BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Wordless Wednesday: San Francisco Treats

Vanilla Soy Frozen Yogurt at Fraiche

Like a Vegan (Ratatouille Crepe) at Galette 88

Charlie Brown’s Nightmare (Chocolate Soy Ice Cream with Peanut Butter and Cookies) at Holy Gelato!

Vegan Deep Dish at Patxi’s Pizza

Onigilly Set with Shiitake, Hijiki, and Natto Onigiri at Onigilly

The Curried Veg Pasty at The Pie Shop


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Da Vegan Kine Grindz

Hawaii is host to its fair share of truly outstanding vegan eateries, to say nothing of the countless veggie-friendly establishments that make room at the table for everyone. What you don’t hear about though are the vast offerings of plant-based delights just beyond the beaten path. Navigating through the immense dining scene in Honolulu has led me to many unexpected but delicious discoveries, in places that don’t necessarily cater to vegans. If you’re traveling with omnivores, in search of more “authentic” local eats, or just craving something different, here are just a few of the quick and easy accidentally vegan snacks I’ve stumbled across so far. These can be found throughout the entire island, but I’ve provided a few suggestions for my favorite haunts. No matter the place or time, the key to any happy culinary exploration is to always ask questions!

Shave Ice

The classic beach-going Hawaiian treat, perfect for a hot day- Which is pretty much every day here, even in the dead of winter. Every stand carries a literal rainbow of sugar-based syrups to douse mountains of crushed ice with, so sticking with the basics still leaves you with dozens of flavors to choose from. Waiola Shave Ice and Matsumoto’s Shave ice remain local favorites, but for my tastes, Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha is the one to beat. Where else will you find kale-spinach shave ice and house-made sweetened adzuki beans, no less?

(Cautions: Avoid “creamy” flavors and ice cream toppings.)

Snow Ice

A distinct and entirely different dessert than shave ice, snow ice is also a sweet frozen snack, but made of paper-thin ribbons of ice flakes already infused with flavor, no syrup required. This creates a sensational, light texture that’s incredibly easy to eat, even after a big meal. The technique actually comes from Taiwan but has taken root in Hawaii, particularly in downtown Honolulu. Frostcity is a small chain that always offers at least three or four vegan flavors on any given day.

(Cautions: Always seek out plain fruit flavors and ask about the base; it’s often made with dairy. If the proprietor can’t confirm or deny, assume the worst.)

Edamame & Soybean Poke

A popular pupu (appetizer) at dives and fine dining establishments alike, seasonings start at the most basic sprinkle of sea salt but these humble bean pods are rarely requested so plain. Garlic edamame, studded with plentiful chunks of coarsely minced garlic guarantee you the most powerful but worthwhile dragon breath you’ve ever experienced. Spicy (or sweet-and-spicy) edamame adds either crushed red pepper flakes or a drizzle of sriracha into the mix. It’s a real treat when you can find them dressed up poke-style, in sesame oil, soy sauce, scallions, and sliced sweet onions. The beans pictured above are a specialty from the newly opened Izakaya Torae Torae: Teriyaki truffle edamame.

(Cautions: Garlic edamame are sometimes sauteed in butter, and Asian variants can occasionally include a splash of fish sauce. Ask if you have any doubts.)

Boiled Peanuts

Hailing from China and not the Southern US, Hawaiian boiled peanuts are often enhanced with a hint of star anise around here, but are just as frequently prepared with nothing more than salt and water. Found in poke shops and the deli section of most supermarkets, these tender, toothsome goobers always satisfy and are absolutely dirt-cheap. I have yet to meet a boiled peanut that disagreed with me, but I hear that the best come from Alicia’s Market.

(Cautions: None! These are always a safe and tasty option.)

Crack Seed

Another Chinese import, crack seed is a category of snack that covers all sorts of preserved fruits, some dried and some wet, that typically have a pronounced sweet, sour, and salty taste. Crack seed stores also carry salty snacks like mochi balls and shoyu peanuts, in addition to regular dried fruits and fruity candies. Big glass apothecary jars line the floors and walls of these closet-sized spaces and everything is bought by the 1/4, 1/2, or full pound. If you ask very nicely, most store keepers will give you little tastes to try before you buy.

