SAN MARINO: Snacks

It’s tricky to find snacks imported from San Marino, but I had success going straight to the source! La Serenissima is a family-owned dessert company in San Marino that makes cakes, chocolates, spreads and other treats. The company’s name comes from the full name of San MarinoSerenissima Repubblica di San Marino (the Most Serene Republic of San Marino).

I don’t think La Serenissima exports their goods to any stores in Canada, but when I emailed the company directly about trying to place an order, they were super helpful in figuring out how to process and ship it to me. I ordered a bunch of stuff, so there will be a part 2!

Ruby chocolate lollipopRuby chocolate made a bit of a splash a few years ago as a totally new variety of chocolate on par with dark, milk, and white chocolate – not just a flavoured chocolate. It’s naturally pink, and the flavour is creamy, almost like white chocolate, but more floral and fruity, almost with a bit of the underlying tartness of fresh berries. Ruby chocolate is still pretty rare; I’ve only tried it once before, when there was a ruby KitKat available for a short time here in Canada. It wasn’t bad, but La Serenissima’s chocolate is much higher quality.

Torta Titano – There’s a couple cakes that are San Marino local specialties – Torta Tre Monti, which is wafers layered with chocolate and hazelnuts, and Torta Titano, a soft cake with a filling of almonds, honey, and peanuts. La Serenissima makes both, and because of my hazelnut allergy, I went for Titano. It comes in a beautiful box with a Renaissance angel on it. It’s a soft cake edged with dark chocolate, with a filling that very much tastes like marzipan. I can’t really taste the peanuts, but there’s definitely honey, and almost a bit of brandy (I think) in the filling. However, almond is the strongest flavour here!

Aquaviva dark chocolate with raisins – I like the packaging for La Serenissima’s chocolate, it’s very well done. Each chocolate is named after the different districts (also know as castles) of the country – the text on the inside of the lid talks about Aquaviva, the district where Marinus, the founder of San Marino, would baptize converts to Christianity. It’s very nice dark chocolate, almost semi-sweet, with green grape raisins studded throughout for extra texture and flavour.

Città dark chocolate – This chocolate’s packaging is based on the Città district – the capital city at very summit of Mount Titano, which includes the Three Towers featured on the box (and on San Marino’s flag). It’s just plain good dark chocolate. It’s 58% cocoa, so on the sweeter end of dark chocolate, and nice to nibble on.

La Serenissima has a soothing production video up for Torta Titano, though sadly it’s only in 240p:

UZBEKISTAN: Qurt and shur-donak

I ordered in two very distinctive snacks from Privet Store on Ebay, a Russian-based supplier who sells snacks from Uzbekistan, as well as other former Soviet countries. Very fast shipping, and given the contents, I’m actually surprised it wasn’t held up by Canadian customs.

Qurt (also known as Kashk) is a salted and fermented cheese that’s rolled into balls and dried. It has a super long shelf life – it can be stored for years. It has a long history as a portable food for nomadic people, warriors, and travellers across Central Asia.

The cheese balls are pungent, like limburger cheese or stinky tofu. The texture is like chalk, it’s salty with blue cheese notes and a kind of barnyard flavour – the taste grows on you. If you like strong cheese, this is for you. Qurt can be eaten straight or it can be crumbled into dishes for texture and flavour. (I wonder how adding a bit to mac and cheese would go?)

Qurt (left) and shur-donak

Shur-donak is probably the wildest thing I’ve tried so far with this site. It’s apricot kernels, salted and roasted in ashes. That all sounds pretty nice, except that apricot kernels have a chemical that converts to cyanide when eaten. Yes. Cyanide.

Now, your body can process a small amount of cyanide, so eating one or two apricot kernels will not kill you, but the general suggested adult daily limit for apricot kernels is very low – both the EU and Health Canada don’t recommend eating more than 3. Around 50 kernels is has reportedly caused fatalities, with serious effects from fewer than that, and there is no safe amount for children. Perversely, the cyanide compound in apricot kernels has been marketed as “Vitamin B17” at health food stores, though here in Canada, that marketing is illegal and there are limits to concentrations for apricot kernels sold in stores here.

That being said, shur-donak has been eaten for centuries in Uzbekistan without people keeling over in the streets – so I’m going to have just one kernel. If I stop posting, you’ll know what happened.

The outer hull is a bit hard to crack, but the inside kernel is nicely salty, with the texture of an almond and a smokey roasted flavour. The white coating of ash gets everywhere. It was actually really delicious – I wonder if there’s a way to replicate this snack without the risk of, you know, cyanide poisoning.

