Ukraininian Sushi

Spyware and construction contractors are very bad for my health. For instance, recently, the contractor who renovated my apartment asked for my help with cleaning out yet another spyware infestation. To express his gratitude he gave me a present that his sister brought with her from her trip to Ukraine. A piece of genuine Ukrainian salo.

Salo is an Eastern European staple that for some strange reason is virtually unknown in the West. Wikipedia describes it as salted slabs of pork underskin fat. It’s not really bacon – salo mostly consist of unrendered fat (bacon has more meat) and can be eaten raw.

If you’ve never had salo, it’s most similar to the taste and texture of little pieces of fat found in some harder kielbasas. In its fried form salo resembles bacon and pork rinds, except it’s much tastier. Also, you really can’t make exceptional borscht or fried sunflower seeds without high quality salo.

Here’s a piece (Ukr. “shmatok”) of salo on my official Jamie Oliver cutting board. I used my sashimi knife to cut it into thin slices – the best way to eat, in my opinion.

It’s kind of hard to describe the taste and texture of Ukrainian salo. The texture of it is hard, yet it melts on your tongue. It’s salty, fatty, garlicky. Your caveman instincts make your brain fire “wow, inhale this right now” messages, yet the little Surgeon General in your head tells you “wow, this will clog up your arteries good.” They don’t call salo “Ukrainian cocaine” for nothing.

The little Surgeon General in your head is wrong, though. Having come into possession of this authentic salo for the first time in years, I just had to kick it up a notch and make the _ultimate_ in unhealthy treif food. I had to make the legendary confection – “salo in chocolate”.

This confection started as a joke playing on Ukrainians’ fondness of salo. Then some Russian and Ukrainian restaurants started making it as an exotic delicacy. Then someone started to make a candy bar of that name. The Wikipedia article has more on that.

I tempered some good semi-bitter chocolate and dipped thin slices of salo into it.

The flavor is outstanding. Chocolate goes well with salty, fatty salo. It tastes as good as it is unhealthy. Overall, though, the quantity that I made is probably no worse than a movie theater popcorn or the bun of death from the vending machine at work. In fact, probably healthier.

If you are curious, you can find salo in most Russian food stores in New York. It will probably be lower quality Canadian salo, but it will give you a pretty good idea.

You can find more of my gastronomic adventures here.

Japanese Convinience

In one of the stories of the late genius science fiction writer Robert Sheckley, the main character needs crazy and exotic items to cast a spell. Bat wings, eyes of newt, etc, etc. Seemingly hard to find items, yet the character did not have any problems finding them. Why? Because he lived in Manhattan. You can find the most obscure, impossible to locate items in New York. Dried parasitic fungus that feeds on caterpillars? I had no trouble finding it.

A couple of days ago I made a happy discovery. It looks like Manhattan has it’s own chain of authentic Japanese “konbini” – convenience stores. When I visited Japan, I really liked konbinis. They have 7-Eleven, just like we do, but also Ministop, Lawson, Sunkus and FamilyMart.

So, what’s different in a Japanese konbini? The variety and quality of junk food that they sell is a lot better. They are stocked with a humongous variety of snacks. Dozens of types of dried squid and fish for beer, Japanese sweets, nuts, edamame, sashimi quality fish, japanese pickles like umeboshi. The variety of soft drinks and genki drinks. They also have Japanese shampoos and skincare products. In short, they are stuffed with Japanese goodness of overpowering variety.

I’ve been to SAM BOK store at 127 West 43rd Street before. It was nice but not the same as the real Japanese kombini. Also there’s a big Chinese supermarket in my are which has a lot of Japanese stuff. Not the same either. But then I found JAS MART. It even has 3 locations!

