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Posted on Mar 5, 2013 in Food | 9 comments

Hot Spot

Hi dee ho, neighbors, and happy Tuesday! Sorry I’ve been AWOL for a few days. Things have been seriously running away from me lately. Between book writing, sequestration-fretting, and helping my boyfriend Sean look at houses, it’s been a busy stretch! 2/3 things are good though, so in spite of the looming threat of cut work hours or worse (we haven’t been told yet how the sequester is affecting my contract specifically), I’m staying positive. You know how I do.

So in that light, I thought I would share with any of you local readers one of my favorite new finds! Sean and I stumbled upon this restaurant only a week or two ago, and I’m already obsessed. We’ve already been twice! It’s in Fairfax, VA, in the same little strip mall as our favorite branch of Bon Chon Chicken. Welcome to Hot Spot!

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Preface: I lived in Taipei, Taiwan for three years (grades 9 – 11) and one of my absolute favorite things about living there was, in fact, going to eat shabu shabu, or hot pot. Hot pot is like… Asian fondue. If you’ve ever been to the Melting Pot and eaten one of their entree courses, it’s pretty much the same thing (only at a much, much better price point, hahaha). You get served up raw foods that have been prepared for you — thinly sliced meats, pre-cut noodles, veggies galore, etc, and cook them yourselves at the table in a pot of boiling broth.

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Hot Spot is an all-you-can-eat sort of place, so they give you a little card where you can choose all the awesome stuffs you want, as well as the types of broths you’d like to cook in. They offer you a pot with a divider in the middle so you can choose two types — they offer plain shabu shabu, spicy variations and even a kimchi broth! Then, you just check off all the meats, veggies, and whatnot that you want, and they bring it to your table. Simple and easy.

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The first time Sean & I went here, we got the spicy broth and the herbal broth. When we took my parents here a week later, we got the spicy and the shabu shabu. Both times were awesome! Between our two visits I think we tried just about everything on the menu, but I really loved how this place not only serves ALL the meats and ALL the seafoods (seriously, scallops, clams, shrimp, fish, OCTOPUS — you name it, they’ve got it), but also fish/beef/shrimp balls, and lots of different kinds of tofu. It made it feel really authentic.

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So you toss the stuff in the pot, pull it out a minute later (it all cooks crazy fast), and go to town! By the time you reach the end of your meal, the broth itself is suuuuuper flavorful and delicious. I always get a raw egg at the end of the meal, poach it in the broth ’til it’s still runny-yolked, then break it into my bowl. The broth gets amazingly thick and delicious, and… aw man, mouth watering. Crap.

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Hot Spot also offers a pretty robust sauce bar. It’s equipped with all your basics — soy, hoisin, oyster, vinegar — and then some fancier options — sesame oil, chili sauces, ponzu. They also offer cilantro, chilis, green onion, minced onion, salt, sugar, sesame seeds, garlic, and more (!) to mix into the sauces. It’s fun to throw together some various combos, but honestly, most of the food doesn’t need it. I’d say equipping yourself with a little bowl of sriracha (if you like spicy) and a thing of hoisin sauce (my faaaave) is probably all you’d really need… though it definitely didn’t stop me from trying every available sauce, hehe.

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I haven’t been to too many other hot pot restaurants in the area, so part of the reason why I may be so in love with Hot Spot is simply due to nostalgia and lack of places to compare it to. That said, both times we went, our servers were SUPER friendly and attentive, and the general vibe of the place is really fun. It’s surprisingly young and modern, which is not what I would have expected from a good hot pot place. It felt really trendy. I think the owners are pretty young, and who knows, maybe hot pot is gonna be the next big thing!

The price is a little bit high — I think it was $22.99 per person? Which is fine for dinner but kind of expensive for lunch. Of course, as mentioned, it’s all you can eat, and they do provide a lot of higher-cost food options (all the aforementioned seafood). Plus, it’s totally customizable! If you wanted nothing but marinated beef and scallops for your meal, you could do that. They offer $2.50 beers during happy hour, too, which we found out by accident. It’s a LOT of fun for a group to dine together, provided you’re all okay with communal cooking and whatnot, of course, and it’s probably not the best choice for a group with mixed dietary preferences/exclusions. All that being said, obviously I LOVED this place and want to go back again and again and again. Like I said, tons of fun to go with a group — especially people who have never experienced hot pot before! Sean hadn’t before we went here, and I think I’ve made a believer out of him.

