Junk Food Biculturalism

October 29, 2010

Coming from a rather short family (even by Asian standards), losing track of my family members in public places has become something of a tradition. Our usual solution involves using a jump-look technique, which consists of 1. jumping and 2.quickly scanning over the tops of the aisles for other jump-lookers, aka the people you came into the store with. If you ever see people popping up and down aisles like flailing psychotic prairie dogs in a Best Buy, well, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve just spotted my family.

But grocery stores are different matter. If I somehow found myself alone, I always headed directly to the junk food aisle. Without fail, my dad would be there, pondering boxes of crackers, sleeves of cookies and bags of gummi candy. Thanks to my dad’s obsession with snack foods, I am now what you might call a potato chip connoisseur. The only thing standing between us and horrifying obesity is my mom, bless her heart, who has dedicated her life to feeding us vegetables.

Back in the dog days of summer, the New York Times ran this grand article praising the great makers of American junk food. Who doesn’t like junk food, right? But while I ate Popsicles by the dozen and indulged in the occasional 7-Eleven Big Gulp, I never really got into some of the other products that the article mentions, such as Cheez Doodles or Cracker Jack.

Like many Asian Americans, my family straddled the cultural line with food. So yes, we had Doritos and Oreos, but I also munched on North Sea Brand Fish Flavor Snack and those little fruit candies that come packaged in what are, basically, metal flasks. In college, we made endless pots of Shin Ramyun in lieu of ordering a late-night pizza. Beer and football games were paired with dried cuttlefish and squid jerky roasted on our ceramic-top stove. Living on my own in Chicago, I find myself nostalgic for the days where yellow boxes of Morinaga caramels or Meiji Chelsea yogurt scotch hard candies were as abundant as Tootsie Rolls (incidentally, another candy that I never really got into).

They say we are what we eat. They probably say it even more in a cultural sense. Our cultural backgrounds and personal preferences pop up in every food choice we make, every food craving that we have. What are some snack foods that you like? Which ones remind you of your childhood? Which ones would make it into your Junk Food Hall of Fame?




We used to eat those yellow Meiji caramels too - my dad used to bring cartons of them back when he came back from business trips to Japan. We also used to eat Peko chan chocolate lollipops, Pocky, Chelsea, Sakura drops...In NZ (I'm half Kiwi/half japanese) we ate 50 cent lolly mixes which had those teeth shaped lollies, coke bottle lollies and the oddly named pink smoker lollies.

while i cook almost entirely Vietnamese food, all my snacks come from Safeway!  every week i buy a 12-pack bag of Funyuns.  sometimes i skip a week, and then i regret it.  right now i'm in (another) string cheese phase.  and while we're on the subject, here's a tip for those of you who  1) like your string cheese room temperature so that you can string 'em real fine,  yet  2) are very impatient by nature.

take a tall glass of water, zap it in the microwave until it's hot to the touch but not painful.  i go for 44 seconds.  take your packet of string cheese -- still in the plastic wrap -- and let it soak.  in less than a minute you'll have evenly warmed, not melty, stringable cheese.

hee.  enjoy!

I used to trail my parents in chinese supermarkets in some semblance of duty, but ever since i turned 13 i just split and head straight for the candy/snack aisle. they go there ater they're done looking at produce, meat, frozen fishballs/dumplings, and sauces. i'll be there oogling the yan yan, hello panda!, pocky, fruit gummies, rice crackers, and shrimp flavored things. somehow they always seemed to buy me the haw flakes and boxes of 4-mini-fruit-gumballs instead of the stuff i really wanted.