35 St. Marks Place, (Bet 2nd & 3rd Ave), NYC
212-420-6370
Sun – Thur: 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Fri & Sat: 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM

34 East 23rd Street, (Bet Park & Madison Ave), NYC
212-387-8882
Mon – Fri: 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Sat & Sun: 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM

2847 Broadway, (Bet 110th & 111th St), NYC
212-866-4780
Mon – Sun: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM

They even have genki drinks and Coffee Boss coffe! I’ve been to the one on 23rd street and promptly loaded myself up with goodies. Unagi eel, unagi sauce, roasted rice tea, sencha tea, several types of dried ika and fish, umeboshi, edamame. It’s a little expensive, but hey – beats buying tickets to Japan.

Coffee Boss is a brand of Japanese canned coffee drinks with a J. R. “Bob” Dobbs-look alike mascot. They are sold in Japanese style soda machines which look rather different from the US Coke/Pepsi machines. They can serve the cans hot or cold. I wonder why somebody doesn’t bring some of these to Manhattan – it looks like the design of soda machines hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years!

Pocari Sweat is a brand of Japanese sports drink, and despite the name rather tasty I might add. Notice the recycling can next to the machine – apparently the Japanese etiquette requires you to finish drinking your soft drinks next to the machine and not walking around with them. Almost every machine sold unsweetened green tea, in many cases Coke or Pepsi-branded.

The Martha and the other Jamie.

I was watching The Apprentice: Martha Stewart and noticed that The Martha has a pretty nice espresso setup in her kitchen. There’s a two-group commercial machine, not a La Marzocco Linea (wow, you can pick one up at Amazon these days) or Synesso Cyncra, but still a pretty serious piece of machinery. There’s a commercial grinder that I can’t identify, as well as smaller grinder, probably for decaf, that looks like a $500 Pasquini Moka.

Jamie Oliver, on the other hand, used to have a cool looking, but crummy FrancisFrancis! machine. Luckily, unlike with espresso machines, you don’t need a very expensive knife to do food prep like a pro. Jamie, for instance uses a decent, but inexpensive Twin Signature chef’s knife. He uses a few other knives, but the exat brands and models are a subject of heated discussion


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Culinary Institute of America publishes this classic knife-fu book. A must have.

Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook: I (well, actually my wife) learned about edamame from this book. Fanseee.

Edamame. The best snack ever.

The Not So Golden Arches

I don’t know if you noticed, but the golden arches of the McDonald’s logo are not always “golden”. McDonald’s allows for a surprising range of color variations, like this green logo that was necessary to downplay the shameful existence of Mickey-D’s in an uppity Sedona community. They even planted a shrub to hide the logo.

A fine example that might explain the failure of the The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention is the sinister looking logo on the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The color harmonizes with the silhouette of A-12 Blackbird above on the deck of USS Intrepid.

By the way, I always thought that Grimace was chicken nugget gone bad. As it turns out, I was wrong about the chicken nugget part, but was right about the gone bad part. Grimace used to be a four-handed villain hellbent on stealing shakes. My favorite quote from one of the number of the Mystery of Grimace websites: “Grimace wasn’t marketable as a fat ass purple thief, but is marketable as a fat ass purple nice guy“. Well, at least the Hamburglar is continuing his life of crime. And I am afraid Ronald might join him soon enough after being fired in Japan.


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The Taste of the Old New Coke

Let me start with one of my favorite quotes from The Matrix:

Tank: Here you go, buddy; “Breakfast of Champions.”
Mouse: If you close your eyes, it almost feels like you’re eating runny eggs.
Apoc: Yeah, or a bowl of snot.
Mouse: Do you know what it really reminds me of? Tasty Wheat. Did you ever eat Tasty Wheat?
Switch: No, but technically, neither did you.
Mouse: That’s exactly my point. Exactly. Because you have to wonder: how do the machines know what Tasty Wheat tasted like? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like oatmeal, or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken, for example: maybe they couldn’t figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything.”

There are certain things that you should really taste at least once, but are usually hard to get a hold of to taste, like let’s say top quality caviar, or kobe beef, Peter Luger’s steaks . Other things, like oysters, haggis, Gray Papaya and Nathans hot dogs, high quality sashimi and other notable foods, that might be hard to obtain everywhere, but are still more or less affordable. There are whole lists of “things to try at least once” out there.

