Cookies from The Other Side of the World

In the pantry sits a red box with golden writing I can't understand.

Some friends of the family brought it back from their trip to Beijing.  Inside are dozens of little, separately packaged cookies.  We gave the cookies a taste test when those friends came over (for a homemade pizza party. see @theblerghblog).

Although we couldn't read the labels, we bravely sampled the cookies.  They were beautiful, intricate designs in the flaky dough, and sprinkled with various seeds of which we had never seen.  Inside each cookie was a chewy paste- ugh, that's a horrible way to describe it.  Imagine a chewy paste, but with words that make it sound like it tastes good.

We had no idea what was inside any of them, although I thought that one was an almond paste flavored with matcha.  In the back of my mind, I knew that was inaccurate, since matcha is Japanese, not Chinese.  I won't bore you with the details of every single cookie we tried, because it seemed like each one was a little different from the next and you would probably fall asleep.

In school this past week, I learned about how Europeans, hundreds of years ago, wanted to travel to Asia to get Asian spices.  They were desperate to add that flavor to their food.

Here we sit in modern day America/Middle Earth/wherever you are, with access not only to spices but to sugars, salts, and herbs, and the science of artificial sweeteners that can make anything taste like anything.

That night last week, most of the people who tried the cookies thought they were tasteless.  Not to say that they went to waste!  They were shared by friends around a dinner table on a Saturday night, the windows black and rain-speckled, the home lit up with yellow light and the brightest genuine laughter.

I didn't think they were tasteless- in fact, I really like the cookies.  Maybe that's just because I'm endlessly an optimist, loath to find fault.  But I honestly did think that the quiet and gentle flavors were lovely, and all the more so when paired with a cup of herbal tea.
Later that night, we contacted an acquaintance, who translated the labels on the box from Chinese to English.  That sounds so professional.  I should mention that the acquaintance is my sister's beau, who happens to be proficient in Chinese.  Here is what he translated:

"Beijing Eight Flavor cookies are specialty flavored pastries of the Forbidden City.  Originating in the Qing Dynasty imperial court kitchen, the recipe eventually spread to the common people as well.  The eight fillings are made of jujube, raisin, green plum, rose, sweetened bean paste, sugar, banana, and prickly ash with salt, while the pastry shells are made simply out of water, oil, and flour.  Traditionally the pastries were formed into different shapes resembling flattened disks, stars, grape leaves, S's, kidneys, peaches, or ovals.  These cookies embrace scholarly values and imperial dignity, and have become the first choice souvenir of people who visit the Forbidden city."

What's jujube?  I had only ever heard of it in Candy Land.  Wikipedia told me it's a kind of date.  And prickly ash?  My sister looked it up.  It's Sichuan pepper. Interesting.

What one person treasures, another feels only ambivalence for.  I don't mean to be deep.  While we should take into consideration that these cookies were made for tourists, I still think it's really cool that tastes on opposite sides of the world are so different.  I wonder if people from China would think that American cookies are too sweet.

We're pretty sure this was the Sichuan pepper one.
If you've ever been across the planet (and I know that at least one of my five readers has), what did you notice about the food and ingredients?  How were they different from your "norm"?  Comment and tell me about it, because for every comment on this post, I will do a happy dance, and you will know that you made someone happy for acknowledging the existence of their blog.

Also, follow @theblerghblog because now it has more posts than followers and that's downright embarrassing.

World peace and love,

Heather <3

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