Last Saturday I forced hubby to accompany me to the HK Convention Center for the annual Food Expo. Back in Manila I used to attend food expos and fairs every year, partly to check out suppliers, importers, franchisors and winners of the cooking and baking competitions, but mostly for the free food tasting that abound during events like these. :)
It was my first time to attend the HK Expo, and it was crowded, noisy, and very much like Ocean Park on a Sunday, minus the stifling heat and sun bearing down on bare heads. The second floor hall featured international and mainland vendors. There were some "lazy cook" products that I felt could be easily marketed in the Philippines (such as frozen crispy coated cheese balls and cheese sticks made by a Korean company, and some Thai meals in a pack). I know of a cooking supplies store in Manila that sells a lot of Thai ingredients for the serious cook. These almost instant meals will fare better for the mass market and lazy cooks. The distributor said no self-respecting Thai would ever use these pre-packaged products, but for the rest of the world, it beats stocking up on various Thai herbs and spices and looking for the perfect recipe for pad thai. I'm the perfect combination of a serious/lazy cook so I bought 2 packs of the "taboo-for-Thais" stuff. Let's see how they turn out.
We saw a Philippine Department of Agriculture booth and made a beeline for it. Hubby thought there would be Arce Dairy Ice Cream we could stock up on. Imagine his disappointment at seeing bottled pickled papayas, pickled nata de coco, coconut juice with nata, coco jam, fresh mangoes and fish sausages. Imagine my delight as I bought sweet-smelling, golden mangoes, coconut juice and atsara. The coconut juice tasted like dishwashing water, though, and was quickly discarded. The atsara, which I tried last night with fried fish, was too sweet and mushy. I'll have to wait for my friend Pam's talented cook to teach my Beth how to make fresh atsara and kare-kare from scratch. Once Beth gets it right, I'll have her make atsarang kangkong and ampalaya, 2 favorites of mine. On my end, I'll try to recreate my mom's crunchy radish and carrot pickle. I love eating all manner of fried things with pickles, but the best pritong dip I've ever tasted is something my mom-in-law makes and everyone in the Constantino family calls Velocity. It's diced kamias, chili and bagoong alamang cooked together. To- die- for! I also bought a pack of Italian spaghetti No. 5 (at 5 dollars it was a bargain), a pack of Italian olive oil and salt potato chips, 3 packs of China-made baked apple chips, and a teeny bottle of chipotle salsa from the Mexican vendor. A large Korean booth had beautiful displays of vegetables, the bright and glistening greens, reds, and yellows competing to catch everyone's eye. Another one had a freezer full of sausages and preserved meats, but hubby was wary about the taste so we didn't buy any. Among the international community, the Koreans and Italians had the most number of booths. Sadly the Philippines only had one (and to think we have a lot of export-quality products back home like preserved meats, dried fruits, jams and jellies, kakanins, milkfish in all its reincarnations, crab fat paste, all sorts of pastries and regional delicacies). Some interesting booths we passed by were the Middle Eastern one selling dates, nuts and sweets, the German one with flavored gingerbread (the chocolate one was yummy, way better than cloyingly sweet Krispy Kreme), and the Mainland ones with their mounds and mounds of tea leaves.
On the ground floor was a cavernous hall, garishly lit and extremely palengke-like. Here local vendors held fort, their red and gold booths displaying mountains of canned goods, boxes of bottled sauces; with promo girls handing out flyers indiscriminately and irritating hubby with their nasal twang and incessant chatter. Most of the items on display are available at your nearest Wellcome or Park n Shop, except they were discounted. The funny thing was, most of those who milled around brought wire baskets/trolleys and shopping bags with them. They treated the Expo like one huge bargain store. Costco or Wal-Mart, anyone? There were very few "serious" buyers, importers, exporters, food distributors, chefs or restaurateurs around. Or maybe I didn't stay long enough to see anyone acting in a businesslike manner. Everyone seemed to be either haggling, pawing the goods, or lining up for free tastes. It got tiring after a while, and as the aisles started to become more and more narrow, hubby and I decided to call it quits and head home.
P.S. I blended the mangoes and sipped my cold, summery drink while daydreaming of white sands and aquamarine seas.