Then there’s a category of items that were eaten in the olden times, but are not considered acceptable food anymore: whale meat, horse meat and other intelligent and/or exotic animal meats. I’ve had whale steaks back in the day, whale meat was widely available in the Soviet Union, as well as horse sausage. Since I ate a lot of hot dogs , I am sure I had my share of cats, dogs and pigeons.

And of course, there are commercial drinks with formulations that are not made anymore. The first Coca Cola (the one with cocaine), Starbucks Tazo Blended Drinks, Incredibly and Sharkleberry Fin Kool-aid (as well as many other discontinued flavors.)

I was always especially interested in one soft drink that I never got a chance to taste: the “New Coke.” The myth-shrouded beverage seemed to be out of reach for me, until thanks to the twin wonders that are packrats and eBay, I got my own unopened can or genuine New Coke. That’s a reason for the new installment of Gastronomic Adventures, of course.

I chilled the $10+shipping can of soda and photographed it in all its glory. Look, just look at it!

I was expecting the can, that is at least 13 years old (in 1992 New Coke was renamed Coke II) to be completely devoid of carbonation. I was ready for a foul smell, discolored soda, etc. To my surprise, the carbonation was mostly normal and the coke smelled just fine.

I kind of knew what to expect — in theory New Coke has the same formulation as Diet Coke, except with sugar instead of aspartame, and should taste similarly to Diet Coke With Splenda. I knew that New Coke was supposed to be sweeter than Coca Cola Classic.

Of course, taste tests are a tricky thing. I am pretty sure I would have a lot of trouble telling Pepsi from Coke from Mexican Coke (the one in glass bottles and sweetened with cane sugar) from Diet Coke (if it’s with ice).

In any case, decade old New Coke _did_ taste a bit like Diet Coke With Splenda. It was not as sweet as I expected, and had that weird little aftertaste that I always associated with the Splenda Coke. I think in Diet Coke it’s masked by the aspartame and in Classic by higher acidity.

I seem to have not suffered any stomach upset or anything of that matter. Upsettingly I did not acquire any noticeable superpowers, except the ability to say that I’ve tasted the New Coke.

P.S. Does anybody know how to obtain some surströmming online or in New York?

P.P.S. I Know about hufu. I think it’s a hoax.

Matcha doing?

I’ve been to Joe’s today and had one of their iced lattes. And then another one. It’s so nice to finally have a high quality alternative to Starbucks in Manhattan. I really, really hope they take off. I mean think about it — every espresso drink they make is light-years ahead of the same Starbucks drink. You can taste burnt beans and probably ass in Starbucks iced lattes, the Joe’s version is smooth and almost chocolaty, and tastes like the coffee smell (that’s the best way I can describe it).

I told Jonathan, the owner of Joe’s about Matcha teaa long while back, but he totally blew me off. I even offered to come over and make some for him. Anyway, *$’s is pushing Matcha based drinks and having some success with them. Why wouldn’t they – Matcha to tea is what espresso is to coffee. Maybe now he’ll consider it, and do it right for a change. Matcha should be enjoyed whipped in a bowl with water, although mixing it with milk, and even spreading it on a toast with butter is acceptable to me at least.

I guess I should stock up on Matcha though – Starbucks purchasing might raise the prices a lot. Somehow I doubt that they buy the good stuff from Kyoto. Maybe they figured out a way to get it someplace cheaper — at a couple of bucks a gram I don’t think high quality “thick” Matcha is attractive to them.

The Fantom Photo Album – II

Continuing the theme of cameraless photography, here are a couple more photographs that only exist in my head.

