First, a bit of non-food business. I’m home. Or at least I’m in the last place I called home: Winnipeg. After traveling for 351 days I’ve finally gone so far east that it turned into west and have ended up back at the very house from which I launched this crazy adventure. It will take a while for me to formulate some thoughts on this momentous occasion, so in the mean time let’s talk about the last triumphant Weird Food Adventure.
Weird Food Steve, the world-weary traveler, and the endlessly helpful Karen in the kitchen in Winnipeg, all modeling Japanese yukata imported via San Jose.
You didn’t think I was done did you? Just because I was on my home continent? Just because the number of days left in the adventure could be counted on one hand? Ha! Not when there was a whole new country’s worth of weird food out there, and certainly not when it was a country that has given us fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a stick, garlic ice cream, and reindeer dogs. (No, really.) America’s Weird Food potential could not be ignored.
I have to thank my hosts for leading me to what turned out to be Weird Food Mecca – the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This is a permanent carnival on the Santa Cruz beachfront with roller coasters, carnival games, and enough artery-clogging food to stain a warehouse full of brown paper bags into glassy translucence. It was perfect.
Our first stop was Marini’s candy shop, famous for salt water taffy, candied apples, caramel corn and…
Unfortunately, the boardwalk outlet of Marini’s only carried the milk chocolate variety (the flagship store downtown also stocks dark chocolate) but nonetheless I went ahead and ordered three pieces, which came to a grand total of $3.16. Each piece was thickly coated with chocolate and had, as advertised, a nice crispy strip of bacon inside. It was creamy and sweet and a bit salty and smokey, but mostly just chocolaty and crunchy. And the verdict? Six thumbs up: all three of us agreed that it was definitely worth another try, and the three slices disappeared fast. If there was any criticism it was that we thought it needed a bit higher bacon to chocolate ratio, and all agreed that the dark chocolate variety would probably be more sophisticated and generally superior. Further investigation is required, which I leave to Amy and Randy who I suspect will seek out additional samples on their next trip to Santa Cruz. They’re like Weird Food Deputies!
Our next stop was a short stroll down the boardwalk (which was, disappointingly, all concrete, with not a board in sight…). It didn’t take long to reach this stall:
That vendor was selling two items on the must-try list, not only deep fried Twinkies (on a stick, no less!), but also deep fried Oreo cookies – 3 per serving. I got one order of Oreos and two Twinkies because Randy was man enough to join me in the grand experiment, whereas Amy pleaded that she was afraid of developing spontaneous diabetes and could barely be convinced to try a single bite. No matter, soon enough we were seated and ready to dive in.
Me and Randy with one order or Oreos, one Twinkie with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce, and one Twinkie with powdered sugar and strawberry sauce. (I recommend viewing the entire series of ten Twinkie-tasting photos as a slide show over at Flickr. Amy was diligent in her role as photographer of the event, so you can get an almost flip-book style bite-by-bite documentary, including one photo in which I appear to be pontificating with Randy about the whole experience as if we were on the Food Network, which clearly we should be. Or me at least.)
Twinkies first: Nice. Sweet, yes, but the heat from the fryer partially melted the “cream” (or, more accurately: Kreeeeem TM) and the whole thing was quite moist. Surprisingly, I preferred the strawberry sauce to the chocolate, because even my prodigious sweet tooth found the chocolate sauce added to the powdered sugar and the Twinkie a bit too sweet. On the other hand, the strawberry added just a hint of tartness that blended well. Here I have to report that Amy vociferously objected to my use of the word “tart” in the same sentence, time zone or continent as a deep fried Twinkie, but she was clearly suffering from insufficient sugar intake and so could not be taken seriously.
With Amy’s fat/sugar level dangerously low, we moved quickly to the deep fried Oreos. I declined to have any sauce with the (the same chocolate and strawberry were available) but this turned out to be an error in judgment. An Oreo cookie is an inherently dry item to begin with and the batter around it didn’t add much moisture to the mix. We all agreed that the flavour was good, but decided they’d be best with a cup of coffee.
After the tasty but arid Oreos we really really needed something to drink so we stopped for lemonade at a stand near the exit. True to form Amy had the traditional variety, but Randy and I had Cherry Lemonade (which Amy pronounced to be “cough syrup” after a small taste). No matter, because it was wet and cold and had the added advantage of turning my tongue red, giving a good photo op before we piled into the car for the drive back to San Jose. Off we drove into the sunset, awash in the satisfaction of having risen to the Weird Food Challenge, and only slightly queasy.