What the Street Eats: Summer Fare, Dried Squid
I’m sure many of you have been checking GrubGrade on a daily basis in hopes that the next episode of “What the Street Eats” will greet you on the front page. However, close followers of the site will have noticed that Murray, and his popular series took a bit of a summer hiatus. Turns out the “Street” has quite an appetite and his list of edibles includes laptops, cameras, and other valuables. And when he’s hungry, he’s not afraid to kick in your front door to feed. Luckily for me, my insurance company didn’t bock at covering such an event. So, now that my laptop, camera, and I are back, it’s time to again find out what’s been keeping our street fed since I installed a series of deadbolts on all points of ingress.
Over the course of the last few months, I have continued to pick up various items from my street side wrapper repository. Since I didn’t have a camera, I wasn’t able to snap a shot of them in their natural environment, as is my usual practice, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that these items are not staged and actually showed up without request. Rather than try to squeeze all of these exciting products into one post, I thought I would just pick one and give it my full attention. If you study the picture carefully, most of the food products are relatively commonplace… except for one. There it is, right in the middle. The question is, what is it?
That’s OK, I wasn’t sure either, so I took this partial wrapper from store to store looking for my answer. All I had to go on was the emblem on the left hand side and the curious figures on the right. On the left, we have the “Double Horses Brand” logo. On the right appears to be two squid or octopi. A quick internet query of ”Double Horses Brand” led me to the conclusion that this was a product of Asian descent and I was pretty sure I was looking into the beady little eyes of a squid and not an octopus or some type of crawfish. What I couldn’t figure out was what kind of squid product this was. Maybe it was just squid shaped candy (kind of what I was hoping for). Or maybe it was a pack of frozen squid. I figured that would be OK, ’cause I could just deep fry them or something. I mean I’ve had calamari before, and they’re no big deal. But that didn’t make sense either, because I know the street and he doesn’t really cook. He’s a Grubbing on the Go artist. C’mon, candy!
As I headed into St. Paul’s version of Little China, I have to admit, I was worried about what I might find. I mean last time I ate what the street ate, it was a mixed bag. I liked the Tamarind Juice, but couldn’t choke down the Vero Mango lolipop coated in chili powder. If I couldn’t handle a lolipop, how was I going to handle any sort of squid-based product? Yikes. The first store I entered hit me with an unbelievably strong odor as soon as I walked through the automated door. I looked around thinking there had to be something rotten right near the doorway. Nope. Once more, no one around me seemed to be smelling the same thing I was, because no one was making funny faces or covering their nose. No kidding, I almost just walked out, but my curiosity caused me to trudge on. I tried hard not to look like I was suffering from the smell, but it was tough. The overpowering odor was of seafood, but not the kind you see nicely displayed on a bed of ice, in the deli section of your local high-end grocer. This was more of a Hong Kong fish market in mid August kinda smell. Long story short, my tour through the store produced a lot of visual and olfactory memories that will last for quite some time, but did not produce anything that looked like my partial wrapper. On to the next store. Thankfully, this one was much more inviting and didn’t have that dockside smell until you got to the back of the store where workers were chopping fish heads off with great zeal behind the counter. As I wandered about, it became more apparent to me that I wasn’t looking for something fresh, but rather, something preserved in a sealed package with a convenient tear-off top like a snack pack of beef jerky. Could that be it? Squid jerky?
Well, if you guessed squid jerky, the judges are going to give it to you. Technically, we are talking about “prepared squid”. Not necessarily the same thing as squid jerky (I’m not actually sure if this exists), but pretty similar. It’s basically, dried, seasoned squid. I wasn’t able to find the Double Horses Brand, but I’m pretty confident that what I found matches the type of product that the street snacked on after ripping into the plastic pouch. When I perused the rack of various dried snacks, i didn’t notice any “plain” varieties, but that was fine with me. I figured the more they mask the taste of squid, the better off I’ll be, so I gladly took the “Hot” style.
Even though I was pretty confident that this was a snack food, I wanted to make sure this wasn’t something that was meant for cooking or perhaps mixing into a salad or something. I’m thinking like bacon bits or something along those lines. Well, the internet is an amazing tool. I found all sorts of info on how to eat dried squid. Most sites I found said that Asian men will eat these like American men eat peanuts and potato chips. A guy might sit down to watch a sporting event and munch on these, washing them down with a beer. I was starting to feel a little more comfortable with trying these out, but still not eager. Given the description of how they are eaten, I figured I ought to pair them with a beer (I also figured I might need to kill the aftertaste if they were terrible or too hot). I also figured I should serve them up in something like a bowl you might serve TV-side snacks in. So, my girlfriend, found her most Asian snack bowl and I found one of my favorite beers and away we go.
Well, I’ve drug this thing out long enough, let’s get to the review. While the pictures and my comparison to peanuts or potato chips might have you thinking these are crispy little strips of seasoned delight, that is not the case. As you can see, they do have some stiffness to them, but they are much closer, in consistency to a piece of beef jerky, only they are chewier and perhaps a bit softer. If you’ve ever had calamari, you know that squid can be rubbery and that holds true here. As far as taste goes, as long as you’re prepared for that distinctive fishy flavor, they’re really not bad. At first bite, you really don’t get much of the seafood kick, but after a few chews (and you’ll need a few), a strong hint of the sea comes through. If you enjoy an occasional sardine or herring, I think you’ll be OK. I was actually a bit disappointed in the seasonings, hoping for something a bit more impressive given Asia’s reputation for spicy dishes, and the “Hot” label on the package, but nothing to write home about here. I guess they don’t want to cover up that all important fish flavor. I will admit to using my beer-back in quick succession after getting a sense for the flavor, but honestly, if I was a guest at someone’s house in the far east and they put these on the table as an offering, I wouldn’t hesitate to munch on a few to be polite. I don’t see these replacing a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos in my living room for next Sunday’s football game snack, but after all the hype, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.
- Pros: Adventuresome snacking. Authentic way to broaden your horizons. Pairs well with flavorful beer such as Sierra Nevada’s IPA
- Cons: Stinks up the kitchen once opened. A bit of a texture hurdle for some, a bit of a fish-flavor hurdle for others. Probably not going to be a hit at your Superbowl Party
Grubbing on the Go: 9.00/10
(Overall GrubGrade is not an average)