08 September 2012

Hershey's Chocolate World Tour

Hershey, Pennsylvania, where Hershey chocolate is made, is somewhere I've wanted to visit since late 2006, when my family and I first moved to the US. Unfortunately, the long drive deterred us all, and no one wanted to plan the trip for the past 5+ years. I also decided that Hershey Chocolate is actually not tasty. The plain milk chocolate tastes waxy and expired to me, but others contently slobber it up. (I do enjoy some of their stuff (Heath bars... uh...that's it?) though.) Then again, I enjoy stale cornflakes.

This August, however, we squished 6 people into our non-SUV car and stumbled away to Hershey on the way to Pittsburg. Hershey is a confusing place. There's a hotel on a hill, a museum, an amusement park, a visitor's center (mainly dominated by the gift store), and a whole chunk of other entertainment (zoo, golf, spa, etc.). After getting out of the stuffy car in a huffy mood (carsickness never used to hit me until about a year ago), all I wanted to do was teleport right back home and sleep in air conditioning. In short, though, we went on the Hershey Chocolate Tour twice (the second time to get a better group picture because my mum wanted one...), bought around $50 of candy at the gift store, and then we split up and my mum and I went to The Hershey Story (the museum) while the other four went to the Hershey Park. Then we went to a diner and I realised that I hate diners and never want to go to one again.

Anyway! Chocolate World Tour!

This attraction basically has you sitting on a sled-type thing that sits on a moving floor that shuttles you around at about 0.5 m/s. As you move, you encounter ridiculously happy music coming ostensibly from three singing cows that smile and have make up and headbands and stuff. Boy are they delighted to get stuffed into cages, fed corn, and milked with plastic tubes *rolls eyes*. The lighting was really dim which made for really pathetic pictures, but at least you can see some of the machinery simulations that they have! None of it is real, of course, since I'm sure there would've been a mouse problem, and how many potential customers do you want to scare with that?
Every once in a while, there would be a TV screen with some clips of the factory. I briefly wondered whether they were from live cams, but then I figured that it didn't really matter, because in a factory, bars of chocolate look the same when they get made. I mean, that's what a factory is - creation of uniform products!

Overall, we started off with a bucket of cocoa beans and ended up with chocolate wrapped in packets looping around us. Then, there was a picture which my sister ruined (so we went on the tour again), and a very randomly placed section with glowing wallpaper and neon signs about Chicago and New York that, to me, was just a space filler, and at the end, an old man handed every person a little packet of Hershey Drops (which tasted like typical Hershey chocolate).

Then we checked out the gift store and I was slightly repulsed by all the things there...like candy-brand cushions, baby bibs, chocolate scented candles (sigh, we bought one of these for the souvenir cabinet), mounds of Twizzlers, and of course, shelves of chocolate candy, with all the regulars...Interestingly, the Hershey Kisses and other chocolates were mostly cheaper than ones sold at CVS, and possibly even Shoprite.

04 September 2012

Madison, Wisconsin

Isn't it strange sending off someone who you barely know to college? It's one thing to send off a brother or a friend, but to travel to Madison, Wisconsin with someone I barely know - someone with whom I'm on Christmas card terms (ok, Chinese New Year card terms) is bizarre. Am I supposed to feel loss? Do I keep in contact? Having only really been around my cousin for a week, it's weird that I feel so close to her. Maybe it's because we used to be close, when I was 6 or 10 years old (when I visited China). Maybe I just want her to do well, and I just want to help her adjust to all the culture shock. Things that seem so normal to me (peanut butter sandwiches, BLTs, tips) are foreign to her.

Madison is a cross between the suburbs and a small city. It's like they threw together South St. in Philadephia and typical one-house-one-garage-one-lawn suburbia, and in random patches of green, wedged in enormous school buildings, a football field, and two gaudy lakes spawning algae and other environmental problems. We stayed with an amazing woman and her cat. Because of her, the calm streets, and the rows of unchained bikes, Madison seems like a nicer and safer place to live than Philadelphia (though Philadelphia stores don't have "No Guns" signs at the storefront). There
is also lower sales tax, and people recycle.

