Japanese Delight Kombu Teriyaki Flavor™
Submitted by Heather Nodler

If spaghetti squash and the Loch Ness Monster had a lost weekend, Japanese Delight Kombu Teriyaki Flavor ™ would surely be their resultant love child. A freeze-dried, meal-in-a-package, this foodstuff will assuredly please even the most finicky palate. Kombu delivers a power-punch of umami, the elusive and savory “fifth taste” of Japanese cuisine, and follows it up with a slightly cloying, teriyaki chaser. Freshwater never tasted so fresh by contrast! The chewy tendrils of this brackish substance evoke the pitch-black, nautical depths from which they emerged, reaching eagerly across your plate, like a giant, mossy squid in pursuit of Captain Nemo himself.

Before you venture to prepare kombu, you may wonder, “What if I am but a simple westerner, unschooled in the timeless traditions of salty Asian seaweed preparation?” Fear not, my green friend, for Japanese Delight Kombu Teriyaki Flavor ™ affords a surprisingly effortless prep to even the novice maker of pre-packaged ocean detritus. Just add water and your favorite meat or meat alternative, and voila, you have a delicious tangle of seaweed, encircled by a moat of sweet, brown liquid. According to the wrapper’s narrative: “This kombu product captures the essence of Japanese cooking and enables American consumers to easily cook sea vegetables.” Wow, can one product really do all that?

Japanese Delight Kombu Teriyaki Flavor ™ is terribly wholesome to boot. A scientific fact—again, quoth the package—“the nourishment found in kombu is acquired through the gentle wave action of underwater currents.” Patented Gentle Wave Action (GWA) is a cultivation method demonstrably superior to that of the rival kombu brand, which is violently stripped of its rich, green nutrients by hyperactive, aquatic eddies.

Once the kombu has been prepared and served, you may, like my octogenarian neighbor, take a moment to spice up your sea spaghetti with a dash of smugness, giggling at the Japanese Delight ™ copywriter’s use of hyperbole and the split infinitive, then congratulating yourself on having embarked on an epicurean adventure to the oceans of the exotic East. Congratulations, indeed, and welcome aboard the SS Orientalist!

If, like my pre-adolescent stepdaughter, your palate will only permit nautically-themed foods on the scale of Kraft shells and cheese, you may scrunch up your nose and make a sullen retreat into the living room for an episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Whatever—that leaves more Japanese Delight Kombu Teriyaki Flavor ™ for the rest of us, and your pasty pasta will be ready in about ten minutes. Before you head out, why is it that those blond kids live in a hotel, again? Nevermind…

One last tip—Japanese Delight Kombu Teriyaki Flavor ™ is optimally prepared with cubed, processed soy product—tofu can be a delicious and nutritious solution to the omnivore’s dilemma, not to mention a generous comedic entrée for dinner guests prone to shrieking “It’s peeeeeeople” at mealtime.

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Gorp
Submitted by Katelyn Sack

Some say the name comes from the sound this blessed mixture makes when it hits the floor. Others maintain it was a gift from otherworldly creatures and that the name means “ambrosia” in their green-scaled tongue.

The composition of gorp is no easier to pin down than its provenance. With ample variation depending on available supplies, gorp is typically a mixture of plain full-fat yogurt, fish oil, ground flax seed, Floradix liquid vitamin supplement, blackstrap molasses, and fruit. The fruit might be mashed banana in the morning and at lunch and applesauce in the afternoon. Like my great-grandma May Belle (she of mayonnaise-cake fame) professed: “Whatever you have will do.”

More importantly, gorp is an ideal baby food. Its ridiculous quantity of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, calcium, iron, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, pectin, and vitamin C will advance early childhood development by leaps and bounds. I submit as proof my brilliant infant twin charges, who speak some Russian (“Da!”), French (“Tête!”), and Italian (“Mamma!”), in addition to already knowing that the doggy says, “Woof!,” the kitty cat, “Meoooow!,” and the fox, “Shazzam!”

Gorp washes down nicely (if not neatly) with V8 thrice a day, supplying babies all the nutrition they’ll need for life. Shazzam.

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Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses
Submitted by Will Hindmarch

A lady at the grocery store was giving out free samples of these. My wife tried one, then brought home a bag of them. She said they were so rich, so ridiculous, that a single one of these seasonal treats could be a dessert. I must have eaten six of them just now, while proofreading this.

