The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here.

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Add enough sugar to anything and you’ve made candy, right? I mean, why else would you find oddments like candied baby crabs, anchovies, and cuttlefish in the Asian grocery snack aisle? Despite the initial ick-factor, they can be pretty good (except for the crabs… those are not my favorite… I have a texture issue with them). If you already eat beef jerky and bacon bits, and are not averse to seafood, then these are just, well, jerky and bits from the sea.

20080526sweetolivepkt.jpgI reckon half the foods we eat are acquired tastes—I adore olives as an adult, but I remember how the first time I tried a “Western” olive (Olea europaea) as a kid, my mouth puckered up and I wanted to cry. You see, at that time, I had only ever tasted the “Chinese” olive (Canarium album L.) and knew it to be a sweet-tart treat with an appetizing licorice hit. I’m sure straight off the tree, both species are equally, unpalatably bitter. But once they’ve been through the curing and flavoring process, no one would confuse the Chinese olive with the kind you get on a martini swizzle stick. Slightly more elongated than the Olea europea and with two pointy ends, Canariums are called “footballs” in Hawaii and are part of the popular crackseed family of cured fruit. They’re nicely crunchy and usually a tad moist. Though, as you can see from the picture, I got a dried-out pack that had been sitting on a shelf for too long. (Shopping Hint: Most “Western” supermarkets place new stock right up front, so older stock get pushed to the back. Asian supermarkets unfailingly stack the oldest stuff in front, so shoppers who grab and go clear the way for newer stock. Therefore, if you want the fresh stuff, you need to roll up your sleeves and dig. Unfortunately, all Asian shoppers know this already, so what this system really does is create a big mess.)

My pack lists ingredients as: green olive, sugar, salt, citric acid, and bitter spices (probably anise). It’s not a bad car snack and is supposed to curb motion-sickness too. What disturbs me though, is the picture of a spanking new lab with people in lab coats on the back of the pack. Remember how science and technology = good? These days, all I want to see on the back of food packaging is a picture of a farmer and his cow.

About the author: Wan Yan Ling is an impoverished grad student and sourdough finger-crosser living in Rhode Island. She can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.

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