Saturday, November 21, 2020

Advent Calendar 2020: Virtual Culinary Tourism


A garland of exotic goodie bags

This year’s advent calendar is tailored for a fun-loving, globe-trotting family with adventuresome tastebuds. After being trapped like rats for the bulk of the year, it is time for them and their tastebuds to have some fun. This year, the eleven- and nine-year-old recipients have been instructed to assume command of daily taste testings for themselves and their parents.

Step One: The Bags

The focus this year in terms of materials was tapping into old supplies on hand, including your standard brown paper lunch bags left over from my early-pandemic paper bag wall, lots and lots of Chinese good luck paper used in rituals for the dead, and metallic puffy paint to jazz things up.

Lots of paper collage for bag fronts

For the bag backs, I collected an assortment of interesting food facts from around the world on the internet - from a research finding that hot chocolate tastes better in an orange cup, to a culture that eats giant fried spiders, to the fact that goat is the most-consumed meat in the world. The bottom of each bag identifies the contents’ country of origin.

The backs: weird food facts

Step Two: The Contents

To my amazement it turns out that international snack assortments are a thing. Apparently some people have been going on virtual tastebud tours for a while, ordering different snack packs from foreign climes for entertainment. Simply google “international snack packs” on Amazon. I settled on three:

Japanese “dagashi” (classic snacks) assortment

Russia/Ukraine assortment

Turkish assortment

Each advent bag contains two to three snacks from a single of origin. Because the labels are in the language of the country of origin, the recipients have no idea what to expect. For added thrills I decided to make December 15 a high-challenge snack day and threw in the following cricket assortment.

Flavored crickets!

Step Three: The Garland

For the garland I used a long stretch of recycled lace from the Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland. In accord with the exotic food theme, I dyed it in a pot of boiling water with turmeric root. At about this stage in production I realized my predominant color theme seemed to be orange, which is decidedly un-Christmasy, but I figure along with stretching their tastebuds they can stretch their aesthetic sensibilities as well. So a very orange Christmas to all! Each bag has a hole punched through the top, secured with a twist of gold or silver pipe cleaner, which is then used to secure the bag to the garland.

Turmeric-dyed lace

Pre-Advent Kickoff Event

Because this has been a trying year and we need all the amusement we can muster, I also included a pre-advent kickoff event. In China people burn offerings to send them to dead ancestors and loved ones on special occasions. Paper replicas are used to duplicate just about anything the dead might desire, including food. I picked up this seafood feast at a store for the dead in Oakland’s Chinatown. It includes the seafood ingredients, a wok, seasoning bottles, and an electric burner - all made of paper. For their kickoff event - to take place any time prior to December 1 - the recipients are instructed to use their backyard fire pit, invite all of their dead relatives who would really enjoy a seafood feast, burn the offering, and merrily sing a song of their choice.

Seafood feast for the dead (foot included to show scale)

Step Four: The Tastings

Recipients are asked to sample, share, and discuss each snack during their daily tastings, and to consider the following questions:

Before tasting, guess what you think it will taste like. How close were you?

How odd, unusual, unexpected is it on a scale of 1 to 5?

How much do you like it on a five-star scale?

What would you compare this to if you were trying to describe it?

Let the holiday merriment ensue! For more ideas, including everything from advent calendar ballgowns to advent calendar time machines, see Past Advent Calendar Posts.

1 comment:

  1. You are filled with great ideas and this is another one of them. So much fun. And visual delight.


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