They’re new, but I’m not sure they’re food. Though these are Hershey’s candies, they’re not chocolate at all. Each dollop, though, is presented in the shape of a gnome’s hat, wrapped in crinkled foil, so I guess they qualify as Kisses. Each little candy is a compound of orange outside and, on the inside, where the almond would be in an almond Kiss, white stuff. The package includes a little cutaway schematic. Depending on ambient lighting, the orange may seem to be the exaggerated peachy flesh tone of a crayon or the cartoonish pallor of a woozy Oompa-Loompa.

They are weirdly soft. Instead of chewing them, try pressing the candy with your tongue to the roof of your mouth, forming a spread. Imagine that each is a dose of pasty homeopathic medicine prescribed by a witch, a bit of Halloween doled out to heal the need for holiday sweets.

To be sure, a Pumpkin Spice Kiss is sweet, but also subtly savory. Pumpkin spice, it seems, is any combination of cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, and mace (which isn’t what I thought it was; it’s the sheath the nutmeg seed comes in) or anything that tastes like any combination of that stuff.

My wife put one at the bottom of her coffee, to make a knockoff pumpkin-spice beverage, and it sort of melted into a dose of autumn flavors, but it also transmuted into a waxy, oily slick across the coffee surface.

Still trying to puzzle out this mix of old-fashioned flavors and newfangled paraffin-like substance, I offered a couple of friends some free sample Pumpkin Spice Kisses. One of them stopped in midchew, her face contorted, unsure how to get away from the thing in her mouth. “I feel like I ate a candle,” she said.

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Monster Biscuit
Submitted by Dave Snyder

As an enthusiast of cryptozoology, I was excited this morning to try the Monster Biscuit, a breakfast sandwich from 7-Eleven. But what kind of monster? I wondered. Griffin? Chupacabra? Too impatient to wait until I got to my office, I scanned the ingredient list for what monster (or monsters!) I’d be eating.

I wasn’t familiar with any monsters on the list: propyl gallate, apocarotenal, erythorbate (which is probably a man-eating earthworm, don’t you think?). There was an ingredient called “bha,” which might be a dragon-snake or something from India, but mostly Monster Biscuit was made out of stuff like cottonseed oil, corn-syrup solids, artificial flavors, and pork.

Undeterred, I tried Monster Biscuit when I got to work. I’m no expert, but I’d say that Monster Biscuit has the mellow gaminess of yeti and the mouthfeel of Tennessee wampus cat, with more than a hint of skunk ape in its bouquet.

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Sangria Fresca Orbit Gum
Submitted by Molly Young

You see, it took on the elements of an odyssey.

First, we were called to adventure.

“Orbit has released a sangria-flavored gum,” I told them. We couldn’t wait to try it. Would it be a Spanish-style sangria? Would there be a realistic wine flavor? Would alcoholics be permitted to sample it?

A road of trials followed. We stopped at gas stations in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, but didn’t find the desired gum. We tried Mint Mojito flavor (decent) and, at a low point, Fabulous Fruitini flavor, which tasted of cheesy popcorn.

So far, the union of cocktail flavors and chewing gum had gone very, very badly.

A week later, back in New York, I found it. Wrapped up like a new toy amid a row of other flavors, the sangria package had an ill-chosen orange-and-purple color scheme. I think it was supposed to invoke the fruit ingredients of the original beverage.

The gum itself was the color of a rotten tooth.

By now, my companions were gone and I was left to try the gum alone. Very thoughtfully, I unwrapped a little gray piece and put it on my tongue.

The taste? Well, I was chastened. There was no orange flavor, no lemon. No brandy or Cointreau. Not even a suggestion of wine. It was grape, all grape. Graper than grape jelly and more persistent, too. How disappointing. I spit it out, soberly. A lesson had been learned.

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The Laughing Cow Light Cheese Wedges
Submitted by Reid Brian Hall

Middle-school P.E. It’s a metaphor unto itself. Really, I can’t think of many other images that stir up as many visceral, nauseatingly vivid memories. Whenever I feel the knurled surface of one of those tough, red playground balls, I can’t help but feel it slamming into my ear, blinding me with pain while stinky cotton shorts cling to my thighs with sweat. Whenever I see indoor bleachers, I immediately taste my gummy tongue in my mouth, and in my mind I’m hunched over, battling for breath while my peers shoot up and down the stairs with ease.

A fat kid in middle-school P.E. That was me.

If P.E. was the Crimean War of my middle-school life, then cheese was my Florence Nightingale. Every day after school, I sought refuge in Kids in the Hall reruns and a thick block of lactose-filled comfort. Crackers? Not necessary. Just a sturdy slice off the Costco block of cheese − usually cheddar or gouda − that perpetually haunted the refrigerator shelves. Cream, cottage, curd, wheel, baby loaf: these were the materials from which happiness was fashioned.

