seeps into taste buds and makes your mouth feel clammy and gross, like you just woke up.

For the sake of my reputation as a snack blogger, which we all know is hard to build and maintain, I wish I could say more about McCol. Sadly, I think I said it all already while recounting my night at The Mad Cannon's show. I went into both experiences with low expectations and the hope that my low standards would make me so easily impressed that I would enjoy myself despite my initial misgivings. Also, both the Mad Cannons and McCol took things I normally like--music and soda--and tried to put a little twist on them: the band added a violin to rock songs that didn't have string arrangements before, and the drink added wheat to the normal soda base of sugar and carbonated water. Unfortunately, not only did both the violin and the wheat flavor fail, they failed while completely drowning out everything else. I left the concert during the extended violin solo in "Kryptonite" (I'm not making that up--a band full of older guys really did play "Kryptonite" in the year 2011), and I didn't finish my McCol (nor did I finish the one I started today in preparation for this post), but my ears still rang the morning after the concert, and I could still taste the McCol even after eating a meal.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bob Stick (밥스틱)

I was planning on writing about a Korean soda this week (which I won't name now because I want it to be a surprise when I do write about it), but I ended up getting a bob stick on Thursday during my break from work, and I decided to write about bob sticks. Now, I almost wrote that I was "inspired" to write about bob sticks, but "inspired" would be a poor word to use, because it would imply that I had some sort of epiphany about bob sticks that I felt like I had to write. The fact is: I sat down to write this post without any real direction. My lack of direction doesn't mean I don't like bob sticks, because I do. I like them a lot. I just have a mild case of writer's block. Nevertheless, I decided to write about bob sticks and, dammit, I'm going to write about bob sticks. I knew when I became a snack blogger that I would have to blog even when I didn't feel like it, or was running low on ideas, because that's what snack bloggers do. We persevere. We lick the Cheetos® dust from our fingers and we type.

So here's what I have to say about bob sticks:

My first work day here in Korea was both adventurous and unadventurous. It was adventurous because I was in a new country, meeting new people, and seeing new things. It was unadventurous because I was at work, meeting my coworkers and students, and seeing new classrooms. The mundane fact that I'm primarily here to work, and not just to play, sank in when I was sent to teach my first class. At that point, I had only observed one class and read some notes that the previous teacher had written about the job, but my boss told me to start teaching and I started teaching. After fumbling through my classes that afternoon and into the evening, my workday was over. My coworker Eric was on break when I got off, so he took me out to get a snack. It was dark outside, and we walked across the street to a food stand shaped like the front of a cartoon bus. "Bob Stick" was written in English on the front of the red and yellow bus. Eric told me that "bap" (which is pronounced almost how we would pronounce "bob") means rice in Korean, and so bob stick means rice stick. (I couldn't get a good photo of the stand where I go, but it looks almost exactly like this.)

I stood shivering and watched the vendor make our snack. The pan she used had four indented rectangles, maybe six inches long and an inch deep, and she put a thin layer of batter into two of them. The smell of the batter cooking reminded me of waffle cones. Then, she packed sticky rice into the rectangles, on top of the batter. After a minute, she put chicken with a curry-orange sauce on the rice, and then sprinkled strips of dried seaweed on the chicken. I was hungry, and was honestly feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the smells. The sweet smell of the batter lingered just enough to compliment the savory scents of the chicken, sauce, and rice that were now on top of it.

Then the vendor (whose kindness reminded me that I needed to learn the Korean word for thank you, which I did after we got back to the school) gave us our bob sticks.

The first thing I noticed is that bob sticks are ingeniously packaged. As you can see in the picture below, they come in a little cardboard tray with sides to hold the stick steady and tinfoil underneath. The tinfoil is the brilliant part. Not only does it keep the batter from sticking to the tray, it also allows the snacker to pull the bob stick out, bit by bit, and eat the bob stick without making a mess. It's like a push pop, but with pulling.

(Once again, my photography skills undermine the deliciousness of the snack. I will consider using a proper point-and-shoot camera rather than the camera in my laptop from now on.)

I mostly mention the packaging because I was very thankful for it that night after I said goodbye to Eric and started the wintry walk home. Because of the pull-and-eat method, I could snack while walking--while the bob stick was still hot--without making a mess. And snack I did. I took my first bite and coughed out the steam that filled my mouth and tickled my throat. The chicken and rice were still very hot, and I moved the food around in my mouth while breathing quickly in and out to try to avoid burning my tongue. I stuck my face out in front of me incase any bits of rice or chicken fell out due to my frantic efforts to cool the food. After a few seconds, the mound of bob stick in my mouth was the right temperature for me to really taste it. And it was delicious. The chicken and sauce were spicy, and cleared up my sinuses. The taste of the batter stayed on my tongue for just a moment before subsiding to the saltiness of the dried seaweed strips (which are very tasty, by the way, and not as exotic as they might sound. They're almost like super thin potato chips. But, you know, smaller.) The rice was perfectly cooked--sticky but not mushy, and it tempered the bold flavor of the sauce.

I walked home with my shoulders hunched and shaking against the cold. My hands barely had enough feeling to keep pulling the tinfoil out for the next bite. My nose was running, probably onto my bob stick. But I was happy. Even though I felt directionless--I was unsure whether I'd find my way back to my apartment, or whether I'd like Korea or my job--I was content to be eating something delicious.