Last weekend, I dragged a few of my fellow mates to the 2008 Hong Kong International Food Expo, my first ever food expo experience. As soon as we stepped off the train, we got swept away in a sea of people, all of whom were apparently headed for the same destination. It was insanely crowded, but in equally insanely organized fashion…we were herded through corridors and underground tunnels, up escalators, down stairs, weaving again and again. And just when we’d thought we finally arrived, we’d turn the corner to find yet another maze carefully laid out, demanding to be followed, and even more hordes of people making their way in front of us. I suppose we all blindly trusted that there would indeed be a pot of gold at the end of this circuitous, claustrophobia-inducing rainbow.
A fraction of the insanity that was the food expo queue.
Thinking we had at last escaped the crowd and would be duly rewarded with lots of tasty food samples, we stepped inside the hall only to realize that we had entered into an even more densely-bodied zone. Discouraged but not immediately deterred, we got down to business, wandering off in search of food. The expo was organized into different categories — rice & noodles, organic/health foods, baked goods, snacks, kitchen appliances, etc. The first thing that caught my eye upon entering was a jerky stand, which offered a selection of beef, pork, and chicken jerkies (of varying levels of spiciness). I tried a sample and the pork jerky was pretty darn good…both salty and sweet/caramelized.
There were a bunch of nifty appliances also on display, several of which I was almost suckered into buying because they’d just be so fun to own. Like this one:
Who wouldn’t want to have their own donut maker? You could even use it to make savory things, like donut-shaped egg omelets or individually portioned frittatas. I thought this was also a pretty cool contraption, even though it wasn’t for sale. The machine is doing what looks almost like a julienne of dried squid, chopping it into more finger-friendly sized portions:
We dug into these freshly made, stuffed mochi balls. I had the green tea one that was stuffed with lotus paste. I prefer red bean paste, but s’all good.
Few Chinese can ever have enough teas…
And there were also LOTS of baked goods. I’m not entirely sure what these are, but I think these pastries are stuffed with a sweet peanut, soft brittle-like concoction.
By this point, I was all alone (not that I blame anyone for abandoning me). I noticed that a lot of people around me were digging into cones filled with pastel-colored fro yo, and eventually located the source of these whimsical treats: magic yogurt.
Starting with a basic fro yo that I imagine is similar to Pinkberry’s, frozen fruit is blended and then shoved through the fro yo base to produce the flavor of one’s choice. I went with a New Zealand blueberry and lychee combination.
Due to the frozen fruit, the consistency of the fro yo ended up being a cross between traditional frozen yogurt and an icee, which was blissfully refreshing. Neither flavor overpowered the other and the slight lychee aftertaste put a broad smile on my face.
My one take-home purchase: a jar of molasses-injected organic peanut butter. This stuff rocks. I tried a sample of this and fell in love with the combination of the grainy texture and the syrupy vanilla sweetness…it’s mildly addicting. Even though I’ve been told organic peanut butter is potentially lethal because of some invisible mold. But the person who told me that was am Amherst alum, so maybe she was just trying to give me bad feng shui.
This reminds me — I remember a few years ago, I saw a jar of cashew butter at a random supermarket. For some idiotic reason, I decided not to buy it, even though I had never tried it before and love cashews in every form. Since then, I have been on the lookout for another jar of cashew butter, but have yet to find one. If any of you out there know of a place where I can find it, please do share! Even if I can only get it in the States, at least I’ll have the comfort of knowing it’ll be there when I get back :).
In sum, I was pretty disappointed with my food expo experience, but I think that was due largely to misplaced expectations on my part. What I expected was a tasting extravaganza, while other people came prepared with huge backpacks, bags, and even suitcases. Certainly, some of the foods displayed were intended to be dabbled in, not necessarily purchased, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the amount of staples, of the more traditional Chinese foods, that would be sold at bargain, bargain prices: that was what attracted most everyone else to the food expo. I paid a premium for my pb, but a lot of the other stuff, especially packaged goods, were ridiculously cheap, even by Chinese standards. Had I known, I definitely would have readied myself to stock up on a year’s supply of instant you-name-it’s (instant shark fin’s soup, anyone?) and the like. For myself, attending the expo was purely a form of entertainment, not an act of pragmatism, and that may have been where I went wrong.
Despite the way things turned out, I do think the food expo brought to my attention yet another segment of the food community with whom I can identify, at least in part: people who kind of just like seeing what’s out there, curious folk interested in the latest kitchen gadgets or newest flavors…or maybe people who simply enjoy being around large quantities of stuff to eat and connecting with others in their voyeurism and consumerism of food (thought they may not articulate it as such). It was also an opportunity to see food presented in a different kind of physical space and atmosphere. Though it’s not something I’ll be returning to soon, I certainly feel more in tune with the food culture in HK after being there, so all was not lost. Plus, I got a kick-ass jar of peanut ‘better.’ Whoever invented peanut butter should be sainted or knighted or something like that. It’s such a versatile, accessible, and satisfying food product. Plus, this one only has four ingredients: roasted peanuts, sugar, molasses, and pure vanilla. Sounds like a slice of heaven to me.