As U Wisc has a Dairy Plant, wherein there are apparently cows, there is fresh ice cream and cheese for sale. I tried some coffee ice cream ($2.75) and it was pretty creamy. Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of the giant scoop because it was melting at 5 cm/s. I enjoyed it.

We checked out the Dairy Plant itself, although I'm sure my cousin gets to go as much as she wants later, and I enjoyed looking down from the observation deck, and observed a spill. It appeared that nothing was operating that day, though.

I later bought some freshly made cheese curds because I've yet to encounter them in Philadelphia, NY, or NJ (or I just haven't bothered looking?). Interestingly, cousin thinks that these cheese curds taste like rubber, while my Croatian friend at school thinks that tofu tastes like rubber. They tasted really salty, and they did squeak - but not the way I expected them to squeak. I expected a "Spongebob walking"-style squeak, but instead encountered a cluster of small "polishing a window"-style squeaks.

As I have now tried cheese curds in both Wisconsin and Montreal, I can say that they're good, but not as phenomenal as smoked cheese or chevre. My sister and mum enjoyed it, though.

I found this in a gift store at the airport.

03 September 2012

Twist It Froyo

Times have changed! When I left for college three summers ago, my town had nary a frozen yogurt place. Yet Shoprite soon added a self-serve froyo station, and my brother told me that he and his friends had some froyo a 10 minute drive away, and all of a sudden, at least three froyo places have sprung up in vacant storefronts, and local water ice and ice cream places have shut down (or continue their seasonal operation). People are furiously eager to buy into this "sophisticated", ostensibly healthy and low calorie treat, with "healthy" fruity flavours and sundry toppings (cheesecake bites, brownie bites, chocolate, cereal...etc).

The standard price is 49c/ounce in both my town and Philadelphia, which makes adding any topping a huge rip-off. For example, gummy bears ($2.5/lb), dessicated coconut ($1.5/lb) and mango chunks ($3/lb) end up being $7.84/lb. If you're going for froyo, you might as well be paying for froyo, which you can't conveniently make yourself.

In any case, I'm not a huge fan of froyo because it's soft-serve froyo, stupidly pricey for self-service (as a comparison, the self-serve hot foods at Wholefoods is $7.99/lb and includes vegan chicken, real chicken, pasta salads, etc. Here, I am strongly against the people who complain about how expensive Wholefoods is, yet go out for froyo every other week), and melts entirely too fast. The cups are enormous, evidently to encourage people to buy a pound of froyo. In comparison, a 32-oz container of yoghurt ranges from $2-4. However, I do concede that if froyo motivates people to eat less sugar and fat, and stealthily transport calcium and protein to kids, it may not be such a bad concept. This, however, is just a small positive dent in the general dissatisfaction I have with the self-serve froyo business. I reckon I am dissatisfied with the ice cream store business too, and diners, and some other eateries, but I should only complain about one thing at a time.

Anyway, as I was only home for about a non-consecutive 14 days from May to August, I didn't really get to hang out with my high school friends as much as I wanted. This is saying something as I don't really have that many high school friends. I did get to play frisbee once though, and I also went with MP to Twist It, a froyo place competing with the Starbucks for the way-too-cool high schoolers. Twist It is nicely decorated with beach chairs, fish, and blue tiles (for the sea). The weighing/pay counter is adjacent to the froyo, meaning that workers can't see customers dispensing froyo unless they lean out over the toppings and cash register. In other words, both workers did not see a husband refilling (to double the brim) and hurriedly slurping up his sample cup at least three times, while his wife tottered around choosing different flavoured blobs of froyo.

But I saw him...and didn't confront him because it would've been awkward.

I tried some root beer froyo (even though SP loves root beer, it is still icky to me) and some banana froyo (bleh...), and ended up getting coffee, Irish cream, tart, and mint. They have interesting color schemes, especially with the two-colours-in-one-flavour. I got some strawberry boba for the topping, since it's not sold anywhere non-wholesale. It turns out that it's just strawberry goo, processed via spherification, like the poppy drink I got at Cube Cafe last summer.

02 September 2012

Pattaya Thai Cuisine

My mum and sister stayed with me in Philadelphia for a few days! I rekindled my love for fiery Thai cuisine on the first night they stayed over, at Pattaya Thai Cuisine. The last time I had legitimate Thai food was at least three or four years ago (and I loved it then too). Unfortunately, my sister was not a fan of the spice (even though we got "very mild" dishes).

