Category Archives: Grocery

Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Blog and Spam

Just a portion of the H Mart canned luncheon meat selection

Just a portion of the H Mart canned luncheon meat selection

The original plan was to taste-test Spam and various Spam “luncheon meat” knockoffs. Didn’t happen, couldn’t do it.  Even I have my limits (really!).  I’m not excited to eat any Spam, much less sample a bunch of secondary brands.  But a bunch of secondary brands exist, and I’m about to marvel at them, even if I don’t taste them.

First, a bit of context.  Spam can mean many things these days, but here we are talking about the food, or “food” — canned precooked meat product, if you prefer.  I used to think of Spam as a WWII cheap-GI-food product, and I guess it was, but it was invented pre-war in 1937 and really popularized afterward, especially in the South Pacific during U.S. occupation of various far-flung lands and islands. More at the useful Wikipedia entry for Spam, which in this case I think is probably reliable enough.

Spam tastes okay, I guess, if you like that kind of thing, and it should: a 3.5 ounce serving contains nearly half of the average human’s daily allotment of saturated fat, and nearly two-thirds of sodium.  The pasty-meat-byproduct texture is what stops me in my tracks, and also the aspic in which it is packed — reminds me of that time in 6th grade playing D&D when we were attacked by a gelatinous cube.  Also I have to force myself not to think of the provenance of the various ingredients, especially the (allegedly) chopped pork shoulder meat. But if the aspic is thoroughly wiped away and a slice of Spam is pan-fried, with a nice crisp crust forming on the outside, then maybe I could be convinced to eat it. Or maybe if someone competent made me some musubi.  Especially if they flew me to Hawaii first.  I will consume Spam in exchange for a Hawaii trip! Everybody has to draw a line in the sand sometime, and my Spam line is drawn in the hot white sands of the Hawaiian Islands.

Anyway, it continues to be popular, particularly in Asia, and a bunch of knockoffs are available, mostly choosing to call the product “luncheon meat” instead of “spiced ham” — you can still have your luncheon meat for breakfast or dinner, if you want.  Thanks to H Mart, many knockoffs are available right here in Wheaton, plus multiple flavors of actual Spam: Oven Roasted Turkey, Real Hormel Bacon, Black Pepper, Lite, 25% Less Sodium…so many choices of Spam.  Who knew?

But if one wanted to branch out, one could also try the generic luncheon meat offerings from such charming brands as Ligo, Fortune, Celebrity, Roxy, or Oriental Mascot. H Mart carries them all — seeing all the brands together on the shelf is what sparked this post.  I am having trouble understanding how the demand for off-brand canned precooked meat product could be so high that all these brands exist together.  It is possible these same cans have been sitting on the H Mart shelf for years, unpurchased, but I doubt it.  I think someone is buying them, and possibly eating them too. What else could you do with Spam?  Could you build a house out of it?  It may have good insulating properties, and probably a longer shelf life than vinyl siding.  I’m just speculating here.

For more on Spam, here is a recent post from Serious Eats.  And here is an older “post”…



A Few Words About Country Boy

I tried to think of a title playing off John Denver’s Thank God I’m A Country Boy but in fact I am not a country boy, I am at best ferally urbane, more likely just a recovering suburbanite. Also just not feeling it this morning. And so I gave up on a punny title.

However, thank goodness there is a Country Boy (Market), not really in Wheaton, but hidden up there in the northeast quadrant of Georgia-meets-Randolph (2211 Randolph), not that you can see it from either road, especially not from Georgia.  You have to use the force (or maybe just stretch out with your feelings, Luke) to zig zag across parking lot driveways and bad drivers flouting erstwhile one-way traffic patterns.  Or you can just follow the sweet stench of mulch.

