Wednesday, May 16, 2007

International Junk Food, part I

One of the things I love most about traveling is international junk food. Like most people who like to travel, I love things that are different. Maybe I have a bad tendency to fetishize the exotic (and an unhealthy attraction to men with accents), but I can indulge my love of international junk food knowing the risks are low. Yes, it might taste terrible, but it only cost a few dollars! And the packaging is always, always rewarding.

I'm not the only one obsessed with international junk food. Clearly, there are many who love seeing how similar and how different cultural preferences can be, all centered around the universal affinities for sugar, salt, and fat. Everyone likes to use cartoons to sell candy, but Japanese cartoons are very different from American cartoons which are very different from French cartoons. And then, there's always the fun of seeing a blissful disregard for political correctness:

I found this chocolate bar in Astoria. It's made in Croatia and since it's chocolate with rice krispies, it's called "Mikado," and has a picture of a Japanese garden. Makes perfect sense, no? (Incidentally, it tastes like chalk.)

The Peruvians have a very different idea of how to decorate chocolate. The label would make a beautiful, retro poster for Pottery Barn to sell. I haven't tried it yet because I can't figure out what it's for. It might be cooking chocolate.

The great thing about New York is that you don't even have to leave the country to find great examples of international junk food. Before my Indian dinner on Sunday night, I had a little time to kill and started walking up and down Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside. I felt like I'd found Ali Baba's cave when I came across the Butcher's Block, an Irish deli and grocery store.

I love the look on this butcher's face. The cow has no idea what's coming to him.

I bought these Jaffa cookies because of the words on the box: "10 spongy cakes with the squidgy orange bit"! "Squidgy" is an English word but definitely not an American one. I like how gleeful they are, too: "New recipe with lots more orangey centre yippee!"

They smelled very fragrant when I opened the box, and they tasted pretty good, too, though I think you'd have had to grow up with them to love them.

This isn't junk food, presumably. Kellogg is an American company, but Irish citizens are getting cereal that Americans didn't have access to, at least until Irish expatriates began importing it to Sunnyside!

I also bought some Finnish licorice (bad) and something called "Bounty," a Dutch version of Mounds that comes in milk and dark chocolate (delicious). I would have taken so many more pictures, of tea and juice and more candy, but as nice as the guys behind the counter were, I thought snapping a ton of pictures would look suspicious.

Food is such a major part of how immigrants adjust and adapt to life in the U.S. It's often the last thing immigrants' children cling to, so that the only words they know in their parents' or grandparents' language are food-related. It just cracks me up that we need our own mass-produced junk food, too.

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