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South East Asian Multireview

Thursday 13 Jan 2005

About two years back we took a look at some biscuits from China, which turned out to be really quite nasty. This did a fairly good job of stemming any biscuit curiosity that I might have pertaining to that part of the globe. However back at the start of November, long time NCOTAASD reader Monika Duhig in Sydney got in touch to offer us some Korean Purple Yam Biscuits from the Spring Wind Food store. These sounded too bizarre to miss, so naturally we jumped at the chance to try more iffy oriental biscuits. A woman on a mission, Monika then treated us to some other scary biscuits, including Cantaloup sandwiches, Tomato layers and Nucleolus cakes. Intuitively sensing that this was going to be more of an ordeal than a pleasure I decided that one big multi-review was the way forward.

The purple Yam Sandwich crackers turned out to be Vietnamese in the end, made by Kinh Do, although it's hard to be sure of anything really. The usual gamut of biscuit tasting metaphors are made largely redundant by the 'tastes' on offer here. The two crackers are somewhat like a desalted non savoury Ritz cracker, but the purple stuff in between, which does contain yam powder, was more of a challenge. There was a hint of perfume here, but not your Chanel No5, more like the stuff they mix with liquid soap for the dispensers in a Motorway services toilet. I'm sure there are a great many things that could be made that would taste worse than these, however, Purple Yam Crackers are probably a once in a lifetime sort of biscuit. That is to say you don't need to try them more than once in your lifetime.

So on to the Cantaloup Sandwiches, and back to China. Again it's hard to be sure but these could have been made by Yingdali, or maybe D&A. Much the same idea as Purple Yam biscuits, only square crackers this time, no purple, no yam and melon flavoured soap. Good to see that the Chinese decided that Monosodium Glutamate should also be given a chance to weave its magic as a taste enhancer in these biscuits. Not so good as it appears to have had nothing to enhance. Clearly you are not meant to eat many of these in one go, as they come wrapped in little two biscuit sachets. Perhaps there are sound medical reasons for this. The melon flavour is probably the only possible conclusion that one could arrive at when tasting these, so let's at least recognise a degree of accomplishment in this regard. Quite the best thing about the biscuits was the box, which bears a picture I assume is attempting to evoke a melon biscuit eating ambiance. The vital elements of this appear to be a distant Ginko tree, a wicker basket of wheat ears and croissants, some milk in a jug, a few blue flowers and a large glazed ceramic jar of facial soap. A small cut away image shows some hacked open melons. I'm pleased that the soap has put in an appearance up as I feel it has been with us from the start. At an outside guess I think maybe you are supposed to have these for breakfast, no doubt a terrific plan for anybody wanting to lose weight and who would benefit from feeling queazy and off their food well into the afternoon.

Next to the 'Tomato layer' things, which were easily the most unappetising members of the foursome. Again made in China by Dong Gaun Kam Tai, you lucky folks in Canada, the US and Australia should be able to get hold of these. Once more a two biscuit sachet system protects the casual eater from possibly eating three of these in one go. Anybody who is having trouble getting started as a bulimic might want to consider these as an after dinner treat.

Finally we come to the Nucleolus Cakes, a product of the Macao RongHau Cake factory. The small yellow domed shaped things within the box were actually a welcome relief after the Tomato Layers, however, I don't think I could be persuaded to call them nice. Maybe at gun point. The pack which is mostly red, perhaps for danger, shows a small cluster of Nucleolus cakes glowing in the corner. I haven't turned the lights off to see if they glow in the dark as the name suggests. The pack again is much better that the contents, and has terrific stuff on it such as "Directions: Open the package andd eating". Yes, that's 'andd'. Ingredients are given as "Wheat flour, sugar, vegetame oil, peanut, egg, qishuoil, penshonggji, lemonyellow, butter". If anybody knows what qishuoil or penshonggji are please let me know as I've now eaten some of it.

So by my reckoning that's my south east asian biscuit curiosity sated until 2013, I may also have an attack of the 'Spring wind' soon despite it only being January.

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Waitrose Almond Biscuits

Friday 31 Dec 2004

For the last biscuit review of 2004 I thought I would pull out all the stops and do something a bit special. At least that was the plan. I had been saving back a packet of Swedish Gallettes made by Gille, and recommended to me by the lovely Rebecca, who has organised all of our book promotion fun days. Whilst picking out biscuits in a Waitrose somewhere near the Marleybone Road in London, she said "have you tried these?". Well I hadn't so I did. Suffice to say they are still languishing in a tin in the kitchen. I think to get an approximation of these biscuits we would need to get hold of the matter transportation device used by Jeff Goldblum and a housefly to such devastating effect in the film 'The Fly'. If instead of a man and fly we used a Plain Chocolate hobnob and and a melted crisp bag then I think we would have a good facsimile. Even the younger members of staff couldn't choke them down, and I thought we were defeated.

So finding myself in our local Waitrose the day before Christmas Eve I decided to try again. As the NCOTAASD Christmas eating schedule had already begun, I was drawn to the simpler less fussy biscuits. The rich food of the festive season can bring about cravings for the simpler things in life such as baked-beans on toast, or Waitrose Almond Biscuits.