Have you ever eaten hot pot? If not, think you’d be willing to try? I know some people get a little icked out at the thought of communal eating situations, but I guess growing up eating Chinese food “family-style” my whole life — especially with my 80,000 uncles, aunts, and cousins at my grandparents’ house — really made that sort of thing a non-issue for me. If you live in the area, I HEARTILY recommend giving Hot Spot a try!

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Posted on Feb 18, 2013 in Food | 8 comments

Founding Farmers, Take 2

Happy President’s Day, everyone! I’ve got the day off, and thus have sworn to high heaven that I’ll be making use of my holiday by writing (we’ll see how well that goes), but for those of you who are stuck dredging away the day in the office, I’ve got some mouth-watering photos for ya.

As I mentioned in Friday’s post, I had dinner with my good friend Lauren from Oatmeal After Spinning, and my new friend Kelly from Kelly Fiore Writes on Saturday! Lauren and Kelly are best friends from high school, and while I’ve known Lauren for a while thanks to the mad and lovable world of blogging, I got to meet Kelly for the first time last weekend (at the Frederick Restaurant Week sneak peek).

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We dragged our significant others out to dinner to belated celebrate Lauren’s birthday, and to celebrate Kelly’s husband’s birthday. While I was obviously super excited to get to hang out with these lovely ladies (and their equally lovely husbands), I was admittedly a little hesitant as well. See, our dinner destination was the Montgomery County location of Founding Farmers, and some of you may already know that I had a pretty miserable experience at the original Founding Farmers in DC a couple years back. So even though I knew this was an entirely different location, I was still a little bit unsure of how the experience would go.

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Well, I’m happy to report that things went MUCH better this time around! It wasn’t an impeccable dining experience, service-wise, but it was like 10,000 steps up from what I experienced before. And since the food was indeed delicious, and the company was perfect, overall I really did end up having a great time. I started with a glass of Willamette Valley pinot noir (the best!) and we all shared a few of the small plate appetizers from FF’s extensive farm-to-table menu. (Seriously, I spent like 15 straight minutes poring over the menu–so many options that ALL appealed to me!)

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The selection of apps included housemade ranch popcorn, bread and dips (including this garlicky green goddess dip that I wanted to spoon directly into my mouth), and spicy pickled carrots. Lauren also ended up getting a thing of skillet corn bread with her meal, which ended up being my favorite thing on the table. Lots of real pieces of corn, and an epic honey butter (which was literally butter and honey combined in one little condiment cup, haha)… mmm, I’m drooling just thinking about it. Regretting not having snagged a picture.

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For my meal, I started out with a sample sized Farmer’s Salad, which included romaine, avocado, figs, cherry tomatoes, grapes, slivered almonds, olives, and a bit of parmesan cheese. Yum.

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Then, for my entree, I ordered the Lemon Meuniรจre Diver Scallops, which were delicious. I loooove scallops, so it’s pretty hard to screw them up for me, and these were garlicky and lemony and cooked very well.

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They were served with a butternut squash risotto in the middle, which ended up only being okay for me. While I loved the concept of the butternut squash in the risotto, there was just something off about the flavor–it had kind of a bitter aftertaste that I wasn’t expecting. Still, overall I enjoyed my plate a lot. And I also enjoyed the bites from Sean’s steak and enchilada dish that I stole, hehehe. Ultimately it was an awesome dinner out with friends, and certainly helped redeem Founding Farmers in my eyes–at least at the Maryland location.

Now I’m off to write! And if you’ll allow me just one li’l shameless plug before we part ways here, I do have a fun announcement: My book, Terra is currently on sale!!

Pick up a digital copy for your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or iPad/iPhone for just $3.99. Happy President’s Day!

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Posted on Feb 15, 2013 in Food | 10 comments

Kushi Sushi

Happy February 15th, friends! I realize it lacks some of the fanfare and pizzazz of February 14th, but hey, at least it’s Friday, right? And hopefully at least some of you are still riding the wave of a lovely Valentine’s Day–I know I am! Not to brag (even though I totally am), but I’m preeeetty sure I had the best Valentine’s Day ever.

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When we left off yesterday, I told you all that Sean had planned some big Valentine’s surprise dinner, and wouldn’t tell me where we were going. And I expressed my love-hate relationship with surprises (mostly love, I’m just really impatient, haha), and my anticipation over where we were going. Well, as I found out about an hour before we left for dinner, our destination was…

KUSHI!