I have never had drunken noodles before, and these vegetable ones tasted a bit tomato-y and sweet. I'm not sure what they're supposed to taste like. I enjoyed them though!

We also got a panang red curry with cow, which meant that there was peanut in the sauce. The curry sauce was so creamy and umami. How I lived for all this time without Thai food confuses me.

My sister got some spring rolls which she did not enjoy (they were ok), and we shared some calamari rings which had a really nice sweet, sour, and spicy sauce and lettuce with dressing. It turns out that the "fried and chewy fish rings" that I used to eat in Australia are not in fact cod, but actually squid.

I was highly satisfied.

01 September 2012

Montreal Day 4 (last)!

We ate leftover baguette, cheese, and ground cherries for breakfast, and we had a nice 20-minute walk up to Mont Royal (the hill - going up Rue Peel was more tiring than going up the hill itself!), with a cloudy view. Actually, all of Mont Royal was neat and not TOO large.

But first! The Atwater Market (near where we stayed) 6.50$
I got some more maple syrup here! Instead of 20$ for 3 cans, it's 19.50$, though the boy who sold the can to me didn't speak a word of English. This market had an indoor corridor that had a bakery and pastries, which included a giant macaron filled with fruit. All those times I was searching for a French bakery, and it was 5 minutes from where I lived, all along! Ugh!

Schwartz ~15$
We finally made it to the Plateau of Mont Royal! This is the place with what I consider possibly the best foods...but I didn't get to try much of it. I have to go back to Montreal to try poutine at La Banquise, and other local foods, since my brother didn't want to walk around sampling food. It was also the last day, and I didn't really want to bring foods back to the US. So, my brother and I each got a smoked meat sandwich and a sausage, and ate the food outside the Biosphere.
 The sandwich probably had a larger cross section than length x width. It was stuffed with warm smoked meat! There were chunks of fat, whole peppercorns, and a smear of mustard. Having not eaten chunks of pig flesh often since 2006, it was really interesting wolfing down all the tender slices, the flavourful fat blobs, and the really chewy bread. It was phenomenal. Animals are so delicious, although I don't really want to eat them often.

 The sausage was alright.

Juliette & Chocolat ~26$
 My brother got a galette with pear, chevre, and honey. I've always been under the impression that "galette" was a tart or pie or cake, because in "galette des Rois", you bury a figurine in the batter, and bake it, and whoever gets the slice with the figurine becomes "King" for a day. However, it appears that "galette" is a pancake.
 I got a chocolate trifle, and now I am positive that I love salted caramel! It was ridiculously sweet and my throat was parched. The chocolate brownie was good, but not gourmet. The white stuff was merely whipped cream that had been in metal jugs (so I assume that it's homemade). The chocolate sauce was also quite normal.

I saw two banana split trifle things being made. Each had a large dense squiggle of caramel/cookie, and the first one had the dense squiggle sticking out of the tall glass. However, in making the second banana split, the dense squiggle started leaning! To fix this, the squiggle was tucked into the other side of the glass, thus making a tent thing. Interesting how they remedy this!

Fairmount Bagel 2$
This place was packed with trays of bagels! There was one narrow walkway and our bags completely blocked other customers from entering. I got a museli bagel while my brother got a blueberry one. Montreal bagels are baked in a fire oven (which we saw), which is different from NY bagels.

The museli bagel had chunks of dried fruit in it! I'm not really sure how it differs from a good NY bagel since I don't think I've ever had good bagels. I guess the Montreal bagel was less sweet, and tasted more crusty and chewy. I suppose it's like comparing baguette (Montreal) to sandwich bread (NY). It wasn't salty, and it felt kinda wholesome.
But then again, I didn't enjoy the blueberry one, which did NOT taste wholesome. My brother likes blueberry everything.

St Viateur Bagel, less than 1$
They didn't have whole wheat bagels, so I got a previously unheard-of flax one instead, and it was great! I enjoyed it more than the museli one, as it was more chewy.

31 August 2012

Montreal Day 3

Today was a mix of local culture (Jean Talon Market), and tourist trap (Old Port). We went to the Science Center (geared to non-science majors, unfortunately) and Pointe-à-Callière, and I learned so much about the Samurai and Etruscans!

