You Say Gnetum, I Say Gnemon – Let’s Call the Whole Thing Oats

Gnetum GnemonMy interminable quest to discover the ultimate ethnic crunchy snack led me to Top Line Supermarket at 81-37 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens. (Interminable, by the way, because there are so many outrageously good ethnic crunchies out there that there will clearly never be Just One Ultimate, thus making it a delightfully sisyphean task.) Indonesian ingredients are not that easy to come by around these parts, but Top Line arguably offers the best concentration of Indonesian and Malaysian items in NYC. (Got a better one, ethnofoodies? Let me know!)

Quick vocabulary lesson:

  • Gnetum gnemon — a plant (actually a tree) native to southeast Asia, known in Indonesian as melinjo or belinjo, and in English as padi oats or paddy oats. The seeds are ground into flour and used to make:
  • Emping — chips that are very popular in Indonesia (along with many other varieties of crackers generically called krupuk). They are available in a number of varieties including:
  • Manis — sweet; Pedas — spicy; and Madu — honey.

There. Now you can translate the packages as well as I can.

What are they like? Wonderful, obviously, or I wouldn’t be telling you about them. More crunchy than crispy, a little sticky right out of the package. Of the two varieties I found available under the Kukagumi brand, I like the sweet/spicy combo a little better than the honey version, but I do tend to favor spicy in general. The heat level of the pedas was within the bounds of my co-conspirators that day (some of whom draw the line at wasabi peas to give you a comparative frame of reference). Padi oats have a slight bitter, but not at all unpleasant, aftertaste. They’re not really “oatey” in the Cheerios sense since they’re another species, but they’re more like oats than corn or wheat since there’s a satisfying nuttiness to them. The Rotary brand offers larger pieces that are seasoned less heavy-handedly – a little less spicy and a little less sweet than Kukagumi. Perhaps even a little more sophisticated than Kukagumi, it allowed the flavor of the padi oats to come through with more definition. And I recently discovered Zona brand emping pedas camouflaged in loopy, orange and red Western style packaging. Crisper than Kukagumi and Rotary, their sweet spiciness is akin to Shark brand Sriracha (the Thai Sriracha). All three brands are excellent choices.

These are ready-to-eat, but a version that requires deep frying first is also available.

If you don’t feel like venturing into Elmhurst, there’s always Amazon for Spicy Gnetum Gnemon (Emping Manis Pedas) or Honey Gnetum Gnemon (Emping Manis Madu).

Gnetum gnemon — Eat ’em: get ’em!

 

 

Chechil – Smokey for Beer

Eight minutes. That was all the time I had before I was scheduled to meet my friend in Sunnyside for a nearby foodie event. The choice: I could simply neutralize this slice of time and wait outside the frenetic smack-in-the-middle-of-Queens-Boulevard subway entrance savoring the malodorous traffic fumes, or I could prowl around. But what could I ferret out in eight minutes?

Twenty seconds and half a block later I found Superior Market/Beer World. The store was bursting with craft beers from around the world — but that’s not the kind of thing I usually write about on these pages. A quick glance around the place and I realized I was on familiar Russian turf: some prepared foods, fresh baked goods, the usual suspects, and a lot of non-Russian products as well to satisfy their mixed clientele. With that cursory inspection and only a few minutes to spare, I found nothing special to tell you about, so I was about to leave empty handed. But something I had never seen before caught my eye as I passed the refrigerator case on my way to the door.

The vacuum packed pouch revealed what looked a bit like a bundle of short thin ropes about 4 inches in length. I picked my way through the Cyrillic text on the label. The first line was easy: СЫР – cheese. The second (hyphenated) line began with Чечил. I sounded it out: Chechil. I had no idea. Then the next word. I struggled with the Russian script: you think you’re seeing “cnazemmu” but what looks like a “c” sounds like “s”, what looks like an “n” is a “p”, “z” is “g”, “m” is “t” and that “u” is actually a lower case version of the letter that looks like a backwards N, so it must be – s, p, a, g, e, t, t, i? Really? But yes, that’s the second part of that line – spaghetti. (Well, it did look like spaghetti in sort of a dwarfed, tannish way.)
Chechil PackageChechil

Hurriedly, I bought a pack and plunged into my research as soon as I returned home. I pulled off a string; it came apart in shreds. Very smoky. Certainly salty. Almost aged mozzarella-ish but much drier. Rather chewy. Delicious. I wondered if it would melt: I peeled off another strip. Nope. Not in the microwave, at least. After only a couple of seconds in the belly of that magnetron beast, it became even drier and oddly bubbly in a freakish sort of way but nothing I would call melted. (Should have tried a more conventional approach. Well, there’s always next time.)
Chechil ShreddedChechil Bubble Burst

I hit the interwebs and discovered that I was enjoying Smoked Chechil Beer Snack. (The third line on the label means smoked.) Ah — this Russian cheese is destined to be savored with beer, the featured product of the eponymous Beer World. Its roots are in Armenia but it’s popular throughout Central Asia and Russia. Larger hunks of this cow’s milk pasta filata cheese (which is why it reminded me of mozzarella) are typically braided into a figure 8, this being a small snippet from one of those skeins.

So this Russian string cheese is described as “spaghetti” which is the diminutive plural of spago in Italian which means “string”.

And that ties it all together.
 
 
Found at Superior Market/Beer World
40-08 Queens Blvd.
Long Island City, NY