Strange Snacks of the World: "Chewing Gum of the Orientals"

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Joe DiStefano

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In addition to a full complement of Southeast Asian ingredients (fish sauce, noodles, curry pastes, sambals, etc.) Malaysian grocer Old Town on the second floor of the Flushing Mall has its share of strange snacks. Amid a rack containing durian candy and other goodies, this package of Ken-Ken prepared cuttlefish bearing the legend "Chewing - Gum of the Orientals" stands out.

The slightly sweet smell that hits you when opening the package might be mistaken for chewing gum, but that's where all similarity to Wrigley's ends. Inside, find not chewing gum but actual prepared cuttlefish, "caught at FAO Area 71, Pacific Ocean," which further research reveals lies along the coast of Vietnam. Once the sweet smell subsides, the irregular pale brown fibers of cuttlefish have a noticeable funky fishiness, an aroma that's well-loved by Malaysians and Southeast Asians alike.

Chewy fishy snacks that complement an ice-cold beer are common in Southeast Asia, and despite its come-on as "chewing gum," Ken Ken's cuttlefish fits squarely within this category. The fibrous bits are just chewy enough to give your jaws a slight work out. A goodly amount of sugar, chili pepper, and salt help round out the funky fishiness. Oh, and there's another ingredient that's probably never appeared on a chewing gum label: MSG.

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Joe DiStefano



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