Addendum: I’m still alive, and further research, including asking r/uzbekistan, seems to imply shur-donak is largely eaten with impunity – or at least in moderation. There are mentions that soaking then cooking can lower the danger in apricot kernels (shur-donak is soaked in brine then roasted), and that some varieties of apricot are naturally low in the cyanide compounds, but I’m going to go slow on these just in case.

What did I learn: TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO

Academy of the Performing Arts, Port of Spain – Source

This month I was learning more about Trinidad and Tobago – before starting this month, I knew a little bit about the Caribbean in general, but not much about T&T specifically.

This month gave me a great lesson in Trinidad and Tobago’s past – the two islands switching colonial hands multiple times (including French being spoken on an island never controlled by France, and Latvia having a crack at empire), the history and present of Indigenous Carib people, and how Trinidad and Tobago’s population descended from people taken as slaves in Africa and Indian indentured labourers to create a pluralist country with its own unique identity and culture.

The recent past and present of Trinidad is fascinating – the Black Power Revolution, civil rights movement, and decolonization, but also the post-colonial complexities of race between African, Indian, and creole populations. The 1990 coup attempt was something I had never heard about before, and it has been fascinating to listen to podcasts about current political and cultural matters on Trinidad and Tobago.

I also learned a bit about the difference between Trinidad and Tobago – the different colonial history and the sense of distinctiveness that Tobagoans feel. The currently very live issue of increased autonomy for Tobago really caught my attention. Tobago’s constitutional future seems like Scotland’s inside the UK, and as a legal/political nerd, it’s interesting to hear the process and the political narratives.

On a lighter note, the food this month was incredible – I had more snacks than I knew what to do with! (1,2,3,4,5 posts!) Doubles were delicious, I liked the bitterness of mauby, and I’ve gone back for more curry goat roti. I’ve been using the the various pepper sauces and condiments in my cooking, and it was interesting to try cooking with green bananas and salt cod for the first time. And of course, I’ve now got a great rum punch recipe handy.

I feel like I’ve only barely skimmed the surface of Trinidad and Tobago’s music scene – soca, calypso (including a wonderfully risqué song), chutney, parang, and to mix it up, punk! Great radio stations too, and learning more about the sheer scale of Carnival is neat – I’d love to go one day.

An interesting thing I noticed is all the connections between Canada and Trinidad and Tobago – it’s not something I went hunting for, the long history (good and bad) between our two countries kept popping up. Canada has a history place of migration (either temporary or permanent) and has a huge Caribbean population, with Trinidadians leading the creation Caribana, now one of the biggest festivals in Canada. But there are also dark parts to our history, the racism of Canadian universities against students from the West Indies, and Canada acting as Britain’s colonial right hand, with Canadians running missionary schools and creating the West Indian Domestic Scheme in the colonial era.

But even little connections between Canada show up – Trinidad’s most popular brand of pop taking their branding from a defunct Montreal company, and the importance of salt cod in Trinbagonian cuisine – it would have been historically imported from Newfoundland in exchange for Caribbean rum, which has in turn become culturally important to Newfoundland.

This was a really neat month – I had a lot of fun learning more about Trinidad and Tobago, and I’d love to visit!

Addendum – Coming in just under the wire, I got to try some of the famous red Solo. It tastes like cotton candy meets cream soda meets liquid Swedish berries. It’s really good, but very sweet. Red Solo (aka Kola Champagne) is probably the most famous flavour of the pop brand, and is a cultural touchstone as the best thing to wash down a spicy roti.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Snacks to the max!

Part 3 of my giant haul of snacks from Trinidad and Tobago that I got from Caribbean Export Co – parts 1 and 2 are here.

Sunshine Snacks Zoomers – So many varieties of cheezies from Trinidad! These are bright orange wagon wheels, quite salty and really hitting the spot. These are just good honest junk food cheezies, and I really like the shape.

Catch – There’s so many good chocolate bars here, wow. Catch is a caramel centre with layers of chocolate and crispy rice. It’s wonderful, good textures, good chocolate. Love it.

Charles Tiki Gold Vanilla Thrilla – Another Tiki Gold, this one vanilla. A bar of wafers covered in chocolate, but with a mellow vanilla aftertaste. I’d say I like this one more than the chocolate one, but the coconut one is still the best.

K’s Red Mango – I tried K’s Sweet Plums earlier, very much like ume, but now let’s see what these deep red presented mango slices are like! …They are INTENSELY sour, I was not prepared for that. There’s a subtle spiciness and sweetness at the end, but oh man, that’s a pucker. I actually went “WOW” and winced at my first bite …. and yet I finished the bag.

Charles Bobbie – Bobbies are individually wrapped chocolate balls, about the size of a quail egg, with kind of a waxy, dense milk chocolate. Deep in the centre is a single peanut – surprise!

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Snacks galore!

