This article originally appeared in Surf Metro Magazine, March 14, 2002 issue. Here is a link to the Original Article.


Snackmaster 2000
We sampled $50 worth of Asian Snack foods so you wouldn't have to.
by Eric Gutoski

The Mission:
The Bay Area is home to people of all races, creeds and colors. This can present cultural challenges as well as rewards for each of us. But this much is true: One thing and one thing only unites us as world the pursuit of snack.

To understand a people's snack is to understand their way of life, if not the very fiber of their culture. The world of snack is vast as the firmament above, but our mission as Ambassadors of Snack had to begin somewhere, and that somewhere was the tranquil blue seas of the Pacific Rim. However, we had, like, fifty bucks, so we settled for Chinatown and Japantown. This is a document of our journey into greater cultural understanding. And by that we mean HORRIFYING DESCENT INTO MADNESS!

The Journey:

Our first challenge was acquisition of snack. You would think that, as Ambassadors of Snack, we would be welcomed with open door. You would be wrong. We felt regarded with suspicion and hostility. Our requests to photograph our journey were met with requests to leave immediately. We assumed that this must have been because every store we went to was involved in the illegal sale of the glands of endangered species for the purpose of giving people boners. Or not. We'll never really know. We don't speak any Asian languages. This is probably why we flunked Regular Ambassador School. Had we studied harder we would have realized that this perceived hostility was actually a warning...

The First Law of Snack requires that snack be consumed with drink. To comply, we bought a bottle of something from a Chinatown liquor store. It came in a green bottle and was pretty much the only thing the guy behind the counter would let us buy. Everything else we brought to the counter got taken away from us. This was not rude behavior, but rather an attempt to prevent us from making a horrible mistake.

Fifty bucks buys a lot of snack, and that's not necessarily a good thing. We took about a thousand pages of notes. For your convenience we've condensed our research into the following categories: Item Name, Country of Origin, Fish Based, Inscrutability Quotient, Looks Like, Tastes Like, Fear Factor and Research Comments.

Here are the Snacks, in the order that they were tasted:

Item Name: Kasugai Peanuts and You
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: Yes
Inscrutability Quotient: Mild
Looks Like: Kix cereal
Tastes Like: Slightly shrimp-like Kix Cereal
Fear Factor: Low
Research Comments: Despite the promises made by the package, there wasn't a drop of you in this stuff. A lawsuit is pending.

Item Name: Fragrant Limp Fish
Country of Origin: China
Fish Based: You bet!
Inscrutability Quotient: Most inscrutable
Looks Like: Tiny, oily fish
Tastes Like: Tiny, oily, salty fish
Fear Factor: More than a little scared
Research Comments: Despite its tiny, oily, fishy nature, not entirely unpleasant.

Item Name: Prepared Poly Fish
Country of Origin: China
Fish Based: Hell yes!
Inscrutability Quotient: Quite suspicious
Looks Like: Sesame fish cracker
Tastes Like: Satan's wrath
Fear Factor: This terrorized our minds.
Research Comments: Gaze not into the abyss, lest the abyss gaze into thee. Nothing could prepare you for prepared poly fish. Stay away.

Item Name: Selected Food (Yes, this is really the name. There wasn't even a list of contents. No clues. Nothing. Unless you count the +2 dragon of ass kicking on the package.)
Country of Origin: Probably China, as China is known for its ass-kicking dragons.
Fish Based: Unknown
Inscrutability Quotient: Very, very mysterious
Looks Like: (Evil) dinosaur brain
Tastes Like: Incense
Fear Factor: Been more frightened
Research Comments: Immediate taste evaluation ranged from ''cardamom and doom'' to ''pipe tobacco'' to ''wet dog''. Serve at your next not-fun-bad-tasting-things-party.

Item Name: Kaisen Hamburger
Country of Origin: Thailand (Although packaged in Japan. Makes you wonder...)
Fish Based: Depends on whether or not ''bream'' is a fish. (Didn't do so well in ichthyology school either.)
Inscrutability Quotient: Incredibly crafty
Looks Like: Crhme brulee...
of death!!
Tastes Like: Fish hamburger...
of death!!
Fear Factor: None
Research Comments: Do any of you know if bream is some kind of fish?

Item Name: Selected Food #2
Country of Origin: China
Fish Based: Unknown
Inscrutability Quotient: Guilty until proven innocent
Looks Like: Salted ginger
Tastes Like: Salted ass
Fear Factor: Please hold me
Research Comments: Finally, a snack with the pleasant smell of industrial cleaner, that also sucks all the moisture out of your mouth!