1) A 30-something, slightly overweight woman is sitting alone at a table, right next to the window of a restaurant. Her food, I think it was a plate of pasta, was just placed on the table by the server. For a split second he face was lit up by an very peculiar expression. It’s somewhat hard to describe, although it would have been plain as day on a photograph. Yes, the woman know that her problems are not going to go away, and in fact that plate of rich food will fill her with guilt afterward. But meanwhile, for a short period of time, although it’s a very bad substitute for happiness, it will have to do. Yep, it will have to do.

2) A big burly construction worker, all sweaty and unshaven, in his work pants, dirty shirt and Timberlands that have seen a few construction sites. On his head sits a hardhat decorated with two decals. They are elegant white Apple stickers, the kind that geeks like to put on Wintel boxes.

How the Starbucks Siren Became Less Naughty

[update] Starbucks logo changes again.

You are probably here because you looked closely at the Starbucks logo and were a little confused about what is depicted on it. Is it a mermaid? What are those things that she is holding up with her hands? Wasn’t the logo different before? What’s the history of it?

I asked those questions myself and did a little bit of digging. My research started with a book that I had, called A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot. In it there was a chapter about Sirens.

Basically, from what I gathered from different sources, including that book, there is a lot of confusion between the different mythological half-women. Typically they are called Sirens – both the half-bird/half-woman and the half-fish/half-woman varieties. The fish type are usually called Mermaids. Both types according to the ancient Greeks were in the business of seducing mariners with songs and promises of sex and then killing them, but Hans Christian Andersen and Disney mostly made everybody forget that.

The whole sex-symbol status of mermaids hinges on the question which part is “woman” – upper or lower. “The other type of mermaid” that hapless Fry was referring to would have problems attracting suitors, of course. And how do you do it with the normal type?

Wise mythologists came up with the answer, of course. And the answer is a two-tailed mermaid sometimes called a Melusine.

The book had an old engraving of a two-tailed mermaid. It reminded me of the Starbucks Siren, but back then I did not realize that the original Starbucks logo had a slightly altered version of that engraving in the original brown cigar band-shaped logo.

Notice that the graphic designer removed the belly button, the unattractive shading around the bulging tummy of the 15th century siren and merged the tail-legs to remove the suggestion of naughty bits. The logo Siren also smiles a little while its 15th century doppelganger is looking rather grim. Other than that it’s clear that this is exactly the image that he or she was using.

According to uspto.gov “[Starbucks] mark consists of the wording “Starbucks Coffee” in a circular seal with two stars, and the design of a siren (a two-tailed mermaid) wearing a crown”.

Here’s the “cigar band” logo from which I took the image above. The original hippie Starbucks owners did not sell espresso drinks, but mostly sold coffee beans, tea and spices. Today Starbucks sells liquor and ice cream, but no spices if you don’t count the cinnamon gum and the stuff on the condiment table.

The next, more familiar green iteration of the logo has a more attractive stylized siren. The chest is hidden, but the belly button is still there.

Here is the current logo. They cropped the siren image so that only a hint of the tails is visible. I asked hourly partners at Starbucks and friends, and none of them could figure out what those things to the side of Siren’s head were.

Lately I’ve stopped seeing pictures of the Siren on Starbucks mugs – they seem to favor just the word “Starbucks”. I also started seeing the new type of the siren as part of store decoration and on coffee packaging. She only has one tail. I guess the family-unfriendly image of a fish-woman spreading her tails is on its way out.

[update] Here’s a picture of the new siren:

The brown Siren logo can still be found on merchandize sold at the original Pike Place Market Starbucks in Seattle. The logo is altered though – instead of a “cigar band” design it uses just a circle logo. Cigar band logo mugs and coffee jars can still be found on eBay for upwards of $50 per mug and $200 per coffee jar. I am still looking for anything bearing an “Il Giornale” (a company founded byHoward Schultz that later ended up buying out Starbucks with the help of none other than Bill Gates Sr.) logo.

[Update]
Dear Boing Boing readers – you might enjoy other sections of this blog such as Gastronomic Adventures and 100 Views of the Empire State Building.

[Update]
I was alerted to another article that explores the Siren’s symbolism. I haven’t used it in my research, but it is very thorough.