Part 2 of my big haul from Caribbean Export Co – part 1 is here, and there’s another part coming!

Sunshine Snacks Chee Zees – These are really nice crispy cheezies, lots of flavour and crunch, but what I can’t get over is that they taste IDENTICAL to Hawkins, a Canada-only brand of cheezies. I mean, that’s good, I love them, but with all the variation in cheezies around the world, it’s really surreal to have two brands from different countries that look and taste identical, with no connection between the two.

Charles Tiki Gold Coconut Craze – The last Tiki Gold I tried was plain chocolate, but there’s a bunch of other flavours – this one is coconut. It’s layers of wafers covered in chocolate, with a subtle coconut flavour. Coconut in sweets is usually low on my preference list, but I actually like this more than the plain chocolate Tiki Gold – you get enough coconut taste to give it some complexity without being overpowering.

Devon Chocolate Digestive – A nice big digestive biscuit covered in milk chocolate. That’s it. Plain and simple, and honestly, great. I’d definitely stock up on these if they were available locally, this just satisfies something in my brain.

Charles Ping Pong – Chocolate covered peanuts, but with a really generous soft milk chocolate coating instead of a hard chocolate shell. Dangerously addictive.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Even more snacks

Got a huge grab bag of Trinidadian snacks from Caribbean Export Co on Ebay – there’s so many things that I’m going to need to break this up into three posts!

Holiday Big Foot – This giant monster-foot shaped cheezies are really popular, they seem to be the snack from Trinidad. They’re enormous cheezies, with a big flavour – there’s garlic and paprika and a little bit of tang. These are really REALLY good. They also make spicy ones, I’d love to get my hands on them.

Charles Lunch – There is a LOT going on with this chocolate bar – it’s a multi-course Lunch! So, seems like it’s a wafer core, with caramel and chocolate, then a larger outside layer of chocolate with peanuts and toasted rice in it. It’s really good – there’s a lot of different textures, and they’re generous with the caramel.

Charles Tiki Gold Chocolate Bolt – I got several different flavours of Tiki Gold in my order, so I’m starting with “Chocolate Bolt” – straight up chocolate. It’s straightforward wafers coated in chocolate. The chocolate is pretty good, but feels a big underwhelming after the Lunch bar.

K’s Sweet Plums – A small bag of preserved plums. They’re very much like Japanese ume – slightly tart, slightly sweet, but they’ve also been preserved with some extra flavourings – there’s a little bit of spice at the end. Not bad – there’s apparently also a really spicy version, as well as other preserved fruits and chows.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: More snacks

Another batch of snacks from Trinidad and Tobago, again from local Caribbean groceries around Ottawa.

Caribbean Cool Sorrel Drink – I love hibiscus (aka sorrel / jamaica / roselle / bissap and a dozen more names). I thought this was just going to be a straight hibiscus juice, but it smells like Christmas spices! It’s sweet and has a really nice nutmeg / mace spice on top of the hibiscus. Turns out sorrel drinks across the Caribbean usually include spices like nutmeg, allspice, anise, cinnamon, or orange peel – and are often drunk around Christmas. It’s really tasty.

KC Candy Dinner Mints – These are your basic hard after-dinner mint, the kind that comes with the bill at restaurants, but they have a bit bigger cultural cachet – they’re the standard candy that’s often handed back instead of small change in corner stores in Trinidad, so they’re always on hand. They’re also good for flirting – their labels have romantic little messages on them – “I love you”, “Love will find a way”, “You are my everything”, etc.

Holiday Cheeze Stiks – I love cheezies in all their variations. These are kinda crunchy and with a different tasting coating – more like real cheese, almost aged cheddar and a mild gouda? Same bright orange dust all over my fingers, though!

Solo Banana – Solo is the pop brand in Trinidad, and there are a LOT of flavours – the Caribbean grocery store I went to had banana and cream soda on hand, so I went for the flavour that’s less common in Canada. There’s a connection between Canada and Trinidad through this pop – Solo’s branding came from buying the assets of a bankrupt Montreal beverage company during WWII, including shipping already-labelled bottles to Trinidad to use in production. As for the pop itself, it’s bright orange and smells like banana candy. It’s very sweet (almost too sweet), it does taste a bit like bubblegum or cream soda, with some artificial banana on top. It’s kinda similar to the Salvadorean Kolashanpan pop I tried a while back.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Snacks

There’s no dedicated Trinbagoan grocery in Ottawa, but there are a lot of Caribbean stores that carry products from Trinidad and Tobago! Both Kool Runnings and GB Caribbean Grocery had some finds.

