A friend who just returned from visiting family in China and other destinations in Asia brought me the sweets pictured at left. This is part of a playful ongoing debate I have with my Chinese friends about Asian desserts and sweets in general. Either they are way too sweet (and full of refined sugar and starches), or they contain seaweed and therefore offer a surprise shot of somewhat fishy flavor. Not that American desserts can’t be too sweet, and another Chinese friend of mine, cookbook author Angela Chang, likes to take American style desserts, such as apple cake or jelly roll, and re-work them to be more of a “crossover” dish, often with great success.
And then there are the ubiquitous bean flavors. I really like mochi red bean ice cream, which I first sampled at Ichiban restaurant in Princeton. But the warm sweet red bean “soup” served as a finale to Chinese diners in some restaurants leaves me, well, cold. The little pellets in the tin in the photo are tamarind candy from Thailand where my friend took a whirlwind three-day tour on her recent trip. They look hard, but the yellow plastic fork actually can be used to spear them, and I do like the tart tamarind flavor. Their tour guide took my friend’s group (all Chinese) to a rather strange assortment of sites, mostly to do with animals rather than cultural. And when it came to shopping, it was a highly-managed rushed affair where the travelers paid prices that turned out to be too high, likely because of kickbacks the guide received. These little candies were cheaper at the airport shop as my friend later discovered, to her chagrin.
And the little individually wrapped white candies? They are called Milk Candy and they have a strange sour milk flavor. I got out a magnifying glass to read the fine print (the part that was in English, that is). Under the cow’s head it says “Senior Enjoyment Health Nutrition Every Days” above the words “Milk Food.” And to the right, there is a sort of seal which says “Choiness Raw Material Taste Tempting.” Got that? I love the disjointed, antic takes on the English language I find on such products. Of course, when I practice the little bit of Mandarin I learned in Chinese school a couple years ago, I no doubt sound just as silly.