Item Name: Winner Mountain
Luncheon Meat
Country of Origin: Holland. (We were deceived by the Chinese look of the wrapper .)
Fish Based: Not that we're aware of
Inscrutability Quotient: Treacherously deceptive
Looks Like: Cat food
Tastes Like: Pork-based cat food
Fear Factor: None. Cat food is familiar, comforting, even
Research Comments: Why a Chinese snack food sold in Japantown was made in Holland will forever boggle the mind.

Item Name: Say Natural! Roasted Crabs
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: Yes
Inscrutability Quotient: Moderately diabolical
Looks Like: Sesame-coated miniature crabs
Tastes Like: Stale, dead miniature crabs
Fear Factor: Rhymes with scary
Research Comments: Maybe you're not supposed to eat it, like, it might just be decorative or something.

Item Name: Camembert
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: Yes
Inscrutability Quotient: Shady
Looks Like: String cheese
Tastes Like: Jarlsberg that's a little bit off
Fear Factor: Mild
Research Comments: If you've ever eaten cheese and thought, ''This is pretty good, but man, could it use a thin layer of cod!'' consider your prayers answered.

Item Name: Makanan Kering ''Dried Food''
Country of Origin: China
Fish Based: Probably not
Inscrutability Quotient: Abomination
Looks Like: Matchsticks
Tastes Like: Wood
Fear Factor: Initially negligible
Research Comments: The reason this stuff tastes like wood is because it IS wood! That's right, it's f*cking wood! Somebody in China is packaging kindling as FOOD! No kidding.

Item Name: Almond Fish
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Fish Based: Yes (!)
Inscrutability Quotient: The motivations behind this sort of thing are incomprehensible.
Looks Like: Dried minnows and almond slivers
Tastes Like: Lake Michigan
Fear Factor: What have I done to deserve this?
Research Comments: Would rather eat wood.

Item Name: Selected Food #3
Country of Origin: China
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: See selected food #2
Looks Like: Selected Food #2
Tastes Like: Selected Food #2 with sulfur
Fear Factor: After Selected Food #2, fear is relevant
Research Comments: Smells of liver and ginger. Tastes like fireworks, but not in a good way. High probability that it actually IS dragon.

Item Name: Instant Natural Jellyfish
Country of Origin: China
Fish Based: Yes
Inscrutability Quotient: Very inscrutable
Looks Like: Entrails
Tastes Like: Seaweed salad.
Fear Factor: May NOT pee in pants
Research Comments: The front of this package features a friendly pink jellyfish. He's licking his lips in delightful anticipation of eating his brethren, or perhaps even himself. We don't even want to know what's going on over there.

Item Name: ''Medicinal'' Stew
Country of Origin: Mostly China
Fish Based: In a manner of speaking
Inscrutability Quotient: So inscrutable that we're not really comfortable discussing how inscrutable it is.
Looks Like: A very fatty broth with chunks of luncheon meat, cubed prunes and a dried seahorse garnished with wood.
Tastes Like: See above.
Fear Factor: Death would be a release.
Research Comments: We brewed this ourselves after getting the recipe from a meterman in Chinatown. In China all metermen are actually doctors. You probably didn't know that. That's why you're not an Ambassador of Snack. Only one of us actually tried the broth. He was curiously silent for a long time before saying, ''It is by sheer force of will that I am not vomiting right now.''

Item Name: Cream Collon
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: ''With a name like 'Cream Collon' it's got to be inscrutable!''
Looks Like: A cross section of a colon
Tastes Like: A mini eclair
Fear Factor: Surprisingly low
Research Comments: The first good thing we tasted all night. We fought for the bag, as it was the only thing restoring our will to live.

Item Name: Lao Xiang Huang
Country of Origin: China
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: Way inscrutable
Looks Like: Foil-wrapped cylinders
Tastes Like: Tamarind fury. Someone's gone too far.
Fear Factor: Creates a morbid interest in your immediate fate
Research Comments: Approached with caution as we read the packaging: ''In all the foods you seleit, [sic] she...'' She what?! Went crazy? Had the flesh flayed from her bones? Engaged in unholy congress with Cthulhu? No matter, as soon we would know and indeed share her fate.

Item Name: Fran
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: How could something named ''Fran'' be inscrutable?
Looks Like: Pocky
Tastes Like: Strawberry Quik on a stick. Hey! That rhymes!
Fear Factor: How could we be afraid of something named Fran? (This kind of attitude will invariably lead to a terrible end).
Research Comments: In a word, Frantastic.

