Japanese Kit Kats: The Hype is Real

Japanese Kit Kats

While my husband and I were honeymooning in Japan, we made it our goal—no, our obsession—to collect every flavor of Kit Kat bar in sight. We ventured out of our way to stores said to offer large selections of Kit Kats. We peered at every newsstand in hopes of a rogue Kit Kat flavor. We arrived early and waited in line at the esteemed Kit Kat Chocolatory boutique in Tokyo.

Japanese Kit Kat Haul

Our original haul. 17 different flavors of Kit Kats.

The beauty of Japanese Kit Kats is that there are: 1. Regional flavors only available in certain areas, and 2. Rotating flavors that change every season.

That said, in our sampling of Kit Kats, there emerged clear winners and losers.

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The Ultimate Afghan Grocery Haul

There are a few things you should know about Afghanistan. First of all, geographically (and in many ways culturally) speaking, Afghanistan is not part of the Middle East. It is in Central Asia. As such, its cuisine is most similar to that of its northern neighbors, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (also known as Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan).

With that in mind, on Sunday I grabbed my Afghan friend, Javed, and embarked on an epic journey to NYC’s sole Afghan grocery store — Kouchi Supermarket in Flushing, Queens.

Kouchi supermarket

Voulez-vous Kouchi avec moi?

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Lo Han Guo AKA Monk Fruit: So Sweet, it’s Wrong

My husband likes balls. Chewy balls, creamy balls, fuzzy balls, and now, hard balls filled with dried pods. Should I be concerned?

Monk Fruit

Balls du jour

Lo Han Guo is the Chinese name for Monk Fruit, a super-sweet fruit indigenous to China and Thailand. Recently, monk fruit has gained notoriety as a low-calorie alternative sweetener and can be found in granulated form alongside stevia.

Monk fruit

Or, you could do it the old-fashioned way

Meanwhile, the Chinese have been using lo han guo for centuries to improve longevity, balance internal heat, clear the respiratory system, and, oh yeah, sweeten things. 

Here’s how they do it:

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Spice World: On My Obsession with Prefab Seasoning Mixes

Whenever I travel to another country, I make a point of visiting their grocery stores. I like to peruse the shelves like a local when in reality I am carefully evaluating every non-perishable item that could possibly be smuggled home in my suitcase. More often that not, I come back with these:

Seasonings from Austria and Czech Republic

Wait a minute, you might be thinking, you can buy this MSG-laden crap in the U.S. And why would anyone settle for a questionably proccessed instant potato-gulash mix when they could make their own, from scratch, using ingredients that do not read like the back of a Doritos bag?

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t buy seasoning mixes for what they contain. I buy them for what they represent: supercharged shortcuts to a country’s quintessential dishes. Time-honored culinary traditions that have been crusheddehydrated, and stuffed into crinkly little packets that sell for less than 2 euros. And so I hoard them like cheap souvenirs in hopes that once I am at home I will recreate some of the foods and drinks I enjoyed abroad.

Only I never do. All of the above pictured seasonings, purchased during trips to Austria and the Czech Republic in 2012 and 2013, are expired. It’s not that I don’t want to make meatballs, it’s just that it has never occurred to me to make meatballs out of a bag. Even when that bag is bright yellow. And even when it is staring me in the face from behind the nutmeg jar every time I open the cabinet. 

Maybe I should just become a collector. 

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Cacao Fruit Smoothie & the Wonders of Frozen Pulp

I’ll admit it: I am a smoothie addict. But as any addict knows, in order to keep things fresh one must constantly up the ante. Strawberry and banana are child’s play. Blueberries and yogurt? I laugh!

Cue the tropical fruits. 

Cacao  Fruit Pulp

Making exotic smoothies is ridiculously easy thanks to Latin America’s exported frozen fruit. Some come in individual portions, others in flat frozen sheets of pulp, yet others in their whole fruit form. Thanks to these Brazilian babies, I have been exposed to countless fruits I have never heard of, let alone could expect to find fresh: cupuacu, soursop, acerola, mamey, lucuma, lulo, and curuba, to name a few. And now… CACAO FRUIT!

Frozen cacao fruit

I had no idea what to expect. Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao plant, but what about its flesh? Speaking of flesh, cacao fruit is the exact same shade as my hand. Compared to my hand, however, cacao fruit is much sweeter, stickier, and more syrupy. I checked.

Anyway, the Cacao-Co-Lada Smoothie was born. 

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Miracle-Cure Mondays: Ayurvedic Chyawanprash Spread

Usually, food products containing 80 unfamiliar ingredients are not those we consider to be healthy. (Take, for example, the Twinkie, which contains a measly 37 ingredients.)

With Indian Chyawanprash spread, however, this is not the case.

Chyawanprash jam

Tiger’s Claw, Liquorice, and Bamboo, Oh My!

Chyawanprash is a popular nutritional jam in India composed of dozens of ingredients, which are believed, in the tradition of Ayurvedic medicine, to boost immunity, prevent disease, and aid digestion. The primary ingredient in Chyawanprash is Indian gooseberry, also known as amla, a fruit that is simultaneously sweet, sour, astringent, bitter, and pungent. Thus, Chyawanprash is considered to be a balancing supplement

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Vegetarian Konbu Dashi for Fish-Free Miso Soup

For those of us who do not eat fish (or simply hate it, as I do), Japanese cuisine can seem difficult to navigate. Dashi, or bonito fish stock, is found in almost everything, from tofu dishes, to pickles, to the ubiquitous miso soup that is served at every meal. 

Luckily, if you are cooking at home, there is an easy way to approximate the flavor of traditional dashi without the fish. Enter konbu, a hearty dried kelp.

Konbu aka Kombu seaweed

Ride the wave.

Konbu (also spelled kombu) is in fact one of the key ingredients in preparing regular dashi, however by omitting the bonito flakes and ramping up the seaweed, you can make your own vegetarian rendition. Here’s a good guide.

But for the truly lazy of us (me), there is an even easier way. Say hello to powdered konbu stock.

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