Kushi is a sushi restaurant in downtown DC that I have wanted to go to for FOREVER, and never had. I was SO excited to get to finally try it out. But before we were off to dinner, Sean had another surprise for me first:

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The generous son of a gun got me a Michael Kors watch and roses for Valentine’s Day! Ughhhhh, why is he so good to meeeeee? I LOVE it. I’ve had an MK watch on my wishlist for a loooong time (no, like, literally on my Amazon wishlist) and while the one I originally had on there is not available any more, Sean picked this beauty out for me. And that makes me love it even more, because he chose it himself! Eeeeee, my first fancy watch! I feel like such a grown-up. Though I am just realizing that talking about this makes me seem more like a spoiled teenager than an adult… and I don’t care. ๐Ÿ˜€

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My preeeeciousssss…

What was I talking about? Oh, right, dinner. Heh. So! New bling dangling off my wrist (I need to get a few links removed for it to fit properly, but I couldn’t NOT wear it!) and off we went to Kushi.

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I started off with a Sake Blossom cocktail while we were waiting to be seated. It included lime juice, sake, St. Germaine’s (I still don’t know what this is, haha), and vodka. Needless to say, it was entirely too delicious (spoiler alert: I got kinda drunk last night, bahaha). Then we were seated–admittedly, the seating in this restaurant doesn’t give off a super romantic vibe because everything is set up VERY close together, but I didn’t really mind.

Because it was a special occasion, and also because it was the first time there for both of us, we both opted for Kushi’s Tasting Menu rather than ordering things a la carte. (Apologies for all the iPhone photos, but I just didn’t really feel like dragging my giant DSLR around with me on Valentine’s Day, haha.)

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The tasting menu includes a sampling of basically all the various food types that Kushi offers. While they obviously do have sushi on the menu (thank goodness), the restaurant’s real “thing” is Yakitori–grilled meats and vegetables on skewers. It’s essentially classed-up Japanese street food. The menu started out with some sake (see where that whole “I got drunk” thing comes in?) and then a choice between three appetizers. Both Sean and I opted for the spicy peel-and-eat shrimp. Then, we both got to choose two kinds of yakitori from the menu.

We chose all different yakitori types so we could try the highest number of items, of course (love working as a team!) and got the pork belly (amazing!), duck with scallion (delicious!), pheasant sausage (the surprise winner–SO good!), and a rather lackluster chicken with plum sauce. Despite the chicken being disappointing, the other three were absolutely scrumptious.

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After the yakitori we were served some miso soup, which was good but pretty standard, and then… a sushi sampling! The sushi at Kushi (heh, that’s fun to say) was very fresh — I was very excited to see how thick the salmon sashimi was, because it’s my faaaaaavorite (it’s like buttah). We also got tuna and yellowfish nigiri, and three pieces of a wasabi scallop roll. The sushi was very good, although I almost wish it had been a little bit more of an adventurous selection, given that we weren’t able to pick the kinds of sushi included in the tasting menu. Even so, this was definitely my favorite part of the meal because, well, sushi is my favorite thing ever. Duh.

We were given an option between three things for the main entree of the meal. I opted for the hangar steak, while Sean got the pork tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet). My steak was cooked very well (medium-rare, even though they didn’t ask how I’d like it cooked) and had a really smokey flavor, but I actually liked Sean’s more. The pork was just so juicy! I got a salad on the side, and Sean got Japanese fried rice. They also both weirdly came with some kind of Asian potato salad, which was good in a culturally jarring kind of way, hahaha.

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Oh, before I forget, we also ordered one a la carte item off of the menu in addition to the tasting menu. As soon as I saw they carried a brussels sprout dish, you know I HAD to get it! It was advertised as being cooked with garlic butter, but I have to admit that these were pretty disappointing. They were smokey, but otherwise seemed unseasoned. Sean said he liked mine much better, hehehe. Still, I never regret ordering brussels sprouts, so all’s well that ends well, I guess!

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For the last part of the tasting menu, dessert was included. We were offered two gelatos or a bowl of seasonal fruit, and since I made the unfortunate decision to give up sweets for Lent, I was forced to go with the fruit option. I was actually kind of looking forward to it… until it arrived. Instead of a bowl of different fruits, which you kind of would assume based on the wording, I got one giant bowl of cantaloupe. So, I basically ate an entire cantaloupe for dessert, hahaha. Not the granded cap on a good meal, but oh well.