Item Name: Kiss Mint For Etiquette
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: More like curious.
Looks Like: Gum
Tastes Like: What you would get by mixing BENGAY and suntan lotion with Juicy Fruit
Fear Factor: Maybe. If you're a total WUSS!
Research Comments: The packaging contained a sticker with a picture of a friendly dolphin. The accompanying text implored us to ''Take it easy with the animal healing.''

Item Name: Chelsea Yogurt Scotch
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: Very. Yogurt and scotch together?
Looks Like: Neither scotch nor yogurt.
Tastes Like: See above.
Fear Factor: More incredulous than fearful.
Research Comments: The packaging read: ''Chelsea is the candy with traditional Scottish flavor. Please enjoy its superior taste.'' We didn't even know the Scots were so crazy about yogurt. Thanks to the fine folks at Meiji, we've done a lot of growing up today.

Item Name: Prune Candies
Country of Origin: China-ish
Fish Based: No...?
Inscrutability: High
Looks Like: Dog treats. Or maybe hashish
Tastes Like: Something you would eat after you had smoked so much hash that you ate everything in the house, and you had just finished the last of the dog treats.
Fear Factor: Much, much lower than it should have been.
Research Comments: I'm going to go out and make an enemy just so I can somehow trick him into eating this.

Item Name: Happy Easy Going
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: Mildly terrifying
Looks Like: Foil-wrapped coffee stirrers
Tastes Like: Every other piece of foil-wrapped bullsh*t we've forced ourselves to eat during this project.
Fear Factor: Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to fish products.
Research Comments: You should be suspicious of packaging that requires tools to open.

Item Name: Happy Yellow Creature Snack (Our translation)
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: Shut up. Just shut up.
Looks Like: Some kind of screwed up Asian biscuit.
Tastes Like: Salty, sweet, vaguely Cap'n Crunch-like
Fear Factor: What is fear?
Research Comments: High probability that this is Cap'n Crunch's evil twin. Must get message to Cap'n Crunch!

Item Name: UHA
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: No, although the cartoon character on the package is sporting scuba gear.
Inscrutability Quotient: Very high, as the package gives you no clue as to what's inside and the name is the sound one makes when punched in the stomach.
Looks Like: Frosted gum drops
Tastes Like: The sourest thing in the entire world
Fear Factor: None. Scuba diving gumdrops are fun.
Research Comments: Seemingly harmless, this was the only thing that actually got spit out.

Item Name: Disco Robot Snack
(Our translation)
Country of Origin: Japan (where else?)
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: High. The inconsiderate bastards didn't put a word of English on the entire package! Who do they think they're dealing with?
Looks Like: A small package of M&Ms. And a disco robot.
Tastes Like: M&Ms (We didn't eat the disco robot).
Fear Factor: None. At worst, this candy was going to turn us IN to disco robots, which is something we'd been trying to achieve anyway.
Research Comments: ''Domo arogato disco roboto''

Item Name: Disco Robot Snack #2
Country of Origin: Japan (duh)
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: See Disco Robot Snack #1
Looks Like: A totally ass-kicking disco robot with Pez pellets
Tastes Like: Bad Pez. But the disco robot kicked ass.
Fear Factor: High. THIS disco robot had obviously come to eat Pez and kick ass, and we'd just eaten all his Pez.

Item Name: Carbonated Ramune Drink
Country of Origin: Japan
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: High. We don't speak Japanese and therefore had no idea what Ramune is.
Looks Like: A large Roll-On applicator
Tastes Like: Flat 7-UP
Fear Factor: Extreme. Considering the difficulty we had opening the bottle, we were pretty sure it was going to either explode or kill us.
Research Comments: Finally getting this bottle open was a high point in our careers as snack ambassadors. It took about an hour. We don't want to give it away, but the trick involved getting the glass marble to drop in to the bottle. (Note: Smashing the bottle is cheating.)

Item Name: Pocari Sweat
Country of Origin: Indonesia
Fish Based: No
Inscrutability Quotient: Ominous
Looks Like: Generic Pepsi can
Tastes Like: Sweat (not ''sweet'')
Fear Factor: None at all. Really. We've been waiting our entire lives to drink sweat from a can. We only regret that more of our friends couldn't be here to drink sweat with us.
Research Comments: Aaagh!!

Most of the things we ate were god awful. All of us got sick, some of us worse than others. Through these shared hardships, friendships were damaged, probably irreparably. But friendships come and go. The saddest thing is that as Ambassadors of Snack, we ultimately failed. We had set out to achieve greater cultural understanding, peace and harmony through snack. In the end, we merely confirmed whatever snack prejudices we already secretly held.