Of course, adolescent cheese-aholism has a strange way of leading to childhood obesity, and childhood obesity has a strange way of leading to adulthood obesity.

It was a few weeks ago, during my most recent attempt at losing my lifelong cheese gut, that I discovered Laughing Cow Light. It’s a smooth, creamy cheese spread that comes in individually wrapped wedges, a pack of eight resembling a winning Trivial Pursuit pie. A single Laughing Cow wedge adds a sophisticated and explosively delicious tang to damn near everything. Toast, crumpets, Gardenburgers, sandwiches, wraps, celery, a spoon: divine, all. The “Classic Swiss” flavor proves most versatile and approachable, while “French Onion” and “Garlic and Herb” tease the palate with hearty strength and confidence.

With every creamy bite, my inner fat kid giggles with glee while my outer adult, reflecting on the cheese’s mere 35 calories per wedge, nods in approval.

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Homemade Mint Ice Cream
Submitted by Benjamin Straus

Wanting to make ice cream for myself and friends, I bought an ice-cream machine. I made hazelnut, chocolate-chip, and cake-batter ice cream. The hazelnut flavor tasted amazing, with that distinctive, rich, somehow creamy nutty flavor mixed with rich milk chocolate. The cake batter tasted just like the package cakes at kids’ birthday parties, with chocolaty frosting and heavy sugary hail-shaped sprinkles. I loved mint-chocolate-chip ice cream as a kid, it was my favorite flavor, and I thought, How hard could it be to make? I didn’t want to use peppermint, because I didn’t want the ice cream to taste like candy canes. So, using my immense brain, I decided to pick up spearmint leaf at the supermarket and use that. While cooking the milk, I dropped in the chopped-up leaves, letting them sit in a strainer. I thought they would enhance the milk like tea leaves. I added the eggs and sugar, cooked off the salmonella, and cooled the mixture before tossing it into the ice-cream machine. I woke up the next morning hardly able to contain my excitement. I was ready to taste a piece of my lost childhood.

And my lost childhood tasted like when you drop ice cream into a pile of dead leaves and then pick it up and eat it.

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Chinese Nitro Reproduction Sweet Potatoes
Submitted by Aaron Gilbreath

When Mother Nature designed the sweet potato, she could not have envisioned it processed as a poor man’s Twinkie, sold for pocket change in a red plastic vacuum pack next to squid strips and Pocky.

I grew up with the sugar tuber like everyone else, but until my recent trip to a Phoenix Asian market I remained oblivious to its overseas popularity. Golden, orange, white, purple, frozen, fried, mashed, dried, dehydrated, powdered, random-cut, sold as paste, preserves, and little dried sticks I wandered crowded aisles amazed by the variety. But my eyes bulged when I found how technology and China’s exploding economy had turned this one leafy plant’s energy reserve into a convenient, fun-sized, gelatinous confection.

The package simply said “Sweet Potato,” and the smiling Buddhist monk on the label suggested wholesomeness, yet when I asked the cashiers if they’d tried it before, they just stared. I silently hoped that, on their side of the cultural divide, silence wasn’t the same as laughing at the idiot.

I laid my money down and returned to my car, where the foil-lined bag released its injected nitrogen ghost. Produced by the fractional distillation of liquid air and as an industrial byproduct, nitrogen preserves packaged foods’ freshness by delaying rancidity. Which is funny, since the word “fresh” never came to mind.

Logs of Ipomoea batatas, if that is indeed what they were, rolled into my hand. Dusted with flour yet gummy as caulk, these treats more closely resembled misshapen mini-loaves of unbaked bread than the original tuber’s tapered spears. While credit must be given for an attempt at formal replication, the snack yams were merely various wads, lumps, and tubules of yellow mass, though, in a less generous mood, I’d call them the spilled organs of a bleached fetal pig removed from formaldehyde. Sure, they were sweet − potateoey even − but the masticated starches coated my tongue, plastering narrow gaps between my teeth. And the taro-flour dust shellacked my fingertips, leaving dark gummy beads of the sort kindergartners carry from repeated nose-pickings.