(Cautions: Just about all of the traditional crack seed options are coated with li hing mui powder, which contains aspartame. Proceed at your own risk.)

Musubi

Also known in some parts as onigiri, the core of these versatile snacks is made up of tightly packed sushi rice, wrapped up in toasted nori. These plain offerings are good lunchbox filler, albeit unexciting in the flavor department. Common veggie-friendly variants that are readily available in bento shops and even convenience stores include fillings made up of kombu, umeboshi, and takuan. These staples will pop up frequently at Shirokiya and yes, even select 7-Eleven stores. Spam musubi are hands-down the top sellers around here, and you may be happily surprised to find a number of vegan renditions scattered across Oahu. Blue Tree Cafe and Peace Cafe, for starters, both have their own tofu-based take on the classic.

(Cautions: 90% of the traditional fillings you’ll come across are fishy and/or meaty, so make sure you read labels and signs carefully.)

Acai Bowls

Imagine an acai-banana smoothie thick enough to eat with a spoon that’s topped with granola and sliced bananas, and you’d have yourself a genuine acai bowl. Ice is usually added into the blend for additional bulk and cooling power, and each shop switches up the fruit inclusions and toppings. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a whole salad of blueberries, strawberries, kiwis, and maybe even coconut flakes crowning your icy creation, but even the paired down renditions are worth trying. You really can’t go wrong with this blend, but I’m quite partial to Jewel or Juice‘s regular acai bowl, which is less sweet than many mainstream formulas.

(Cautions: Honey is one of the default toppings, so always ask for your bowl without.)

And to think, I’m just getting started here! Who knows how many other hidden edible treasures are still out there, just waiting to be discovered? The only way to find out is to start searching, so get out there, explore, and taste Oahu!


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Puff Piece

When Earth Balance, a company once known only for producing vegan buttery spreads, announced that it was expanding its product line into the unlikely realm of snack food, it was impossible not to be curious. How would expertise in spreadable condiments (and now non-dairy milks) translate to munchable morsels? Hunting down these new offerings has been hit and miss, so I’m thankful that company representatives kindly stepped in and sent me a complete collection.

What really caught my attention and appetite were the Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Puffs. Above all else, this sounded like (and later proved to be) a snack worth seeking out. To my knowledge the only other vegan puffs on the market are Tings, which don’t compare to this new cheesy doodle. While Tings taste like nutritional yeast, the Earth Balance Puffs, taste like… Wait for it… Cheese! Yes indeed, subtle nutty, tangy, savory, and funky notes combine to create something startlingly delicious, and undeniably cheesy. Though they may look like large, furry cashews, their flavor is enough to prompt proclamations of “I can’t believe it’s vegan!” from eaters young and old. Bearing a much denser, more substantial crunch than the classic doodle, they’re more filling than the averaged puffed junk food, but it’s still dangerously effortless to plow through an entire bag in one sitting. Just the right amount of salt keeps you reaching for one more, and as a bonus, there will be no tell-tale dayglow orange “cheez” fingers afterward.

After such a positive initial experience, I was clamoring to tear into the next bag in the set: Vegan Buttery Flavor Popcorn. First impressions were not as positive, as opening the bag released a plume of artificial “butter” scent. Off-putting and chemical in nature, it could be compared generously to Molly McButter. Mercifully, that aroma doesn’t carry through to the flavor. The crisp, fresh kernels are in stark contrast to traditional movie theater popcorn, typically a greasy lard bucket with a bit of popcorn on the side. No slick fingers here, but a distinctly buttery flavor can be found throughout. Applied with finesse, it doesn’t beat you over the head with “BUTTER!”, and bears the perfect hit of salt on each tender kernel. I should never have doubted that Earth Balance, forefathers of all things buttery and vegan, would nail this flavor with ease.

As for the Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Popcorn, just imagine that same crisp, corny base coated in the previously described cheesy powder. The harmonious blend produces my favorite snack of them all, which I would consider the ultimate movie munch. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine who wouldn’t enjoy this, and if it were possible, I wouldn’t want to meet them.