Cafe In at Jean Talon Market ~17$
I got a smoked salmon, dill, and capers sandwich, made with some sort of bread (it was like a very light, toasted baguette) that started with a "b", and it was either local to France or Montreal. Without the panini press, the bread had been less flat (but still reminded me of a bagel without a hole). The sandwich came with a fruit salad. I used to hate dill, but apparently, my brain now has become quite attached to that fresh flavour.

[UPDATE 6th August 2013: I think it's a bialy. Pretty common in Ithaca, NY]

My brother got the same type of sandwich, but with Cajun chicken filling instead. He also got  coffee with milk (as he had been each day, even though he usually stays away from it).

Jean Talon Market! ~15$

I enjoy looking at how/what food is sold in other cultures. Jean Talon Market was intriguing because there were a bunch of Quebec or Montreal products, and everything was written in French. Finally, the pages of French vocab for vegetables and fruits have come into use! In addition, it appeared that fewer people knew how to speak English.

We saw cotton still on the branches!

Apparently, there is no tax for products bought at the market! This meant that maple syrup that was 20$ for 3 cans ended up being 20$, and not 23$! Maple syrup bought in a gallon-sized container was 48$. In general, the maple syrup was cheaper than at the RESO or at the gift stores at the touristy areas, and although there were maple leaf and log cabin bottles of syrup, there were also plenty of simple jars of syrup and butter stamped only with a company logo. Along with the economic benefit, I wonder if it's better to buy maple syrup from the market because there may be fewer middle-people, but I know nothing of Montreal's food politics. Needless to say, the market gets far less tourist traffic than the gift stores at the RESO or Old Port. There were also some maple butters that were refrigerated, and the store owner gave my brother and I a delicious sample. I chose to buy a maple butter made with 100% maple syrup. There was also a maple butter with some glucose syrup in it, that didn't need to be refrigerated. When I asked why the 100% maple syrup butter HAD to be in the fridge, the woman said that it would harden if left outside. That defies the concept that heat causes liquids to flow more easily, and I didn't want glucose syrup in my maple stuff!

Pomettes! Crabapples! I always thought that crabapples were this apocryphal non-edible fruit, and that Ms. Krabappel from The Simpsons was so named because she was crabby (but is she?). Yet crabapples are actually real fruits that look like miniature Pink Lady apples! They are the size of large grapes, and taste extremely sour - lemon sour. Apparently, people use crabapples to make crabapple jam, but as we lacked a pot to make the jam, I tried to eat half our punnet within the next two days. They did get a tad sweeter over time, but they were all still much more sour than the sourest Granny Smith apple. 2$ a punnet, which actually equates at least a jar of quality jam, had I a saucepan.

There were also cute punnets (everything is in punnets, and when you ask to buy something, they transfer it to a plastic bag unless you happen to have a reusable bag handy) of ground cherries! GROUND CHERRIES! I'd never seen such a thing before I went to the botanical garden, and seeing them being sold commercially was quite amusing. We didn't buy them though, because we already had the crabapples.

I also bought a cone of maple butter. While the cone was the standard tasteless wafer, the maple butter was thick, creamy, and melted instantly in my mouth. I love maple flavour, and the sweetness could sink ship (a large one, mind you). It was great!

La Fournee de Sucreriers de L'erable 7$
Finally, a pastry shop advertising maple pastries and tourtières (a regional meat pie)! Unfortunately, there were no tourtières that day, so I'll have to wait until I return to try one. I got a maple syrup tart that sweated maple syrup during the day, while my brother got a chevre, blueberry, and "basilic" tart. "Basilic" means "basil", but instead, there were almonds (and no basil!). Either way, my brother claimed that it was delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed my super-sweet maple syrup tart. It was basically all sugar and fat, textured like thick, gooey jam-fudge. While eating, my brother told  me that when he was really young, he used to think that one was supposed to eat the foil too.

Lays Dill Pickle Potato Chips 1.72$
We also shared some Dill Pickle chips, obtained from a gift store at the RESO. To both my brother and I, the chips tasted like Lays Salt & Vinegar chips, and we were right! There is acetic acid in the ingredients! However, there is a hint of dill and there are small green specks on each chip. I wonder why Lays doesn't try to advertise these in the US, since I would buy them instead of the Salt & Vinegar chips (multiflavour chips!)