Country Boy specializes in mulch, with good variety and reasonable prices.  If this were The Most Interesting Blog in the World (which clearly it is not), I might say that I don’t often buy mulch, but when I do, I go to Country Boy.  They have little bins out front where you can see the different kinds, you can touch it, sift it through your fingers, I suppose taste it if that’s your thing.*  And then you go inside, tell them what you want, don’t forget to pay for it! – and then one of their employees will load the mulch-bags into your vehicle.  Piece of cake mulch.

* We had a bottle of wine the other night that smelled a little mulchy, not in a bad way.  Terroir!

Other reasons to visit Country Boy: above-average beer selection, although with hit-or-miss pricing. Wine selection is not as good.  They carry a huge variety of delicious jarred food products from McCutcheons, a Frederick, Md. company specializing in apple and other fruit spreads, but also pickled things and salsas and whatnot.  They had me at pickled things.

CB also has plenty of fruits and veggies, of varying quality, but did not have any limes when last I visited a few weeks ago.  The Brussels sprouts were tasty but no substitute for limes (literally). But when the shopping list involves mulch and pickles and apple butter and beer, boy howdy, Country Boy is the place.

There is probably no truth to the rumor that John Denver opened for Led Zeppelin when they played Wheaton in 1969.  There is probably not even a rumor. Nevertheless:

It Came From H Mart: Tako Chips

Junichi the Hexapus says mmmm, Tako Chips

Jiro the Cannibal Hexapus?

There are many things to like about Octopus Flavored Tako Chips, made by our friends at Nongshim (“Taste NONGSHIM, Feel the Difference”) and available at H Mart.  Most of those things involve the adorable anthropomorphic octopus on the bag:

  • He is pink and cute;
  • He has an open-ended cylindrical nose like Q*Bert;
  • He has only six visible legs, making him a hexapus? He would not be the first;
  • He is wearing a mask and snorkel, which is supercute but raises a few questions, like (a) why does a hexapus need a snorkel, and (b) why does anyone need a snorkel underwater,* and (c) what does the hexapus think of octopus-shaped,** octopus-flavored snack foods?  Is he offended? Honored? Nonplussed? Is he a cannibal? Can’t tell from the bag, the snorkel and mask hide his expression and true intentions.

* bubbles are emerging from the snorkel, around the corner of the bag not pictured here, so we know we are down in the depths, rolling in the deep, with our friendly (?) pink hexapus

** the chips look more like Clyde, the orange ghost from Pac-Man, if he were wearing a girdle, slouching, and his mom accidentally bleached his sheet

not your mother's goldfish crackers

not your mother’s goldfish crackers

Tako chips do not appear to be made from actual octopus (or from tacos)*; they are wheat-based.  “Octopus flavor” is a listed ingredient, just behind whey powder and before paprika; I don’t know you get octopus flavor without extruding some octopus, but we get no details.  Yellow corvina, a fish, is also an ingredient.  I don’t think corvina tastes like octopus though.  So many questions.

* “tako” is the Japanese word for octopus and has nothing to do with the Mexican taco, although I bet somewhere around here someone is making delicious grilled octopus tacos, or should I say tako tacos.  Just to add to the confusion, there is an also-unrelated Peruvian dish called tacu tacu involving steak, rice, beans, plantain, and a fried egg, some fine examples of which can be obtained at multiple Wheaton Peruvian restaurants but none of which to my knowledge involve either tako or tacos.

What about the chips themselves?  It is my scientific duty to taste this stuff. There is a hint of octopus, or at least the sea (or the H Mart fish counter), in the nose, although if I weren’t already thinking about it I probably wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint it.  Mostly they just taste like bland, slightly salty wheat puffs. After an initial pleasing crunch they dissolve into nothing, like Pac-Man when he runs into Clyde. The tako chips might be a tolerable bar snack, paired with a crisp lager or pale ale.  I won’t be craving them.  But if I find out that Nongshim is giving away free plush pink snorkeling hexapi if you send them a dozen proofs-of-purchase, in that case, I would probably buy more bags.

