From Chennai with Love: Pavakkai (bitter gourd) chips dusted with hing and pepper
At home, I keep Indian salty snacks at the ready when sipping a refreshing brew. But when I go out, I’m stuck with the usual over-salted nuts and bland, fried bar snacks. Even Indians—who enjoy their salty snacks with milky, sugary chai—seem unaware of this potentially brilliant pairing.
Would it be weird to smuggle in some chana jor garam the next time I head out for a pint? Not if everyone’s doing it. Beer-swilling spice lovers, unite…and let the Indian bar food smuggling begin! (more…)
Each savory flavor bomb sings with sugar, chili, and Sichuan peppercorn.
Every now and then I happen upon a Midnight Snack that I simply cannot stop eating. These guài wèi hūa shēng, or “queer taste peanuts,” are so eminently snackable I should have bought two, or even three, containers instead of one. The English name on the sign reads, “stir fried peanuts with sweet and spicy sauce.” A better description would be “sweet and savory flavor nuggets that will haunt your dreams.”
Each roasted peanut is coated with a mixture of sugar, chili, Sichuan peppercorn, and garlic among other things. Crunchy, toasty, sweet and singing with the classic numb-hot flavor think of these babies as Sichuan beer nuts. They are available for $4 a container at Szechuan Dish in the New World Mall Food Court. Get there before I corner the market on their supply.
Szechuan Dish, No. 25, New World Mall Food Court, 40-21 Main St., Flushing
One of the reasons I love Curry Leaves apart from the fact that it’s the closest thing Flushing has to a Malaysian night market is all the snacks and desserts that line the counter. The other day I spotted a package labeled “spicy shrimp knots.” Inside the clear plastic container were dozens and dozens of tiny wontons tied in knots. “It’s for Chinese New Year,” the lady behind the counter said as I handed her $8.
The delicate fried bundles have a shatteringly crunchy skin filled with intensely shrimpy dried shrimp. There’s just a hint of chili heat. Crunchy, salty, fishy they are in my Malay junk food wheelhouse. For the first few days I controlled my appetite for these intensely flavored treats. “They’d make a great topping for soup,” I thought to myself, being sure not to polish off the container. Tonight I threw self-control to the wind and polished off the rest. I will probably check back at Curry Leaves this week to see if they have anymore. If not I’m sure I’ll find some other form of Malaysian munchables.
When it comes to snacks from other countries I’m a sucker for packaging. That’s is how I wound up the proud owner of a bag of Tic Tac Snack. It jumped off the shelf at Indo Java Grocery and into my hand. I forgot about it for a few days and broke it out for a Midnight Snack.
It should be noted that the back of the bag reads for “snack and meal.” It’s really not suitable for either. Tic Tac are crunchy round tapioca spheres about half the size of the American breath mint. Garlicky and crunchy, slightly greasy, the first few bites were fun to eat. Then I decided to read the ingredients. Among them are artificial chicken roasted flavor and everyone’s favorite flavor enhancer MSG.
I have just consumed about three-quarters of a bag of this stuff and I am starting to feel pretty weird. Kind of like I have a grease headache if there is such a thing. Perhaps I shall use the rest as packing material.
In about two weeks it will be Chinese New Year, specifically the Year of the Snake. Around C+M headquarters I have taken to calling it the Year of The Snack. It’s with great pleasure that I introduce a new column, Midnight Snack. Sometimes I think that I eat meals between snacks, instead of avoiding between-meal snacks as I was told to do in grade school. Often these treats fall into the category of irrestible international junk food. That’s certainly the case with today’s entry, Kurkure. Think of it as India’s answer to Cheetos. I think Frito-Lay may have discontinued the Kurkure Extreme flavor. Not to worry, the flavors that are available—Masala Munch, Chilli Chatka, and Hyderabadi Hungama—with ingredients like ginger powder, black salt, and chili powder are plenty extreme,with a great crunch and serious heat level. I score mine at Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, Queens, but you can find the this unique Midnight Snack at any decent-sized Indian grocer.
Patel Brothers, 37-27 74th St., Jackson Heights, 718-898-3445