Cheap Eats at Bloglander

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[ Currently Eating: Money ]

Nong Shim Bowl - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Spicy Bung

Ah, yes.

There are many roads I could have gone down with this review. Many, many roads. Roads not taken. Roads passed by and gone forever. Two roads diverged in a mofo woods, and I said screw it.

I said “woods”, not Tiger Woods.


When presented with choices, I inevitably choose the most difficult route. Or at least the one that annoys the most people. Here is a Shin Bowl by Nong Shim, one of those instant noodle and soup contraptions. I planned to review it a few weeks ago. But I couldn’t really think of what to say about it.

Scorched poo hole

I could have gone down the “Shin Bowl Is Connected To The, Knee Bowl” route. Easy peasy. But I chose not to confound you with Hokey Pokey. I could have gone down the “Tastes Exactly Like Cup O Noodles If You Add Cayenne Pepper” route. Because, it does sort of taste like a cup of Cup O’ Noodles. Sorry, I mean a Cup ‘O Cup ‘O Noodles. Hell, let’s just add another “cup” to it and call it Cup ‘O Cup ‘O Cup ‘O Noodles. That’s Cup Cubed Noodles. Haha, says the math major dropout.

As usual I’ve chosen the road of grade school goofiness. Playground puerility. As is my wont.

Wont wont wont. Wont. As a side note, I sometimes imagine a parallel universe where everyone only has ONE word in their vocabulary. If that universe were ours, I would hope my word would be “wont”. It would be so entertaining to run around and just say “Wont, wont wont wont? Wont wont WONT wont.”

Nong Shim Bowl - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Anyhow, I’ve already guessed you may not like this review approach. It’s so tired and abused. Not amused.

Anal ring of fire.

In fact, I’ll lay you ten to one that right about now, you are wishing this was a Youtube video of an ambitious cat trying to climb into a box. Go ahead – change the channel. I don’t blame you.

Truth be told, I’m no longer the fake-fried-instant-noodle aficianado I was in college. Still, I regularly eat another one of Nong Shim’s products. That one is called “Neoguri” Udon Type Noodles, and I get the “Spicy Seafood” variety. Not sure if that’s the only variety they have, but it’s the one they sell in a giant bulk pack. I decided to try out this instant Shin Bowl (hmm… why isn’t it called a “Shim” Bowl) for old time’s sake.

Holy hole of burning, Batman.

One difference with the Neoguri one is that it doesn’t come in a styrofoam bowl, so you have to cook it in a pot. Yes, a pot – those things you put on the stove and boil water in. It also has two seasoning packets as opposed to one for this bowl.

Nong Shim Bowl - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Overall, the Shin Bowl didn’t come close to the texture or taste of the Neoguri package. For one thing, the noodles do really taste like spongy Cup ‘O Noodle noodles. The flavor of the soup was not as spicy as the Neoguri either, but I wonder if that’s because I didn’t dump all of the packet in.

Raw and red flaming cornhole

The “vegetables” in these things are awful – I almost wish they didn’t put them in and just made the bowl bigger. It had carrots, shiitake (not shittake or shitocky) mushrooms and green onions. Sometimes for grins, I crack an egg in noodles like this. But that only works if they’re the type you cook on the stove.

I also felt like the amount of noodles wasn’t as substantial. But this could be because I was punch drunk hungry at the time.

Squinting, fiery turtle head poking out of it’s carapace

OK, I will stop with the rectum allusions. But I don’t apologize for them. To be honest, I couldn’t think of any other synonyms for bungholes. (PLEASE DO NOT WRITE IN TO TELL ME WHAT THEY ARE. THANK YE)

You see, I want people to read this review and think, “This is NOT the intelligent, musings of a high-bred (or in-bred) college student having fun with a blog.” I want people to read this review and think, “These are the projectile vomitings of a prickly, gross thirty seven year old idiot loser who eats instant noodles for breakfast lunch, dinner and dessert and then talks about how he has to take a spicy crap.”


Price: $0.99 for 3 oz bowl
Found At: Fresh & Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 5/10

9/29/09 | Natto

[ Currently Eating: Banana Bread ]

Natto - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

For many years now, I’ve had this fantasy about writing an in-depth account of how one should go about eating Nattō. I was planning on putting forth a Fight Club – like listing of The Rules Of Eating Natto and then having a spirited discourse about its odorific dangers and surprising health benefits.

But for some reason, every time I tried to write it, I’d put it off. The psychological effect of describing fermented soybean consumption in gory detail was just too much to tackle.

So a few rules are as far as I got up till now.

And yes, there SHOULD be rules for eating natto. No, they’re not official and some may say they go against the true spirit of Natto consumption. Rule 1 is probably the most controversial. However, I swear by them. They lead to a more pleasant and efficient natto experience. I also have a few corollaries to the rules.