The Other New(ish) Wheaton(ish) Grocery Store

I don’t know if Shalom Kosher is technically in Wheaton anymore, in its new(ish) digs in the Kemp Mill Shopping Center off Arcola (1361 Lamberton, officially), but it came from Wheaton, its sister Kosher foods purveyor Max’s is still in Wheaton, and it’s so close to Wheaton you can still smell the challah in the morning, so…close enough for me.

The new space is much larger than the old, allowing them to sell a range of products similar to, say, Safeway, only more kosher.  Maximally kosher, as far as I know.  Shalom has a pretty good selection of meats and poultry, although prices are on the high side (kosher isn’t free).  Fish selection is less good, and the produce section also seemed smaller than expected, though not bad, and they did have good quality limes at 6 for $1, so that’s a plus.

If you keep kosher — I don’t — Shalom Kosher must be a welcome, fantastic source of food.  Among other things, they feature an impressive selection of kosher wines, many from Israel.  As you might imagine, their selection of pork products and shellfish is more limited.  Overall, there are enough products that I want that they don’t carry, that I don’t expect to add them to my grocery store rotation.  But they’re still the local go-to source for challah (best french toast ever), and I suppose it is comforting to know that in the event of an Israeli shiraz emergency, I can get that too.

Wheaton Safeway is a Safeway

Wheaton Safeway has limes, so it must be okay

Wheaton Safeway has limes, so it must be okay

Now that our long local nightmare is over and the Wheaton Safeway is open, you may ask yourself, how is that new Safeway?  And you may say to yourself, my God, what have they done? Then again, maybe not.

Wheaton’s Safeway turns out to be perfectly Safeway in its Safewayness, with a few quirks.  First, I like the parking garage, spacious and well-signed and well-lit, but then again I have already heard complaints that it is too tight to navigate comfortably.  I had no trouble,* but it was mostly empty when I was parking. I don’t know if the garage will be big enough at busy times, and they need to work out some vertical kinks: the escalator, including the cart-mover, isn’t always working, and the elevators are spacious but the doors like to close before you’re fully past them, which seems dangerous but, who knows, maybe it’s part of Safeway’s master plan.

* Some fool did leave a cart right in the middle of one driving area, forcing me to take a longer route out — why do people have such trouble returning carts to appropriate places? Not an unusual occurance.  It’s things like that that make me hate people. 

The store itself is laid out unusually, with the deli (and Starbucks) immediately to the left inside the front doors, the checkout lines ahead and to the right, dairy and frozen foods immediately ahead, and the rest of the store continuing back.  Now that I’m typing it, it doesn’t seem so different than usual, but when you’re there it feels a little odd.  But the decor and the products and everything are exactly what one expects.

In these initial weeks, they’re overstaffed, offering lots of samples and being super-helpful.  We will see how long that lasts.  On one of my visits, the number of Starbucks employees (six) nearly exceeded the number of shoppers (in the whole store, not just Starbucks).  That may be the biggest danger with this store: I hope Safeway is prepared to be not super-busy for a while, until all those apartments above the Safeway are lived in and other Wheatonians internalize the fact that Safeway is open for business again.

Oh, and there are limes at the new Safeway, 4 for $1 (“Every Day!” allegedly), good price but mediocre quality, mostly small and hard.  Of course it is not currently lime season, and most other sources struggle from November through March.  Hung Phat remains the current lime go-t0 of choice.

That’s about it.  As Freud said: “Sometimes a Safeway is just a Safeway.”  Or if you prefer Gertrude Stein: “Safeway is Safeway is Safeway is Safeway.”  But would a Safeway by any other name still shop as sweet?  Okay, stopping now.  The important thing is, it’s there across from the Metro, shiny and clean and new, open 24 hours for Wheaton’s collective convenience. And now I will stop writing about it for a while.  Probably.