So! Overall I really did enjoy my meal at Kushi. I’m glad we did the tasting menu and I got to sample a bit of everything, but I think I might have built it up in my head a little bit much though, because I wasn’t utterly blown away by it all. The service was good–I really liked our waitress–and almost all the food came out in a very timely way, with the exception of our main entrees. If I lived closer, I might want to go back for more yakitori (that pheasant sausage really was insanely good!) but I will be sticking to my beloved Koi Koi for my sushi cravings.

So there we go: my epic and romantic Valentine’s Day celebration, complete with good food, an entirely-too-generous gift, and quality time spent with my love. Cheesy, I know, but so am I so… suck it up. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the final good thing to come out of this, which is that when I awoke this morning–blessedly NOT hungover, huzzah!–my makeup still looked totally boss. Hence, the whole happy February 15th jazz from the beginning of this post, hahaha. Never doubt the utility of a good eyeshadow primer!

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This makeup brought to you by last night.

I hope you all had a wonderful V-Day, and will have an equally wonderful weekend! Tomorrow evening, I’m meeting back up with the fabulous Lauren from Oatmeal After Spinning, and Kelly from Kelly Fiore Writes (who I met for the first time last weekend at the Frederick Restaurant Week sneak peek) and we’re going to Founding Farmers in Bethesda. I had a not-so-great experience at the Founding Farmers in DC when I went there for my birthday a few years back, but I am excited to give this location a shot!

<3 <3 <3

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Posted on May 10, 2012 in Food, Reviews | 15 comments

Chasin’ Tails

Happy Vampire Diaries Day Thursday, everyone! Today is a particularly bittersweet one, because it holds the much-anticipated and much-feared season finale of my beloved TVD. This is a show that KNOWS how to do a season finale (I still remember yelling at my TV after the first season finale), so I’m already nervous about what’s going to happen and who they’re going to kill off. Eeep!

In other, non-teenager related news, I got to have a super fun dining experience last night! I met up with the fantastic Kate last night, marking our first foray into real-life interaction. We’ve been blog buddies for a while, and live so close to each other that we finally realized we had no excuse not to get together! The two of us met up at Chasin’ Tails, a Cajun/New Orleans-style seafood restaurant in Falls Church/Arlington (On 29, where the Bear Rock Cafe used to be, if you’re familiar with the area).

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We are having crawfish, woman, not HAM. Tsk.

Their motto? “No plates, no forks, no rules.” It’s quite apt, since they just bring your order in a big bag, which you then dump onto your paper-lined table and knock yourselves out. It was very reminiscent of those crab boil places in Ocean City where you sit at a table lined with brown paper, you get a bib and a hammar, and they just dump a bucket of crabs in front of you. It always makes for a fun, if rather messy, dining experience! Chasin’ Tails also gives you a big metal bucket to dump your trash in, as well as a roll of paper towels that was WELL UTILIZED.

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Their menu concept is pretty simple: the main feature is the “Bayou N’ A Bag”, where you pick your seafood (crawfish, shrimp, crab legs, lobster, mussels, clams, etc) in 1 lb. amounts (no half-pounds), pick a sauce (cajun, lemon-pepper, garlic butter, or the whole shebang which combines all three), and pick your spiciness level. They also have a bunch of fried side items and appetizers, and serve gumbo and jambalaya as well (you get a spoon for those, haha).

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We ordered a pound of crawfish (it was both of our first time trying it!) and mussels, the former done cajun style, and the latter done in the “Whole Shebang” sauce. We got them both medium spicy, and we are SO glad we did. The spice really built up, so I can’t even imagine how hot “Hot” is… let alone “Nawlins Hot”, which was the top level of spicy you could order. ::shudder::

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Each bag came with a little cob of corn, a slice of andouille sausage, and a baby potato in them as well. They were both SUPER delicious! We had to get our waitress to show us how to eat the crawfish (is it pronounced craw-fish or cray-fish?), which looked to me like the mutant lovechild of a lobster and a shrimp.

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Right??

I was initially wary of trying “mud bugs”, as they are apparently called sometimes, though I’m not really sure why? I guess I just don’t love eating anything that really looks like an animal… which I’m sure is making all of my vegetarian readers shake their heads in shame. Turns out that I really had no reason to be squeamish – they’re easy and you really get used to the spindly legs and whatnot. The process for eating them evidently goes like this: Pull the tail and head apart, suck the juice out of the head, then pull the meat out of the tail!

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Kate, proud of her handiwork! ๐Ÿ™‚

The meat from the tail tasted just like shrimp to me, though perhaps a little less delicate in texture. Really yummy, though I’m not sure I would eat it again for the meat itself. I think it was more about the experience. Otherwise, it’s a lot of work for very little meat!