Here you are then, and so on…

The Rules of Eating Natto

1. You don’t mix your natto.
2. You don’t mix your natto.
3. When someone says stop, or goes limp, even if he’s just faking it, the natto eating is over.
4. Only two people per package.
5. One package of natto at a time.
6. They eat natto WITH shirts and napkins.
7. They only eat natto as long as they have to.
8. If this is your first time here, you have to eat the natto.

Natto Corollaries

0. Don’t smell the natto.
1. Don’t get it on your hands or clothes.
2. Before putting in mouth, they hold the natto still, letting the “strings” subside.
3. Natto crystals are tasty good.
4. Smaller beans are often more tender.
5. While eating natto, you don’t think of boogers, spit or Aliens (the movie)

Yes, Natto is some serious stuff. Because it doesn’t have a really bizarre look like Durian or a cool name like Lutefisk, it sort of lurks under the radar for weird Japanese foods. But oh, it’s weird all right.

To my knowledge, neither Anthony Bourdain nor Andrew Zimmern has not tried it yet. (Oops, I was informed that Bourdain has tried it, as described in his book. However, he did not write up Fight Club rules like I did.) Actually, the Zimmern camp told me that he hadn’t, but they weren’t sure. I heartily suggest they include these beans on their next trip to Japan.

Natto - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

OK, here is a confession. I grew up eating this stuff. It’s a tiny part of my Japanese heritage that still shines feebly through an Americanized life. Whenever people ask why I hate wasabi with a passion and avoid sashimi like the plague, I can just say – well, I eat Natto, so how about you give me a break. That said, I’m no expert in Natto. We just eat it at home occasionally.

To be truthful, there is probably a large segment of the Japanese population that HATES the stuff. I’m not going to speculate, but among the JAs here that I’ve asked, only about 1/3 will eat Natto. As far as Hakujin folks (white Americans) go, I think I know exactly two people who have tried it before. If you frequent sushi restaurants, you may have noticed a “Natto Roll” buried in the menu. I’ve never gotten it, so I’m curious what it looks like. I’ve only eaten it on top of rice. I’m told they also eat it on toast occasionally, like Vegemite.

Natto is Rotten, Smelly, Slimy Soybeans. You can call them “fermented” if you like. It still comes down to smelly beans at the end of the day.

It’s delicious.

They’re usually sold in small styrofoam boxes, three to a package due to the fear of the number four (ask me one of these days about the many ways my relatives’ fear of that number has inconvenienced my life). They usually, but not always come with two small condiment packets inside. One is a soy sauce type mixture and the other is yellow spicy mustard. They have different sizes of beans – we usually like to get the smaller ones because they seem more tender. The price seems to vary greatly – anywhere from 75 cents for 3 boxes to a couple bucks. But it’s usually cheap enough.

You can freeze natto packages, and they will usually come back fine after defrosting in the refrigerator for a day or two. The bean texture may not be as good, but it’s edible. We usually buy two 3-packs and put one in the freezer.

Natto - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Now, as to the eating of Natto. Let’s go over some of the Rules from before. I’m pretty controverial (according to my mom and most articles about natto), but I never, ever stir the package up. Apparently, the more frothy and slimy that you can get the beans, the more rapturous of an experience you’ll have.


Most people like to stir it up, but I like to disturb the beans as little as possible en route to my mouth. Let me back up a bit. Before eating a package of natto, you need to prepare your area. The problem with natto is not only the smell itself, but it’s stringy and slimy texture which tends to get all over the place ESPECIALLY if you’ve stirred the stuff up. So, I like to put a paper towel underneath the package and covering my placemat. I keep another two napkins handy. You might not want to wear your best clothes when eating the stuff as well. Or at least, plan to wash your shirt if you get natto goop on it.

Ok, so put your rice in a bowl, on the napkin as well. I prefer a larger soup style bowl instead of a smaller one because it decreases the mess. Open the natto package and bend the connected styrofoam lid back so it stays put. I chuck the yellow mustard, but you might like it (especially if you’re a Stirrer). The soy sauce flavoring packet usually improves things considerably. The top of the natto is “protected” from the lid by a thin sheet of plastic. Grasp a corner of that and pull it off slowly onto the styrofoam lid. See the slimy strings? Imagine that multiplied by 10 if you had stirred that up.