Mauby – This is actually a Canadian-made brand of mauby, but I’m keeping my eyes open for imported Trinidadian brands like Mauby Fizzz. Mauby is a sweet drink, sometimes carbonated, sometimes fermented, made with bark from the mauby tree as well as other spices. The first sip is sweet and reminds me of gingerbread, with a very bitter and slightly vegetal aftertaste. Apparently it’s considered an acquired taste because of the bitterness, but I like it – it’s got the same kind of bitterness as bitter melon.

KC Candy Mango Chilli ChowChow is a Trinidadian dish of fruit, often unripe mangoes, with chilies and spices (it seems spiritually related to last month’s papaya salad). These little hard candies aim to replicate the flavour of chow – they start with a sweet and sour mango flavour, then some nice chili spice kicks in. I really like these, they’ve got some heat to them.

Charles Cheers – Cheers look a LOT like Smarties – they’re more brightly coloured, more like the Smarties I remember as a kid in the 90s. Cheers are pretty good, it’s a different chocolate – kind of reminds me of advent calendar or Easter bunny chocolate.

Addendum: I found the mauby I was looking for at M&J Tropical Supermarket!

Mauby Fizzz – Compared to the other mauby I tried, this one is less intense – it’s both less bitter and less overtly sweet – there’s the same lingering bitter herbal aftertaste though. The spice mix here is more subdued, there’s a nutmeg/cola-ish flavour, and I can also taste aniseed. It’s not bad!

PeardraxPeardrax (and its less popular sibling, Cydrax) was originally introduced in the UK in the 1960s century, but didn’t have staying power and completely stopped being sold there by 1988. However, it remains immensely popular in Trinidad and Tobago, so much so that all production of the drink moved to Trinidad after the UK business shut down, and in 2017 the company became Trinidadian-owned. It’s a fizzy pear-flavoured pop, almost more like carbonated pear juice. It’s got a very real pear taste, and it’s nice on it’s own, but it goes amazingly with dark rum.

THAILAND: Snacks galore!

Here’s the second half of my order from Thai Snack Online. I’m really looking forward to trying these – I saved the ones I was most excited about for last.

Roscela Milk Tablet – Little round tablets that taste like condensed milk – they have a consistency somewhere between chewable vitamins and freeze dried ice cream. They’re sweet but not too sweet – they’re new to me but I like them a lot!

Knorr Pork and Seaweed instant congee – Instant congee, just add water. Had it for breakfast one day, it’s not bad. It rehydrates a little watery, but with lots of flavour – nice and salty.

Taro Extreme Hot Cuttlefish – These dried fish strips are promising me extreme heat – let’s see if they deliver. They’ve got some sweetness, a fishy flavour, and yes, they are spicy! It’s not instant fire, instead the heat builds up for a good mouth burn.

Tawan Spicy Larb Tapioca Chips – Really nice texture to the chips, and it does have a lovely larb flavour – meat and lime and mint. Only mildly spicy, though, but very flavourful.

Tamarind House Tamarind 4 Tastes – More from Tamarind House, but this time it IS tamarind! Four flavour tamarind, to be exact – sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. It’s shelled tamarind with the seeds still inside, with a dusting of salt, sugar, and chili. Yum. I feel like I should be eating this outside so I can spit the seeds!

THAILAND: Even more snacks

Straight from the source – I put a big order in with Thai Snack Online, I’ll have to split it into two posts. They’ve got a really good selection, and the shipping to Canada was pretty fast and reasonable (though Canadian border services stopped it – thankfully they didn’t pinch any of my treats!)

Tamarind House Crispy Banana with Passionfruit – No actual tamarind in these – that’s the brand name. Dried banana chips with a bit of passionfruit jam in between them. These are delicious, they’re not too sweet but still feel like a great treat. I’d definitely re-order these.

Mama chicken instant noodles – Mama is the brand of instant noodles in Thailand – so much so that “Mama” has become a generic term, kind of like “Kleenex”. They’re good thin noodles, with a slightly spicy chicken broth. I added in some veggies and meat, but nothing else for flavourings.

Lays Cheese Burger chips – I love when a brand that sells really different flavours in other countries – Lays, KitKat, Fanta, etc. Thailand has cheeseburger chips! They smell really good, smokey and cheesy. They’re really tasty too, tastes like onion and well…a burger!

Sunsnack Sunflower Kernel Corn Cheese – I thought they would be something lie pretzel bites but these are actually sunflower seeds! They’ve got a savoury-sweet coating with a nutty flavour, and a mild cheese flavour. Really addictive.

Heart Beat Lime Soda candy – Heart-shaped hard candies with a sherbet filling. The hard candy tastes like lime, but in a tart, distinctly realistic way. The sherbet is also tart and slightly fizzy, it really does taste like a club soda with lime juice, but in candy format. I love these.