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Bodam Carlsbad Spa Wafers

Wednesday 17 Sep 2003

Czechoslovakia, with its historical and beautiful capital Prague, home of good king Wenceslas, attracts throngs of visitors, many of which indulge in its lovely beer, which stems from a brewing tradition that predates that of nearby Bavaria. In fact Budwiser is a Czech beer brewed to strict beer laws laid down in the middle ages. The upstart American Budwiser is a about as far as you can get from the proper Czech stuff being made as it were with rice and apparently according to recent advertising not requiring much in the way of maturation as its not been made with sensible beer ingredients. Anyhow, apparently the Czechs also have wafer or 'oplatky' thing going on, which we have been alerted to now on several fronts.

We recently took delivery of two consignments of Czech wafers some Zlaté wafers made by Opavia now owned by Danone, and the second some traditional Spa wafers made by Czech producer Bodam. The spa wafers had already been opened so we thought we would dive straight in.

How big are these wafers? Well the small black blob in the picture is a 10 pence piece, which hopefully gives you an idea what a 190mm wide wafer is like in the flesh. As for the taste, its predominately that of a wafer. A thin gritty middle layer contains some dried up sugary stuff in which small particles of hazelnut have met their end, much like minute daphnia caught between a microscope slide and coverslip and doomed to desiccation. A faint taste of cinnamon struggles to hold its own above the sugar and vanilla. As is frequently the case with wafers, I'm put in mind of eating packing material, which I once foolishly did to see what it tasted like. It was some of those things that look like corn puffs, and these were made of some form of starch. No doubt they were full of toxins like fungicide and rat poison. They tasted like unsweetened wafers.

It would appear that these traditional wafers are baked fresh in some places and so maybe have a special charm that factory produced wafers can't approach. I don't know I'm really just trying to say something nice about wafers right now. Still next time you are in Prague munch down a few spa wafers with your demi-litre of Staropramen and see if the local built ones are something to write home about.

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Khong Guan creamy chocolate biscuits

Wednesday 10 Sep 2003

When Jonathan Dean mailed us to say that he had found himself in China for the week and could he bring us back some chinese biscuits, we jumped at the chance. 'Ooo Yes' or words to that effect were mailed back, and Jonathan set about Shanghi's super markets. Jonathan from Dublin, has a job that takes him all over the world, and has added himself to that select band of biscuit hunters scouring the globe for new additions to the NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown biscuit mountain, or small hillock. What Jonathan came up with was the Khong Guan Creamy Chocolate biscuit. Would it be a revelation from the far east?

Regular emails kept us up to speed with the progress of the little packet back across the globe. In Ireland Jonathon fashioned a sturdy shipping container using nothing more that a cardboard box, some bubble wrap and half a roll of gaffer tape. So much gaffer tape was used that in fact the little parcel started to resemble a suspect device. As Jonathan said "Unfortunately I went a little overboard with the duck tape and now it resembles a bomb. So just to assure you that in case your local post office rings you to say you have a 'Suspicious looking package ' down at the office for you you will know it is the biscuits".

Now if you thought my knowledge of Scandinavia was a bit scant when I reviewed Anna's Swedish thins stand by to be impressed by my ignorance of the orient. As we all probably know the Chinese invented loads of really great stuff, pasta, paper, compasses and gunpowder. Gunpowder, used for lovely recreational firework displays. Pity it became a really popular way of blowing people up and generally making holes in things. Of course they also came up with the humble cup of tea. So thanks to all you ancient chinese types, who knows what this website would have been called without you.

Right that's enough about explosive. This web page will probably start setting off alarms in Scotland Yard and the FBI or something. While we are the subject, the KGB seem to be invoved, because a closer look at the biscuit reveals that's who made it. What did the biscuits taste like? Well short answer would require me to swear so we'll go for the slightly longer version which is 'not terribly nice at all'. Actually 'taste' is an inappropriate word to use alongside these biscuits. Creamy is also not one that would be at the top of my list, whereas 'dreadful', 'chalky', 'brown', and 'nasty' might be. Now I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I simply can't see how they have wound up being so unpleasant. A quick scan of the ingredients, would indicate that they are built from standard sorts of things, and yet some how despite it appearing on the list flavour seems to be overlooked.

So western biscuit bakers if this is an example of the sort of thing they are knocking out in the Peoples Republic I think you can all sleep easy in your beds at night. No flooding of the market with Chinese imports this time.

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Arnott's Spicy Fruit Roll

Monday 1 Sep 2003

As the small children say at the start of the little films in the Tellytubbies "Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello". This week we are off to the great Southern Land again courtesy of veteran ace biscuit hunter Simon Smith, who recently sent us a bumper pack of Aussie biscuits with a special emphasis on fruit. Now you all know the importance NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown attaches to the the whole fig roll genre, so when our pack of goodies contained Arnott's Spicy Fruit Rolls there really was only one possible out come, a head on assault by the entire team on one small pack of biscuits.

Now Arnotts are Australia's number one biscuit supplier and their products can be found in 96% of Australian homes which is a few percent more than have a telephone. Like most biscuit companies of some repute, there is a Scottish connection and Arnott's was founded in 1865 by a Scott, William Arnott. Known outside of Australia for the Tim Tam, Arnotts produce a wide and impressive range of products, many of which are sold for export. The recent acquisition of Arnotts by American food giant Campbells Soup, who also count Pepperidge Farm cookies amongst their brands, was greeted with much mistrust and consternation in Australia. The Australians are fiercely proud of their own produce, and some were quick to exploit the situation by producing alternate Australian and thinly veiled clones of the Arnotts flagship Tim Tam biscuit, claiming the moral high ground of Australianess. This was of course quickly stopped through legal action, but it goes some way to demonstrate not only the level of feeling but also how it can be manipulated for commercial gain.

In the UK there was almost blind panic when Nestle took over Rowntree Mackintosh, whose brands KitKat, ToffeeCrisp etc were cherished by the British public. Dire predictions of our chocolate bars being replaced by unknown Swiss ones abounded. The actual outcome was that it became easier to find KitKats around the world. Given Arnotts leading place in the Australian market the only sensible way forward would be to drive the export market for Arnotts products or who knows, even start making Arnotts products under license overseas. Either of these sounds good to me for raising the profile of some very nice products.

Oh yes Spicy Fruit Rolls. Well the fruit a whopping 45% content consists of mixed vine fruits and citrus peel, however, we are not told what the spice is as it only merits a 'Flavourings' on the list of ingredients. I would hazard a guess at Clove and Cinnamon, and the overall effect is vaguely yuletide. The biscuits were quite big 58x35x14mm, and cut before baking. The crust was fairly crisp compared say to a Jacobs fig roll, certainly more so than generic open ended fig rolls of Lyons. Fifteen to a pack was no defense from the biscuit assault they suffered from us and they are now but a pleasant memory.

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