[Update] The whole logo history is described pretty well in Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. The book is full of other Starbucks trivia: if I remember correctly, it states that Howard Schultz is a close friend of Yanni.

[Update]

I received some information from Doug Fast, the designer behind the green logo. He also graciously sent me some rare examples of the logo, for which I am extremely thankful.

“I am the guy who designed the green SBUX logo. The original brown SBUX logo was designed in 1971 by my employer before I started working for him in January 1974. ( I still work there as a designer) The design company was then called Heckler/ Bowker, here in Seattle. Bowker (the company copy writer) was one of the three original founders of SBUX and left Heckler/ Bowker in 1984 to take on SBUX full time. (there were 5-6 stores at that time) The other two founders were; Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegal. Heckler/Bowker came up with the Starbucks name and Heckler came up with the first (brown) logo. The other name strongly suggested was Pequod, but lost out to Starbucks.

The original SBUX store was NOT in the Public Market or in the Arcade as people think. It was at the corner of Western Avenue & Virginia, just north, across the street from the Public Market at the foot of the steep hill going up to 1st Avenue, and opened it’s doors in March 1971. I have a photo of it and also a drawing of it that was on an SBUX Christmas card from 1977.

The first retail Starbucks coffee drink concept store was originally called Il Giornale, and located on 4th Avenue in downtown Seattle. There was only one of these stores ever. I designed the logo for that in 1985-86, plus the coffee bag packaging, and still have the stationary, bags, and cup designs in my sample file. Howard Schultz was still an employee of SBUX at that time, not the owner, as I’ve seen said in previous blog info. here.

The reason only ONE Il Giornale store ever existed was because of the purchase of SBUX by Howard and his investers, and because the SBUX name and logo had so much capital already, they changed Il Giornale back to SBUX and wanted a more reproducable SBUX design, to go national.

I did the green “full siren” logo with a stronger, simpler, read for reproduction. The SBUX type was HAND DRAWN and based on the typeface, Franklin Gothic (this was pre-computer, folks) and had to be drawn so it bent well, around the circle. We submitted the logo to Howard, one with a red color and one in a green color. He picked the green color option.

In 1992 we had to blow up the siren to eliminate the spread, so called suggestive tails, so that’s the version you see today.

I still have most of the original concept work for the creation of this logo in one of my big sketchbooks. To me at the time, it was just another logo job to do. Who would have thought I’d be sick of seeing it all over the place. It isn’t one of my best logos.”

Original stores from the old coffee bag:

The original “cigar band” logo:

Il Giornale logo:

Green “bellybutton” logo

One of the newer coffee bags that reimagines the siren:

New “cigar band” logo with covered up nipples and cleaner lines:

New plastic stirrer / plug in the shape of the siren:

Old logo at one of the first (from what I hear it’s not the “original” location) stores at the Pike Market in Seattle

original-starbucs-logo

starbucks-pike-market

Did reading this article inspire you to write a poem about Starbucks? You can use Rhymebuster, the algorithmic rap generator. Turns out a lot of things rhyme with Starbucks (other than sucks).


Double Sikrit Krabby Patty

Bubblebass: I’ll take a double triple bossy deluxe on a raft, 4×4 animal style, extra shingles with a shimmy and a squeeze, light axle grease, make it cry, burn it and let it swim.
Squidward: We serve food here, Sir!

I only understood the reference in this Sopngebob quote after learning about the In-N-Out Burger “secret menu” (thanks for the link, g60). Apparently this west coast burger chain has a special, unwritten menu that includes things like “Flying Dutchman” (two meat patties, two slices of melted cheese and nothing else), x by y (where x is the number of meat patties and y is the number of cheese slices), and the fabled “Animal Style” – which involves frying the mustard into the patties and extra pickles and grilled onions.

The rumor has it that someone actually managed to order 100×100 and even 500×500. This site has a picture of Animal Style buger and the cash register with the item in question rung up. Every food place needs to have a secret menu.