The larger Asian markets have snack aisles filled with an abundance of interesting products with wacky names. Don’t let the names scare you. Wrapped in bright, colorful packaging with Chinese, Korean and Japanese characters splattered across the bags are hidden treasures of sweet, sour and savory flavors.
Of all the Houston-area Asian grocery stores, 99 Ranch Market offers the most variety when it comes to snacks and baked goodies. Here are six tasty ones to buy next time you find yourself wandering down the snack aisle.
Xi Muoi (see · muy), or salted, preserved plums
Flavor profile: salty, tart and sweet
Pop one of these morsels in your mouth and suck on it. The fruit around the pit is soft, salty and very easy to chew. Drop one in a Sprite or club soda to create a an interesting salted plum drink. Many restaurants offer limeades or lemonades that include these wrinkled hunks of salty sweetness.
Bánh Men Bi (bahn · men · bee), or coconut crackers
Flavor profile: semi-sweet, coconut flavor
Made with tapioca flour and coconut, these delightful cookies actually melt in your mouth. Found in both large and smaller jars, they are light snacks which can be eaten alone or served with a coconut or vanilla ice cream.
Bánh Phong Tôm (bahn · fong · tum), or shrimp/prawn crackers
Flavor profile: salty, crunchy shrimp flavor
A traditional snack that is deep fried and the closest thing to a potato chip in Asian cuisine. They come in both disc and stick form. (Bagged shrimp crackers are more likely to look like the latter.) The flat, round shrimp chips you can get as an appetizer or served alongside salads in Vietnamese restaurants are usually freshly dropped in the fryer for a lighter, crispier taste.
Muc Khô (muck · caw), or dried squid or cuttlefish
Flavor profile: salty, chewy, stringy
People either like this snack or they don’t. There is really no in between. Dried squid comes in a spicy version that packs an incredible punch! A favorite in local karaoke bars, one can order dried squid and the presentation is truly memorable. Everclear or anything with 151 proof alcohol is drizzled atop a mound of the dried squid. Then using a stick lighter, the small pyre of deliciousness is set ablaze. (Don't try this at home, kids.) There is a definite fishy smell, but it isn’t offensive, by any means.
Thach Dua Trái Vai (tok · duah · chai · vie), or lychee coconut jelly
Flavor profile: sweet, gelatinous, lychee flavor
These snacks look like they've re-marketed for kids. Packed in tiny bite-size cups inside large jars, lychee coconut are refreshing and like squirts of coconut flavored jello that you can squeeze into your mouth. Kids will love these.They come in a variety of flavors and colors other than coconut.
Khô bò (Co · baw), or beef jerky
Flavor profile: tender, dried beef in many different flavors varying between sweet and savory
A favorite find in the snack aisle, there are several varieties of Asian beef jerky. The hot fruit flavor is especially intriguing. The taste is spicy, yet sweet, and it is very tender. Asian beef jerky is different from the westernized drier, tougher version. It can be eaten straight out of the package or cut into thin slices and served with pickled salads of mango, papaya or jicama.
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