New Wheaton Safeway Opens, Gets the Led Out

dancing days are here again

dancing days are here again

Wheatonians of all ages were stunned Friday morning, not only by the renewed availability of citrus fruits, canned goods, and other sundries at the Georgia-Reedie intersection, but also (secondarily) by the unannounced reunion of the English rock band Led Zeppelin, who regrouped in a decreasingly quiet corner of the new Safeway for their first live show with John Bonham* since 1978 and their first concert in Wheaton since 1969.**

Zeppelin ripped through a short set of hits, starting with Celebration Day, ranging from Kashorkreditmir to Custard Pie to The Lime Song, and finishing with a blistering The Safeway Remains The Same (But Now With Starbucks Inside). MoCo Executive Ike Leggett joined the crowd of hundreds dancing throughout the shiny new store, uprooting shelf displays and causing cleanups on aisles 3, 7, and 9.

“I’m really just here for the photo op baked goods,” said Leggett, “but these guys sound pretty good, don’t they?”

Few had previously known the true extent of Zeppelin’s connection with Wheaton.  Aside from the legendary 1969 show at the Wheaton Youth Center, singer Robert Plant also noted, over the opening riff to Escalator to Heaven, that the classic song was originally inspired by a post-WYC-show, adrenaline-and-drug-fueled premonition of Wheaton Metro’s longest-in-the-Western Hemisphere trio of moving staircases, which were completed in 1990.

“I’ve been wanting to return to Wheaton for decades,” said Plant, “and finally there was a suitable occasion, with the opening of this fine modern supermarket.”

The band also unveiled a new song, Feral Urbane Blues, hastily written Thursday night over vegetarian kaprow and several cases of Singha in a back room at Ruan Thai.

“I always fondly remember our ’69 show in Wheaton. whether it really happened or not,” said guitarist Jimmy Page as he purchased a cup of pre-show mulligatawny from the Safeway deli. “Who’s to say? I mean it’s no Machynlleth, but still quite wonderful.  This soup is bloody tasty, innit?”

Plant and company refused to answer questions about possible other gigs, and after their performance the band was quickly swept by management into a large van in the Fern Street loading docks and whisked off to an undisclosed location.  MoCo and Safeway officials also refused to comment.

Nice to have a grocery store there again.

* I can’t explain it, but there he was in the dairy section, banging away on the skins, looking somewhat moldy and less manic than before, but otherwise no worse for wear.

** Just like Woodstock, and just like today’s Safeway show, you only remember it if you weren’t there.

Substantial reporting on this story was done by Mrs. Me, for which I thank her profusely; however, any factual inaccuracies are mine alone — though I don’t think you’ll find any.

Coming Already Safeway Swag

New Safeway, Free Stuff

New Safeway, Free Stuff

It is Safeway Week here at GEIW, how am I supposed to resist posting about the onslaught of swag appearing on my doorstep?  I am a sucker for swag. Coupon books upon coupon books, and today a FABULOUS NEW CAR reusable grocery bag, branded with the Wheaton Safeway at The Exchange logo.

But wait, there’s more: another coupon for ANOTHER FABULOUS NEW reusable grocery bag!  That’s two bags — NOW how much Wheaton Safeway at The Exchange shopping will I do?  Dunno about “will” but I am certainly well equipped in the event.  Well played, Safeway, well played.  Although the free bag coupon asks me “Have you checked out our new Safeway yet? There’s so much to explore and discover…” No, I have not, because it is not open yet.  Or should I be reading between the lines, breaking into the building and doing a little pre-shopping shopping?  I don’t think so.  So they’re ahead of themselves.   Must…wait…Friday…

All ready with the mood lighting

All ready with the mood lighting

I now have two copies of the fat Grand Opening coupon book.  One for Mrs. Me and one for me equals double the savings!  The coupons are pretty good actually, a bunch of free items with $20 purchase, which will be no problem.  I just hope they don’t immediately sell out of the potentially free items in the first few hours.  Rain checks are a pain.

Anyway.  Looking forward to the Friday grand opening, in spirit if not in person.