Fall, the season when early morning temperatures do precisely that, was in full force that day as we milled about, shuffling though the dry leaves that carpeted the playground of our grammar school. Donnie Coviello, an affable, cherubic kid, was happily munching on something he had stashed in a small, rumpled, brown paper bag. Curious as to its contents, I approached him.
“French burnt peanuts.”
“Ugh. If they’re burnt, why are you eating them?”
“No, they just call ’em that.” He showed me one of the bumpy red morsels. “They’re sort of candy coated peanuts.” I started to ask for a taste, but before I could pose the question, we both saw him coming towards us.
Dick Cruder was a couple of years older and at least a head taller than the rest of us. He had been “left back” a few times, and we had heard that he spent a year at the reformatory where he undoubtedly honed his bullying craft to lethal perfection — possibly the only lessons he had ever assiduously studied and subsequently mastered. Donnie clasped the bag closer and closer to his chest with each step that Cruder took as he swaggered nearer. He stopped just inside of our personal comfort zone. Actually, in Dick Cruder’s case, any distance within a ten block radius would have violated our personal comfort zone. His presence generally meant trouble.
Snatching the bag, he grabbed a fistful of its contents and crammed them into his gaping maw. His cheeks puffed out like a feeding chipmunk doing an impression of Dizzy Gillespie attacking a high C. He chewed and crunched, chomped and finally swallowed. Partially.
“Dem are good!” He exclaimed, emitting a fine spray of peanutty detritus.
Even as a kid, my mind boggled at this spectacular display of syntactic acrobatics. In retrospect, Dick Cruder made Rocky Balboa sound like William F. Buckley, Jr. It was rumored that his colorful butchery of the language sent Miss Wedge, our remedial reading teacher, packing off to the more bucolic — and presumably more semantically civilized — suburbs, in search of a transfer. The irony of the phrase “grammar school” still rings true.
He glommed another handful. “Dem Are GOOD!!” he repeated even more emphatically, his mouth still half full. He reached into the bag yet again, polishing off the remainder.
Now, lest you think that I am in some way putting Dick Cruder down, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. His formidable linguistic construction has stayed with me all these years, and I have pressed this gem into service on more than one occasion.
It works like this. Let’s say I find myself in the presence of an irresistibly munchworthy bag of diminutive delicacies surrounded by a modest group of people — normal people — who somehow possess the ability to withdraw one tiny treat, nibble at it daintily, and when offered more say, “No thanks. I’m good.” (Presumably, when God was passing out this talent, I had failed to get in line, probably enticed away by some satanic entity brandishing a bulging bag of goobers. But I digress.)
Craving more than a milligram of said treat, and not wishing to seem like the pig I am, my tactic involves animatedly recounting the preceding story and reaching into the bag to hook another handful at appropriate junctures in the narrative — strictly by way of illustration, of course. Amused and distracted by this tale of mangled phraseology, my companions never notice the fact that I am by the story’s end clutching enough of the goodies to have satisfied even Dick Cruder. And no one ever catches on to my porcine deception. (Right? Well, right??)
All of which brings me to the point of why I told you this story. Nagaraya Cracker Nuts. And wow — Dem Are GOOD!! Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you can’t help but eat the whole bag. All 900 calories of it. Now this is important: get the Original (Butter) Flavor. Or at least try that one first. I’ve sampled the Adobo, Garlic, Barbecue, and Hot & Spicy versions; they’re fine, but they don’t ascend to the stratum of unparalleled snackin’ nirvana that circumscribes the Dem Are Good quantum level.
Peanut-sized, the shape is somewhat lumpy; each one looks like it was formed by hand (see figure 1), but I can’t imagine that that’s the case. Now, picture that peanut covered with a light, crackly coating (see figure 2), a little salty, a little sweet, with a faint buttery flavor. (Note that butter is mentioned only on the back of the Original version and in the ingredients list.) That outer layer provides the initial eyeball-rattling crispness and yields immediately to the softer, satisfying crunch of the peanut itself. The chew is as significant to the success of this snack as is the flavor — which is outrageously delicious.
Simply put, they’re addictive (see figure 3). And the fact that they have neither transfat nor cholesterol means that they’re good for you! (Right? Well, right??)
Despite the Japanese name which is written in English and katakana on the front of the package, they are a product of the Philippines, and the other flavors (adobo, garlic, et al.) are typical of Filipino cuisine.
You can generally find them in Southeast Asian markets and in many Chinese grocery stores. Get a bag — or get two in case you finish the first on your way out of the store. I bet you’ll find yourself saying, “Dem Are GOOD!!”