Chewing these refined, leached carcasses, I couldn’t help but reflect on humanity’s need to destroy Nature only to reconstruct her in inferior imitations. Shaped by machines into little finless rockets, separated from their skins, packaged sweet potatoes are the gustatory equivalent of a wave pool, what mountain-meadow-scented fabric softener is to the High Sierra. These potatoes are mere psyllium husk, bran separated from germ separated from stalk and sold back to us as a second, value-added item, some nutritive germ to be shaken into degermed, enriched, whitened wheat cereal. Studying the nitro-potato’s striations and pitiful pallor, one can hear the dystopian philosophy of a cyborg god: “Why allow sweet raw material to wallow as a side dish when underpaid Shandong-province drones in facemasks can brush off the dirt and turn starch into a new Hostess empire?”

I say, “Dear God: you must first create a more lifelike potato.”

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Egg-on-a-stick
Submitted by Betsy Finesilver

Food-on-a-stick is a good idea. As a kid, I loved food that was served on sticks, like corn dogs and Popsicles. As an adult, I see more advantages than just the excitement of holding a stick stuck into something edible. Food-on-a-stick has the benefit of utility. For example, I recently visited the Illinois State Fair, where one can participate in all sorts of amazing rural adventures, such as milking a cow. However, these adventures make your hands dirty. Thankfully, the majority of food at the Illinois State Fair is available on a stick, and therefore you do not even need to worry about washing your hands before eating.

At the Illinois State Fair, I received two free eggs-on-sticks when I purchased a salad. This was by far the food-on-a-stick I was most interested in trying. Had they offered me a free hard-boiled egg sans stick, I probably would have said, “Eh, no thanks.” But hard-boiled-egg-on-a-stick sounded so intriguing I couldn’t say no. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. Eating the egg-on-a-stick was very pleasant. In fact, in some ways, the egg-on-a-stick was superior to an egg-not-on-a-stick. Namely, the ability to rotate the egg via the stick enabled me to salt the outside of the egg evenly without resorting to rolling the egg in salt I’d sprinkled on a plate.

In the end, the friend I shared my eggs-on-sticks with reviewed this food in a very accurate way. “You know,” he said, “egg-on-a-stick doesn’t really taste any different than egg-not-on-a-stick.” Technically, he’s right. Whether a hard-boiled egg is on a stick or not, the white part will be rubbery and slimy, while the mustard-colored yoke will be crumbly. Yet the refreshing addition of the stick made eating the egg a much more exciting experience.

What will be next? Chicken-on-a-stick? I can only hope so. Or maybe chicken-on-a-stick came first.

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GT’s Synergy Guava Goddess
Submitted by Zoe Toffaleti

When I took my childhood friend to my favorite café, I can’t say I wasn’t surprised that she grabbed a nice bottle of pink-dyed fermented mushroom juice. I was a bit surprised, however, when she opened it and informed me with a look of astonished disgust that it smelled like rubbing alcohol with traces of vinegar that had been used to dye Easter eggs.

“That’s fermented mushroom juice. I thought you knew,” I said. “I never touch the stuff.”

Nevertheless, with two books to read and three essays to write in the next two days, I figured I could probably use some of the superfood that purportedly rejuvenates, restores, revitalizes, replenishes, and regenerates your digestion, metabolism, immune system, liver, cell integrity, and body alkalinity. Oh, and it also may have cured breast cancer.

So I took the abandoned bottle and mixed it, half and half, with my ginger ale. It tasted a bit like ginger ale mixed with vinegar that had been used to dye Easter eggs. But I drank the whole thing, because no way in hell was I going to waste that ginger ale—it had cost me $1.62. It continued to taste like ginger ale mixed with vinegar, but it was a nice pink color, and when I burped it tasted like guavas.

But I certainly don’t feel regenerated. Just a little repulsed. C, you know where to find me.)

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Mayonnaisey Bagel (With Fruit and Nuts)
Submitted by Bonnie Scott

Last night, my ex-girlfriend asked me if I would please come over to her house while she’s at work this week and clean her cat’s ears, because I’m the only person who knows how to do it. Our cat. He was our cat. I guess I have responsibilities to him. This afternoon, I go over to her house and take with me an iced coffee and a bagel from the Whole Foods across the street. In the store, I’m excited. I’m thinking about this 75-cent bagel and this 50-cent (because I bring my own cup) coffee and how it’s a great value. A “meal deal.” I even pick one of those healthier bagels, with fruit and nuts and whatever in it, in order to increase this stupendous value I’m getting. I’m excited. I forgo the purchase of butter or cream cheese, thinking I’m about to walk into a house that has butter in it. I do not need to pay for condiments. Value, added value.

