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Can I offer you a nice snack in this trying time?
While some of you will be embarking on long food projects or having to put up with your boyfriend making absolutely atrocious sourdough bread, others will go in the exact opposite direction and turn to instant solutions for trying times. Attempting to concentrate on anything during a lockdown can be difficult, so don’t feel bad for eschewing the urge to copy everyone’s sudden obsession for cooking and turning instead to tasty, tasty instant snacks. Snacks offer certainty and solace when times are tough, plus they keep well. I don’t think I need to advise anyone what snacks to get at a British supermarket - those choices are between you and your God - but what about other shops?
East Asian supermarkets are an absolute gold mine for snacks and instant food remedies, but some of the best of them are relatively unknown in this country. This needs to change at once. A lockdown, plus proximity to a supermarket, should give you an opportunity to brush up and do some snack revision. The following recommendations have all been crowdsourced on Twitter from various people, plus my Whatsapp channels, and are all recommended to make your life much easier. Many are from food writer MiMi Aye who sent some to me as part of a larger guide to Chinese supermarkets (which will be published later).
All recommendations have been credited.
Crisps and Crispy Things
Tempura Seaweed Crisps (Lizzie Mabbott) - Exactly what it sounds like, seaweed coated in tempura batter then deep fried. Look for Tao Kae Noi.
Grill-a-corn Ma La Spicy (Sirichai Kularbwong) - Basically OG corn snacks. Look out for 麻辣味
Boy Bawang Garlic Flavoured Corn Nuts (Sirichai Kularbwong) - Just going to quote the whole packet here: “starts with a garlic flavor explosion followed by the taste of fresh corn kernel. Your experience ends with a lingering garlic flavor that leaves you wanting more.”
Irvin’s Salted Egg Fish Skin (Mei @laflafster) - Not sure you can get these here yet but you can find them on eBay if you want to ship them over.
Gim-gui (Feroz Gajia) - Korean roasted lasagne shaped seaweed snacks. Eat them as they are or use them as the base for an open faced sandwich
Roasted green tea seaweed snacks (Feroz Gajia) - “very agreeable”. Also, great packets.
Marty’s Chicharron (Omar Shah) - Filipino vegetarian chicharron, extremely addictive
Turtle Chips (MiMi Aye) - The crisp technology coming out of Korea is on another level. Forget ridges, these layered crisps look like they’ve been designed by Zaha Hadid. You can clock the pack easily because it looks like a turtle having an orgasm.
Calbee chips (Joan Meyer) - “like prawn crackers on acid” according to MiMi. Food writer and chef botherer Angela Hui recommends the BBQ version, as well as the pizza crisps.
Want Want Snow Rice Crackers (Angela Hui) - These are extremely evil.
Frozen Spring Onion Pancakes (Nina Mingya Powles) - These are fantastic, flaky and paratha like. Use them to mop up sauces or put some toppings on them.
Pretz Salad (Angela Hui) - If you have ever had Pockys then this is essentially the savoury version. ‘Salad’ flavour is as indefinable as ‘Cool Original’ but they basically taste like salt.
Ginbis Animal Biscuits (Angela Hui) - Seafood flavour only. “The BEST” according to Angela.
Prima Taste Singapore Laksa (Lizzie Mabbott) - Look for the sexy black packaging, they look like the Agent Provocateur of instant noodles. They held the top spot of ‘best instant noodles’ by the Ramen Rater for a few years. There is a more homely brown packet which is wholegrain, which also currently occupies that spot
Samyung Ice Type Hot Chicken Flavour (Feroz Gajia) - comes in an ice blue pack and unusually you boil these then have them cold, with the ma la sauce as contrast. Great for summer if the lockdown is still going on
Nongshim Shin Ramyun Hot Black Packet (@ChristinaMcMc) - I’m assuming this is what Christina means when she says “the instant ramen which comes in a black packet and blows your head off)
Preserved mustard greens (Feroz Gajia) - You can use these as you would pickled vegetables and have them on the side but also excellent in stews and soups.
Salted eggs (Feroz Gajia) - One of the best things to do with an egg aside from boiling them and swallowing them whole. Feroz recommends grating them over rice.
Huamei (Eleanor Janega) - Dried preserved plums, great after a meal or between them. If you like sour things then these are great.