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Neither of us had a very good concept of how much was appropriate to order, and it turned out that the seafood alone didn’t end up being too much. After all, it’s not like you’re really eating and entire pound of seafood MEAT, the pound includes the weight of the shells/casings/whatever. So I think that ordering three lbs of the seafood dishes between two people would be a good amount (so there would be 1 1/2 pounds each, that way).

We ended up ordering a couple of side items halfway through our seafood chow-down because I could tell that it wasn’t going to be enough. Chasin’ Tails doesn’t really have any non-fried side items though, other than the corn and stuff that comes in the seafood bags, so in the future I’ll definitely make sure I order enough of the main dishes to go around.

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Kate and I ended up splitting an order of the cajun fries and six chicken wings, both of which were incredibly delicious but obviously super fried and terrible for you, hahaha. Our waitress was really talking up the wings and sold me on trying them. Three wings for each of us isn’t TOO bad, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

I would definitely come back here. It’s a pretty unique restaurant for this area, and while I’ve never been to New Orleans, or really had THAT much experience with cajun food, it all seemed pretty delicious to me! I think it would be super fun to take a bigger group of people to, so you can all get different kinds of seafoods to share. The food was flavorful (the Whole Shebang sauce was epic!), our waitress was really nice, and they definitely know what they’re doing in terms of spiciness. My recommendation would be to order conservatively on the spice level if you’re at all wary about it.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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Posted on Apr 30, 2012 in Dear Diary, Food, Reviews | 11 comments

Hikaru Sushi

Hi-dee-ho there, neighborinos! Happy Monday! Or, as I usually say instead, “It’s Monday.” I hope that everyone had a great, relaxing weekend. Mine was a little more low-key than they have been lately, which was actually pretty wonderful. I spent some time with the fam, Sean got me thoroughly engrossed in an amazing video game (Heavy Rain, I know I’m late to the party), and I got to spend Sunday afternoon with FOUR doggies at the Shirlington Dog Park (Harry, Daxter, their cousin Oreo, AND his friend Casey that my sister is dogsitting!). My boys even ventured into the stream next to the park for the first time. I was very proud.

My weekend kicked off, however, with a new (to me) restaurant and some wonderful company. I met up with my Freshman year roommate, Joanna, and her twin sister Aileen (you might recognize them from my Harry Potter birthday party a couple weeks ago) for dinner at Hikaru Sushi!

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Me & Jo

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Aileen!

Since you know I am ALWAYS game to test out new sushi places (and size them up against my beloved Koi Koi, hehe), I was really excited when Aileen suggested this place. Hikaru is a cute little place located in Arlington right near the Courthouse AMC Movie Theatre.

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I think there was a little bit of a mix-up about who our server was supposed to be at first, but eventually we ordered some sake and all was right in the world, hehe.

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We also shared an order of edamame (which was a HUGE plate — great value, IMO!) to start, and Jo and I got seaweed salads as well. Nom.

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As for the sushi list itself, I had a really hard time deciding! They definitely had a lot of really interesting specialty rolls. The pricing for their specialty rolls was a little bit higher than Koi Koi, but other than that I thought that their offerings were really comparable.

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I ended up going with the Eel Cucumber roll (love me some unagi!) and the Fruity Maki roll, which had mango, apple, and avocado inside (as well as being wrapped in avocado). It was SUPER delicious! The fruity roll was really refreshing, almost like dessert sushi. Now that is something I can CERTAINLY get on board with!

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One touch that I really loved about this place is that when they brought out our check, they gave us each a little box of this Asian gum. This was hugely nostalgic for me, because I used to get this gum all the time whenever I would accompany my mom to the Asian grocery store. I would always beg for it when we got to the register, as I did with all the other crap I had thrown into the cart as we went down each ridiculously tiny aisle. Pocky sticks, strawberry koalas, these little candy discs that my sister and I called “pepperonis”, and VitaSoy boxes were my jam. (Hmm, I think I need to take a trip to Great Wall soon…)

Is there any particular food or candy that is particularly nostalgic for you? In addition to my strange (read: awesome!) Asian candy obsessions, I also have a very special place in my heart for Kinder Eggs, which remind of my elementary school days in Warsaw, Poland. I would bike down our cobblestone street to the convenience shop on the corner, spend my allowance on an egg or two, and kept a whole little collection of the toys you find inside.

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