So I’m in the house and I clean the cat’s ears and then I’m in the kitchen with the bagel. I think of toasting the bagel, in the lovely toaster oven I bought for my ex-girlfriend. I think of a warm, crunchy bagel with melted butter on it. Then I think that I shouldn’t be interacting with the house so intimately. I shouldn’t be spending so much time with it, “using” it. I’m a guest here now. Guests aren’t so familiar with their hosts’ kitchens. So, no toasting. I go raw.

Then I’m slicing this bagel with the same knife I’d always used to slice bagels before I was only a guest here. I’m terrified of the familiarity of it. I know without looking in the drawer exactly which knife I want. I use this knife as if I own it and then realize too late what I’m doing and the knife is screaming, “Who touched me?” There’s a thing in the Bible like this, about a bleeding woman who touches the cloak of Jesus and is healed but then won’t confess to having done it. I try to erase my using of the knife, wash it and dry it and replace it in the drawer where I found it, the point facing in the same direction it was facing before. “Who touched me?” Oh, no. Not me. You can’t blame me for this.

Lastly, there’s the issue of the butter. I won’t eat a dry bagel—what’s the point? So I take the tub of butter out of the refrigerator. It has plenty in it. But you couldn’t say it’s full or even half full. Let’s say there’s a decent hunk in there, and I may have even been the one who bought this tub of butter, before I was evicted from this house, but there isn’t enough to make me feel safe buttering both halves of the bagel. I worry that my ex-girlfriend will notice the missing butter, that she may even demand that I buy her more butter. If I take enough for both halves, she’ll certainly know I’ve overstepped my boundaries as a guest in her home.

So I take enough for one—less, even, than I think I would normally use. But what to do about the other half? I don’t want her hydrogenated peanut butter. I don’t want jam. It has to be something with fat in it. So I’m looking in the door of the fridge, and I notice the nice, big jar of mayonnaise. She has plenty of mayo. I guess she wouldn’t notice if I took enough mayonnaise to spread on half the bagel. So I take it. And I spread it.

And then I’m standing in the living room. Standing, not sitting, so as not to mess up the blanket my ex-girlfriend has covering her couch. Talking to the cat and eating this cold, mayonnaisey bagel (with fruit and nuts) and thinking that I really don’t know what my station in life is anymore, and I don’t know what the future holds, and I certainly compromise too much. And the taste? The taste is not entirely unpleasant.

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Chontaduros
Submitted by Yesi Mills

They don’t export chontaduros, so you’ll probably never have one. You’ll have to take my word for it.

The chontaduro grows wild on palm trees on Colombia’s Pacific coast, home to the largest crops of cocaine in the world, along with tremendous poverty and violence. Around 10 years ago, these factors drove many of the coast’s residents to look for new homes in more hospitable places, in a trend referred to as desplazamiento, or displacement. Most of them came to the cities in search of work, bringing with them the chontaduro, as well as its juice and oil.

The chontaduro is a mix between a squash and a nut. Its shiny skin ranges from bright shiny orange to red. In Bogotá, they’re sold in giant rolling carts. You can buy them raw with the peels, precooked with the peels, or cooked and peeled (the most expensive). Your vendor will offer you salt or honey as a condiment. I’ve heard that in Cali they serve them with lime and mayonnaise at bars, although I never saw it while I was there. They can rarely be found in supermarkets or even in green markets (plazas).

The first time I ate one was the day after I spent the night with the woman I would live with for the next year. An Afro-Colombian with white hair tucked under a leather cap stood standing next to a red cart stacked high with chontaduros. He turned toward us, perhaps sensing that I was already sold on trying the waxy orange heart-shaped fruits.

“Do you want to try one?” he asked me.

A glutton like me? I don’t think I even answered. I lifted my hand toward the old man’s cutting board. He picked up a peeled chontaduro and placed it in the palm of my hand. I munched on it, trying to savor it and decide whether or not I liked it. Before I could evaluate it, I had nothing more in my mouth than the slippery pit. I didn’t know how to describe it, whether I could eat a hundred or never eat one again, only that it was distinct from any other food I had eaten.

The woman I would live with told me that sometimes the chontaduro vendors sang to women. She explained to me that in Bogotá they say that the chontaduro improves sexual prowess. Most of the chontaduro consumers here don’t even like the flavor. The women who line up to buy its juice bring it to their husbands. She slapped me on the back and said, “You don’t need it for that.”

My adopted Aunt Isabela also told me that the success of the chontaduro in the capital proved the ingenuity of the Afro-Colombians.

“Twenty years ago, you couldn’t get a chontaduro outside of the coast. When they came here with no money, they figured out the best way to sell them: right into the bed.”