Lap cheong (MiMi Aye) – According to MiMi “find packs of these Chinese dried sausages on the shelves rather than in the fridge. The fattier ones have more flavour - slice chunks off and fry in a smidge of oil and you could practically live on one pack forever – with rice, in salads, on noodles, in a sandwich, in a baked potato.”
Pickled chillies and pickled leeks (MiMi Aye) – “Get jars/tins of the Evergreen brand to snack on or add to any dish”
Tonkatsu Sauce (Stephen Buranyi) - Given that this is basically HP but better, you can use it in any way you normally would do with brown sauce. Put it in a bacon sandwich.
Crispy prawn chilli (Will Thong) - a Malaysian sambal, as much of a gamechanger as Lao Gan Ma crisp. MiMi Aye recommends Tean’s specifically “it provides salt, spice, texture and umami in one hit. You can use it to top noodles or rice and even in sandwiches – and they’re pretty addictive eaten straight from the jar.”
Kaya (Carl Clarke) - coconut jam, unbelievably good as a spread
Shiro Miso (Feroz Gajia) - the mildest of all the miso, it’s light and nutty and you could spread it like peanut butter on toast as a snack. Use it as a base miso for sweet and savoury items.
Maepranom Crab Fat in oil (Sirichai Kularbwong) - Don’t even know what to do with this one or where to find it but it sounds incredible. Would probably be great in a pasta to annoy some Italians.
S&B Spaghetti Sauce Spicy (@withmustard) - Made from cods roe, you can stir this straight into pasta to make mentaiko spaghetti
Bao Long Pho Spice Cubes (Sirichai Kularbwong) - Essential instant stock, even though you can no longer pretend you don’t have time to cook pho from scratch
Thai Boy Fried Garlic (Sirichai Kularbwong) - Put them on everything, eat them right out of the jar
Fried shallots (Feroz Gajia) - same as above, “look out for Malaysian brands”
Myeolchi bokkeum (Feroz Gajia) - Korean salted anchovies, can be used as toppings, accompaniment for rice/noodles or stir fried in with them
Ajinomoto MSG (Lizzy @puddings_mam) - You’re not allergic to it and it’s delicious. According to MiMi Aye “Put a pinch in soups, sauces, salads, egg dishes, everything and it will give it a savoury kick. You could literally have a bowl of rice or noodles dressed with some oil, salt and MSG and it would taste better than any Pot Noodle.”
Pork floss (Will Thong) - Meat cotton candy, great with plain things like congee, soya milk etc
Toasted sesame seeds (Alice Bennett) - These come in a shaker and are a mix of black and white sesame. Great on salads.
Haw Flakes (Lizzie Mabbott) - tangy pink discs made from hawthorn berries. MiMi says “these are brittle discs of dried hawthorn berry that have been around long before fruit leather became a thing.”
Frozen Sticky Rice Dumplings (Nina Mingya Powles) - A kind of zongzi I think. Nina recommends the ones with banana filling.
Candied squid (@Hoxton Hill) - Chewy sugared squid. Buy at own peril.
White Rabbit Creamy Candy (Wei Ming Kam) - Kind of like a milk taffy wrapped in edible sticky rice paper - many, MANY people have recommended this one.
Durian sausage (Emily, Rangoon Sisters) - I didn’t know this existed and it scares me
Pocky (@ChristinaMcMc) - So many to choose from here, but Christina recommends the ones with the “almonds stuck into the chocolate)
Japanese Waffle Ice Cream Sandwiches (@soviet_reunion) - Self explanatory
Kopiko Coffee Candy (MiMi Aye) – “Sweet, strong coffee in a lozenge. “
Pocari Sweat (Lizzie Mabbott) - Basically Japanese grapefruit Lucozade with a much better name
Hai Tai Crushed Pear Juice (Chris Higgins) - Don’t see enough pear based drinks nowadays - here is one of them
Soy Milk (Wei Ming Kam) - Obviously. V comforting cold or hot, and with youtiao (crispy dough sticks) dunked into them.
MILO chocolate malt powder (MiMi Aye) – “Technically a drink, but honestly, just eat this stuff straight from the tin with a spoon.”
VITA Mango Juice (MiMi Aye) – These individual cartons of mango juice are better than any Capri-sun.
Thank you to everyone who sent in recommendations, and especially to MiMi Aye who is the author of Mandalay (another gold mine of a resource right now).
Illustration by Reena Makwana
Also if you’re confused by the numbering system on the newsletters, this contents page here will help https://medium.com/@vittles/vittles-larder-cf21b47e99b3