Mind you we have been gallantly trying to eat those new Hienz low salt baked beans, despite their truly grim taste. We tried. Then Wifey decided we had tried long enough, and bought good old fashioned salt laden ones, much to the delight of the younger members of staff. Perhaps next year we'll try again maybe with some 50/50 mixes.

The simple Almond biscuit is however a lovely little item, very pale with more than a passing resemblance to an All Butter biscuit. It's also one those biscuits which has some egg in its recipe, defeating the 'cakes have eggs in their recipe and biscuits don't' yardstick. The almond flavour, is pronounced but not in that faux marzipan way. The almonds used don't appear to have been roasted which gives the biscuit a more fragrant than nutty taste. Popping a few of these away with a cuppa over Christmas, provided a very welcome break from the excess. Rebecca on the other hand can look forward to two thirds of a pack of un-eaten Swedish thingies when I see her in the New Year.


Graham cracker

Wednesday 8 Dec 2004

Years ago Nanny Nicey embarked on purchasing a weekly cooking magazine called Supercook, which was essentially an A-Z of recipes sold in installments. Sometimes a simple ingredient such as apples would span two weeks, with 'Apple fritters', 'Apple strudel' etc. I think 18 months later she had made it as far as F before she gave up. However, being essentially a global publication it wasn't always confined to things we immediately recognised and especially so when it came to ingredients. The internet hadn't been invented so how exactly were we supposed to find out what on earth a Graham Cracker was, and their connection to Graham. Well its 2004 now, the internet most definitely has been invented, Nanny Nicey still has her partly finished collection of Supercooks some 25 years later, so let's get to the bottom of this Graham Cracker issue.

For years now the Graham cracker issue has always raised its head in relation to one subject; Cheesecake. Cheesecakes demand a base of crushed biscuits bound together with some form of butter or margarine. In the UK the Digestive reigns supreme as the biscuit of choice for battering into little bits with a rolling pin. Sometimes the Gingernut offers itself up, but its hard work battering them flat so usually the Digestive takes over next time round. Should your recipe be of transatlantic origin, however, and you'll be advised to use the Graham Cracker. Now straight off your going to be thinking 'am I supposed to of heard of that?', and 'aren't crackers something that keeps cheese company, and maybe the odd grape?'. To be fair there is the occasional American who wonders what a Digestive is.

So this week we are going to take the world's leading Graham Cracker and put it head to head with the world's leading Digestive. Nabisco takes on McVities. Well only metaphorically you understand as Nabisco actually has a very large shareholding in United Biscuits who operate McVities. Still this is all about the biscuits not who owns who.

Down to business. The Graham Cracker according to the picture on the pack is square, and is having what appears to some form of jam being spread upon it. Right away we troubled by this challenger to the Digestive, not only is the wrong shape but it appears to be in some way dependent on jam in order to go about its business. Ok the Digestive is no stranger to the odd topping but it doesn't like to shout about it. It turns out that the Nabisco Graham Cracker is part of a whole range that inevitably includes cinnamon, apple and chocolate versions. With this in mind it was a bit of a surprise to find that the crackers inside the cardboard box were rectangular not square. They do break obligingly into two down a baked in perforation. A second line running at 90 degrees allows the square to broken in half once more. It has to said that at first glance and given their seemingly low density I was thinking 'Crispbread' not 'biscuit'. So with cup of tea at the ready, and entirely jamless I set about my first Graham cracker ever. Light and crispy, and with out so much of a whiff of hamster bedding, the taste put me in mind of, well.. , oh alright... , a Digestive. Don't misunderstand me, it's certainly not just like one, far from it. Yet if a Digestive were ever to get a Ryvita into trouble, possibly at a wild party behind the cheese board, then the resulting progeny may well end growing up to look a lot like Graham Crackers. In fact the flavour was remarkably complex, with a slight spicy finish possibly due to the bran in the Graham flour and molasses in the recipe.

The edges of the Graham cracker also present another problem. They are open on all sides implying that each cracker has been cut cleanly from a larger sheet. Although I only checked 29 of them I couldn't find a baked over end. So either there is some amazing process that produces a continuous plane of Graham Cracker (this is unlikely, as it would cover the earth or space or something (and the oven would need to hover I think (and fly around like Luke Skywalker's sand speeder ( and there would have to another upside down and underneath to bake the bottom (actually they would be more like grills than ovens) ) ) ) or maybe they simply cut the edges off and discard them, which is both wasteful and unsatisfying. If you know anything about this please get in touch as I'm going to have trouble sleeping at nights now I have thought of it.

So a Digestive it is not, though both Wifey and I were shocked at how much we liked them, and actually how relatively wholesome they were given they are from the same stable as the Oreo. As for who Graham was? The Graham cracker, precedes the Digestive by some 100 years and were invented by Sylvester Graham a Presbyterian minister in 1829. He was an early advocate of health food and invented his own coarsely ground wheat flour for its high fiber content. The flour nicknamed "graham flour" after Minister Graham, is main ingredient in Graham Crackers.

Right thats cleared it up for me at least.

A huge thanks to Monkey for sending over the Graham crackers all the way from Dallas.

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