Tuesday, July 06, 2004

You've Got To Try This 

Anyone up for Cheese and Cod Bits?

Went to the weird package-and-more store just over the New Hampshire border yesterday, because my gourmet American Spirits are cheaper there than in Taxachusetts, and because the place just has a weird aura I love to wallow in. Took Darcie and Willow because it was an excuse for a miniadventure.

When we first moved in to the dorms six years ago, the place was a pretty traditional: half beer and soda cases, half cigarette cartons, with a couple of tiny overpriced bags of cashews by the register. But it’s come under new management. In the past few years, the newly-named Cha's has slowly transformed, pallet by pallet, shelf by shelf, until over a third of the store is just…


The best way I can think to describe it is to say that the package store is slowly being infiltrated by some sort of youth-oriented asian-alia. But that doesn’t really do justice to this tiny place on the Winchester NH/Northfield MA border, just past the Christian camp and the summer school, two ceramic studios, a state-owned waterfall, and not much else for miles.

Yesterday, they had a disastrous two-tone vest prominently on display, red silk on one side and a complex pattern of lime green and silverthread on the other, dangling enticingly from the high ceiling from a single hanger, in the middle of everything, yet no other articles of clothing are sold in this store except for the four leather jackets hanging way over the rice flour.

Also a four-tiered display of metal pipes, rolling papers, screens, and cheap handblown glass “tobacco” pipes seem like they belong on a blanket in a Phish show parking lot has taken over the entire front counter.

When you first enter, though, it’s the food you see before you. Some of it’s ordinary truck-stop snacks, like in the old days – those same cashews may still be there, in fact, among the Funyons and dip. But over half the foodstuffs – two aisles worth, plus a two-panel fridge and a deepfreeze in the back -- is delightfully foreign. Huge jars of tiny shrimp in brine. Bags of dried anchovies staring up at you. And wonderful, strange snack food: Pocky, of course, and sturgeon-flavored chips, and shrimp-flavored candy, and Korean gingercookies curved just the right way to fit as many as possible inside their plastic tub. Not as good as the Japanese-snack compendium at jlist, but it's so nice when it's right in your face.

It’s not clear which local community this is supposed to serve, unless the store primarily caters to the roughly 150 asian students who attend Northfield Mount Hermon each year (in which case, shame on them for stocking so much pot-smoking paraphanalia). It’s not like there’s a Koreatown here on the edge of the rural intersect of NH, VT and middle-of-nowhere mass, equidistant from Keene, Brattleboro, and Greenfield, and just a half mile from one of the last drive-ins in the country. Most folks coming in seem to be townie rednecks, driving just over the border for their twice-weekly tax-free case.

No one buys the pipes when I'm there, anyway. The asian snacks I like have dust on 'em. And the same four jackets have been on display since Fall.

But despite the dust, I always try to buy something new and snacky when I go, mostly because I can’t resist the international pop-kitsch factor.

Not ready yet for unlabeled jars of fire-red kimchee, or tiny dried whole fish, though. And I fondled but decided against the mung bean "cookies" with the consistency of the eggy stuff in an Egg Mcmuffin. No, after laughing at the wonder of the wild world of other people's cuisine with Darcie and Willow, I ended up with a carton of cigs from the "normal" storesection, a small filthy box of some cheese-and-sugar breadstick cookies we liked last time I brought them home on a whim, and -- at the last minute -- grabbed a feather-light chip-sized package of mysterious contents and no English writing whatsoever based entirely on the neat picture of a goldfish climbing up the front of the bag.

I kind of expected them to taste like fish. I figured we'd laugh, and then put them away for advisee-group dare sessions once school started, like we did with the nacho-flavored mealworms we found at that odd wildlife-themed shop in Shelburne Falls.

They tasted like Sugar Corn Pops, only lighter and crispier.

And now I've eaten them all, and I still can't figure out what it was, but I loved every bite. Sure hope they've got a box of them somwhere back at Cha's.

Addendum: I did do an internet search for these things, but my vague descriptions seem to be useless as google keywords. If the above foodstuff sounds familiar, please contact me immediately to discuss; information leading to an arrest will be handsomely rewarded.

In trying (and failing) to identify the odd but delicious fish-shaped sugar-coated corn-crisps, I did discover taquitos.net, a broad-and-deep clearinghouse of snack food facts, including a product-review typology. The database was unfortunately bereft of direct info about my cornfishies, but it did provide these fun finds.

Also, by googling "hana brand" and "rhee bros" -- the only english characters I was able to find on the box -- found a two-year-old boycott of Rhee Bros.

From there, found Rhee Bros, which, it turns out, is a distributor of fine asian products -- but not, according to the Rhee Bros website, anything resembling my fishiechips.

Even the belatedly-discovered J-List didn't have them, and they have everything.

Bummer. Hey, if I posted a picture, would that help?

posted by boyhowdy | 2:57 PM |

Post a Comment
coming soon
now listening