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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Trader Joe's Roasted Plantain Chips

I like how certain types of food can remind one of particular times or places, Whether it's a slice of good pizza that makes you think of that place in Brooklyn or Chicago, a good crab cake that brings to mind Baltimore, or for me, Ramen noodles (or anything like them on the rare occasions I still eat them) reminding me of malnourished collegiate days gone by, it's just a cool thing that food easily does to tie things together and connect them.

Whenever I have anything with plantains, I think immediately of my trip back in '03 to the dry coastal region of Peru for a college missions trip. Literally every morning we had fried plantains for breakfast (along with healthy doses of Inca Kola, which if you're not familiar with it, looks like Mountain Dew and tastes like Bazooka Joe), which you think would get old but surprisingly didn't. I loved it, and I've tried and failed miserably several times since to make them Peruvian style at home. Still, when I do, I like to think of the week I spent getting my butt handed to me by a bunch of 10-year old futbolistos on the hard soccer courts and teaching them all sorts of English words, up to and including "poop."

Anyways, when I saw a tall bag of Trader Joe's Roasted Plantain Chips for $1.69, I figured they were worth a munch and crunch. I knew they wouldn't replace my long-gone Peruvian pleasures (after all, those were more plank-like while these are chips), but hey, you do what you can. And you know what? They're pretty decent. If you're not familiar with plantains, think of them as kinda starchier, semi-potatoey bananas. That's about the best explanation I got. The texture of them still comes across well even after being fried in sunflower oil - think banana chips but less waxy with a softer crunch, like if they got crossed with a ruffled potato chip. Tastewise, they're more or less on the money. The chips definitely taste a little roasty, a little nutty, a little earthy, and also a little saltier then I'd think by glancing at the nutritional rundown. And really, just a regular handful of them go a long ways towards satisfying a rumbly in the tumbly. I've had other plantain chips that seemed more potato chip like than these guys, so I guess the TJ plantains are a little truer than most, which I appreciate.

Sandy's not quite as enamored with them as I am. She took a small handful and chomped them down, but afterwards said something to the effect of general indifference towards them. "I mean, I'd eat them if they were around, but give me a choice between these and potato chips, I'd take the regular chips," she said. She's going with a three. Me? I like them, they make a great on-the-sly office cubicle snack (especially if you work in an office with at least one rampant lunch thief, like my workplace*), and I'll give them extra credit for the lemur on the package and the fact that these were made in Peru. It's probably a notch or two high, but dangit, these get a 4.5 from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Roasted Plantain Chips: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
*Someone seriously stole my homemade chili for which my niece gave me the mix for my Christmas present. Seriously, wtf? I'll take the high road and assume they needed food more than I do, but still, I think they should get one of these.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Trader Ming's Chicken & Vegetable Wonton Soup

This wonton soup isn't quite up to par with wonton from a good Chinese restaurant. It's certainly not bad, though. Again, we're talking about something that's ready in minutes in the microwave, and since there are very few other frozen grocery store versions of this type of dish, we wind up comparing it with restaurant food—which, of course, gives the Trader Joe's product a distinct disadvantage. Poor TJ's.

But quite often, their frozen dishes somehow find themselves in the same league as restaurant-quality foods. This happy little bowl of Asian soup is definitely much better than something I'd expect from a frozen microwave dish, but it's not quite as good as soup I'd expect from the local Chinese place (the good local Chinese place, not the sketchy place on the corner that's been shut down for selling cat-meat).

The wontons were actually the best part of this stuff. I can tell there's actually some chicken in the dumplings, and I've no complaints about the dough. The broth is what you'd expect - probably the hardest aspect of the soup to screw up: it's salty and a little miso-esque. What I thought fell a little short of the mark were the vegetables. They simply tasted like they had recently been frozen...which of course, they had, but because we know TJ's can do the impossible, we want them to do it all of the time. The veggies certainly weren't bad, but they just didn't taste fresh to me. Perhaps a slightly different array of greens would allow its recent frozenness to be masked a bit more by the salty broth and microwave magic. It seems to me that it's a bit difficult to mask an unfresh pod of peas. They're sooo tasty when they're fresh...and just so...mediocre when they're not.

Sonia gives it a 3. I'm torn between a 3 and a 3.5. But I think I'll go with a 3.5, just because TJ's used the name "Trader Ming" and not just plain old "Trader Joe." I like it when they use those unique ethnic names. They should use them more often.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 stars.

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