Finally, taking a sharp departure from the previous light and fluffy nibbles, P.B. Popps stands out from the crowd in both flavor and appearance. Described as “popcorn cuddled in peanut butter and a bustle of oats,” I’m not sure my own tasting notes can really compare to that statement. Employing round mushroom kernels as opposed to the butterfly popcorn kernels in the previous savory offerings, each dense sphere is a veritable peanut butter bomb. The somewhat soft, creamy exterior gives way to a solid crunch, with whole roasted peanuts and oats intermingling throughout. Reminiscent of decadent granola clusters, the popcorn loses its characteristic corny flavor underneath the heavy coating, acting more as a vehicle for the sweet and salty nut butter. Peanut butter lovers will surely adore the stuff, but I’m not quite sure it has a place in my own snack food lineup.

While the buttery and peanut-y popcorn offerings are perfectly worthy of a midday snack attack, it’s the cheese flavors that mark a big leap forward for vegankind. It’s a brave new world out there, and the food is only getting better (and cheesier.)


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Stress Snacking

After a fitful summer hibernation, the monster that is structured education has awoken once more, rising swiftly and ferociously back to full intensity. My fall semester may have only just begun yesterday, but already the pressure is on. Taking on an extra class was a woefully bad idea; even one class feels like too much, too soon. As a self-admitted stress snacker, this is bad news for my eating habits- Already the cravings for all things hand-held and satisfyingly junky are coming on strong. This time, though, I was prepared, thanks to a serendipitously timed package from YogaEarth, filled to the top with healthy treats.

Purveyors of various “super foods,” natural beauty products, and various supplements, their main claim to fame are the appropriately titled Keen-Wah Decadence Bars. Though it may just sound like cute hyperbole on paper, the name turned out to be stunningly accurate. Rather than the standard crunchy-granola nutrition brick, these bars are enrobed in chocolate like actual candy bars. Soft and fudgy no doubt from the heat, that coating at first overwhelms the whole package, but slowly melts to allow other flavors through, lending much needed sweetness through each bite. While the interior yields a subtly earthy, slightly salty flavor, that chocolate exterior effectively tricks the tongue into believing that this is a fully-fledged treat. Rich and satisfying, that high fiber count definitely gives it more staying power than your average chocolate snack, without imparting a gritty texture. Rather, it feels almost like biting into a soft baked cookie.

Plain is the most “healthy” tasting, with fewer additions to jazz things up. A surprising raisin-like sweetness accents the dark, woodsy cacao, which cuts the decadence factor in a pleasing way. Cayenne Cinnamon effectively spices things up, leading with the comforting, familiar warmth of cinnamon, slowly escalating to the smoldering burn of cayenne. It won’t burn your mouth off, but this invigorating combination certainly satisfies one’s inner heat seeker. The last option of the trio, the Coconut Almond, is most likely to appeal to the widest audience. A fresh, raw coconut flavor hits immediately after the initial taste of chocolate subsides, but there’s no dried or dessicated coconut here. Impossibly capturing the essence of a whole young coconut, the pieces do add a more fibrous texture, but this can be forgiven for such a clean, bright taste. Chunks of raw almonds are scattered throughout, adding a nice periodic crunch. Picking between the three bars would be a tricky task, but all said, these are definitely some of the tastiest meal supplements I’ve had.

Another noteworthy snacking option are the Chocolate-Covered Goji Berries. Who needs raisins or sweetened cranberries when you can have a fruit that really packs a punch? A deep, dark, and intense cocoa scent hints at their smoky, bitter edge, almost like espresso. Their mesmerizing shine is hard to resist, but luckily, that strong flavor satisfies with just one modest handful.

For an option that’s slightly less decadent but just as healthy, their Meridian Trail Mix is one that stands out amongst the pack. Rather than weighing down the blend with filler like oily, cheap peanuts, every ingredient adds something noteworthy to the party. Touted as “cacao-cashew-berry-crunch,” that description sells the mix short, as it contains expected nuts like almonds and cashews, but also more exotic additions such as goji berries, mulberries, and cacao nibs. This is one trail mix that actually makes me want to hit the trail, if only as an excuse to munch on another serving!

Stress may drive me to the comfort of snack food, but at least I have healthy options from YogaEarth on hand that will power my educational exploits, rather than impair them.

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