Acité - Old Port 45$
Throughout our time in Montreal thus far, we commented on the lack of "42nd St"-ness in Montreal. By that, I mean that Downtown Montreal is not littered with gift stores, no one is trying to buy 8 Montreal shirts for 10$, people walking down the streets downtown aren't all waving cameras around, well, it just doesn't look like New York's Times Square, in both atmosphere and cleanliness. However, after shuffling around on the streets of Old Port, we concluded that everything cliche and gaudy could be found in Old Port. Tourists milled around fancy restaurants (steakhouses?), gift stores that sold "I [heart] POUTINE" shirts and "DO NOT TOUCH" beaver tail hats, and overpriced maple syrup, and a guy who juggled sticks of fire.

I wanted to go to Mont Royal Plateau to eat dinner but my brother wanted to eat at Old Port. So, we went to Acité, a nearly empty restaurant with exclusively outdoor seating of about 20, and I ordered snails and my brother got chicken and rice. Out of all things to consume, my brother picked a chunk of chicken and a scoop of rice.
The snails had been deshelled and were like little blobs of rubber in a plain cheese and oil sauce. It was quite bad. I don't recall snails being rubbery and tough (though the last time I'd tried them had been at The Dwarf Restaurant in 2001 or something in Hong Kong, and those had been shelled snails stuffed with delicious mashed potato and cheese). the cheese sauce was nothing special and particularly unctuous. The dish was very shallow. I was disappointed. Needless to say, I also didn't think much of what my brother got, though he seemed happy with the overall meal.

Les Délices de l'Érable 1.73$
My first macaron! Maple syrup flavoured, about 3 cm in diameter, and surprisingly moist! I didn't know macarons were chewy and soft. I always assumed it'd be something like meringue. It was delicious! And, to think that I can make a batch of these for the price of one...

Super C ~17$
We got Oka cheese! With mushrooms! It was semisoft, creamy and mild and had a hint of truffle. It was great! Apparently it is local to Quebec.
We also got ground cherries! Whoohoo! 2.99$ They were phenomenal! They were like mini tomatoes, and tasted like tropical fruit (mango?) and were slightly sour, like a tomato, but were also surprisingly sweet! It was so great pulling apart the outside!

30 August 2012

Montreal Day Two

My brother and I went to the Biodome, Olympic Tower, and botanical garden. The garden was an eye-opening experience for me, since I knew so little about the cool plants beforehand. Because the gardens were so interesting, we missed lunch.

CC Cafe Quiche Lorraine ~5$
  • Eh. Normal quiche.

Franx Express, ~5%

  • Delicious poutine at the Peel RESO, which is this underground area that connects a bunch of metro stops and is stocked with clothes stores and food courts! Not-too-salty gravy, slightly off-tasting cheese curds (due to no refrigeration?),  and ever-crispy fries! The cheese curds were stringy and slightly melted too, at parts. So, poutine can be delicious!
  • The guy who sold the poutine to me actually doesn't know much French. He used to live in the US, and then moved here and loves it here.
  • Unfortunately, the Peel RESO closes around 6 pm, and we didn't realise that the McGill RESO was the popular one and closes at around 9.

Crepes Gerard $9

  • We got a peach melba crepe. It was a canned? peach, one scoop of vanilla ice cream, one strawberry, a handful of almonds, and caramel syrup, all made lovelessly with ungloved hands, 10 minutes before closing. It was a very bland, chewy crepe.

Kinder Surprise from Super C (3.29$ for 3)

  • I no longer long for Kinder Surprises. There is no price that can buy back my 5 or 7 or 9 year old's excitement at nibbling at a hollow egg, and snapping open a bright orange capsule filled with plastic parts that can be assembled into a tricycle or something. Sure, the wrapper looks the same, and the milk/white chocolate is just as scanty (20 g...), but this time, the capsule was a mustard yellow one-piece blob! Disappointment!
  • To make matters worse, my toy was a piece of paper! Time to stop liking Kinder Surprises on Facebook, I suppose.