When you go to Chinatown, you're morally obligated to buy strange and unfamiliar goods, then decipher (and eat) them back home. It's Chinatown Roulette!
Over the weekend I was poking around New York Supermarket, looking for roasted peanuts. While that didn't work out, I did find an incredible alternative: Bamboo Charcoal Peanuts.
I've dealt with enough foreign-language packaging to know a mistranslation when I see one. What could have been turned into "bamboo charcoal," though? Maybe they were roasted in a bamboo fire or something, who knows. I turned the package over and checked out the ingredients:
#3 ingredient? Bamboo charcoal powder. Well, then. Bamboo charcoal peanuts it is.
Chinatown Roulette engaged: consider it purchased.
I understand we're all trying to be healthy these days. Avoiding sugar, quitting smoking, going for a 15 mile run every morning. But I'll be damned if sometimes you don't just want to rip into a container of peanuts covered in the burned remnants of bamboo.
Crazy logo man agrees! He is begging to be eaten. Look at those little peanut cheeks! That coaly, rotund body! Just makes me want to eat him up.
And in case you were curious about the little badge, M.I.T. means Made In Taiwan. Unfortunately these snacks were not made in Boston out of futuristic bamboo-charcoal technology.
Before we dig in, let's take a moment to talk about bamboo charcoal.
The facts: bamboo charcoal is made out of five-year-old bamboo, burnt at around 800°C. It's great at absorbing things like odors, moisture and inorganic compounds. You'll find it used as an air filter, water filter, ground-things filter, everything-filter.
If your office is missing a certain je ne sais quois, Amazon is offering decorative bamboo charcoal for all your air-filtering needs. Burned plants are better than dead plants.
Bamboo charcoal is leagues move impressive than other types of charcoal: it's so famous and amazing that is has its own Wikipedia page!
Down under the "Popular culture" section is a mention of the Japanese animated show Yakitate!! Japan, which is about a kid's quest to create a national bread for Japan. The 29th episode is all about bamboo charcoal, you say? Must be watched, immediately.
And I was not let down! An evil bakery rips off the diet bread recipe of the good guys, who then counter with a bamboo charcoal bread. [SPOILER ALERT] The bad guys are left in tears at its flavorful beauty. Somewhere in there they also manage a giant robot battle. If you've got a half-hour to burn you can watch the episode right over here.
Looking around for real-life food uses of bamboo charcoal, you get a lot more than you'd expect. I've found charcoal in Japanese desserts, real-life charcoal bread, and a restaurant in Vancouver that has bamboo charcoal ramen.
Bamboo charcoal ramen image courtesy sinu_renka on Flickr
Please please please donate some charcoal ramen to your poor neighbors to the south.
Love, New York City
But enough with the facts, let's get back to the taste test.
Once you open the (resealable!) package, you're greeted by a dozen or so tiny adorable packages. Perfect for unsuspecting trick or treaters!
It's time to eat, though, so let's break these puppies open.
Bamboo charcoal peanuts look just about like you'd expect bamboo charcoal peanuts to look. Peanut-sized rocks, covered in charcoal.
The peanut's hidden right inside.
Simply put, they're great. When you put them in your mouth you have a split-second of charcoal texture, but it quickly fades away into just being a slightly sweet peanut treat.
It doesn't taste like you'd expect charcoal to taste, and although a character in Yakitate!! Japan says this is due to roasting at such high temperatures, I'm guessing there's also a lot more wheat flour in there than bamboo charcoal.
After some arm twisting I got coworkers and roommates to try them out, and the approval isn't some strange burnt-food fetish of mine: everyone likes these.
They are delicious. They are great. They are made out of bamboo charcoal.
PRODUCT: Bamboo Charcoal Peanuts from New York Supermarket (75 East Broadway, Manhattan)
VERDICT: Pretty awesome.