For me, controlled speed is the essence of good natto eating. You want to consume it carefully, but without dilly-dallying. The idea is to scoop up some natto carefully with chopsticks (or a fork, spoon, or spork). Before bringing it to the rice, let the strings subside. It’s pretty amazing how long they last. Place it on the rice, then use the chopsticks to scoop the undisturbed natto and some rice into your mouth. Don’t sit back and eat it – get your face over the bowl, for the love of god. Open your mouth as wide as possible, like you’re at the dentist. (You may want to listen to soft Top 40 music as well, it may help.) Sometimes, I skip the combination of rice and natto and just eat some natto first by itself, and then go for the rice. People who stir it up often like to dump the whole mess on top of rice. If you do that, you’re on your own.

I would seriously suggest you avoid sharing your natto package with others. This increases the tendency for smelly slime to get everywhere. This isn’t the type of thing you want to pass around the table for everyone to sample. But, if you must, two people can share one box. Just make sure you put napkins underneath the area.

Oh, so I guess one of the more important corollaries is NOT to smell the natto. I mean, just don’t go out of your way and put your nose right up to it. That Zimmern guy is cool, but he has the unfortunate habit of sticking his nose into whatever weird food he’s eating and taking a long whiff. I understand he wants the “full experience”, but think he’d be a lot less grossed out by some of the food if he just ate it instead of inhaling it. Anyhow, trust me, just eating natto is enough of an experience. I’ll save you the trouble of smelling it – it smells like ammonia mixed with stinky cheese and toejams. Yum!

I’ve heard that some people are more disturbed by the “slimy” texture of natto than the smell. It’s hard to describe without saying the texture is like loogies. The closest common food item I can think of is the inside of an okra pod. That slime is almost the exact same texture. Now imagine a slimy, smelly okra pod. Again, if you don’t stir the natto up, you’ll have less of that slimy texture.

One of the weird things about natto are the tiny crystal formations that sometimes appear. Yes, crystals. Not every package of natto has them, but I actually find them pleasant, adding a bit of crunch. I’m not sure if this is mold, bacteria action, or what, but it’s interesting (and I hope, not bad for you). Again, if you stir it up, you’re not going to notice the crystals that much. The taste of natto by itself is difficult to describe, since it’s colored by the soy sauce package or mustard. It has a slight bitter tinge to the bean taste.

You might be wondering why some people eat this if it’s such a smelly, slimy proposition. There are supposed to be a whole host of health benefits, which I won’t get into. I just like the art of Eating of Natto as an experience. It really feels like you’re going into battle. With chopsticks a-ready. I don’t expect you’ll like it, but you should at least give it a try one of these days.

[Editor's Note: I hope that y'all know my natto paranoia is in jest. Well, sort of. One other tip: after eating natto, you may want to switch out your bowl for a new one. Natto tends to "contaminate" other foods with it's taste, smell and slime. Also, I usually wash my mouth right afterwards. Wipe down the table and placemats. And don't go kissing each other right after eating it...]

[ Currently Eating: Chicken Porridge ]

Maruchan Yakisoba - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Well, well, well, well.


Here is what I have to say:

I guess I would eat this Maruchan Teriyaki Yakisoba during or after an earthquake which devastated all the earth’s food supplies. Hella yes.

Otherwise, I probably won’t be eating this again.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m usually game for a revisit on any of these dollar junk food items. I think it may have something to do with the fact that I’ve come down with a bit of a stomach bug the past couple days. So talking about MSG laden instant noodles right now is not high on my priorities.

Oh poor me. I can feel reader sympathy dripping through the eaves like so much Diet Dr. Pepper.

Anyhow, here’s the deal. I’m pretty familiar with Yakisoba style dishes. My mom cooked it all the time for lunch. I think I’ve eaten enough of them, whether homemade, in a restaurant, fresh storebought and dried storebought to know that this particular Maruchan one is one of the lowest of low-brow yakisobas that you will get.

Please note, I’m not claiming to be a Yakisoba expert. I’m just saying I’ve eaten a lot of them.

Yakisoba (i.e. Fried Noodles) is basically a bastardized verison of Chow Mein, which (at most faux-Chinese restaurants) is often a sort of a bastardized, Americanized version of more traditional Chinese noodle dishes. Maruchan Yakisoba seems to be a bastardized version of normal Yakisoba itself, so by transitive property, you can fill in blanks.

That’s a lot of bastards.

I’m generalizing here, but usually it’s a kitchen sink compilation comprised of stir fried noodles with various bits of meat (pork, beef, chicken), veggies (carrots, cabbage, onion, water chestnuts, corn, bell pepper) in sauce that is reminiscient of Worcestshire, oyster or Tonkatsu sauces. It’s not that soupy usually – it’s more on the dry side, with the noodles absorbing the sauce so they turn brown in color.

I dunno if it’s traditional, but a lot of times you’ll put a fine dry seaweed powder on top. This is often called “Laver”, which, if you ask a few of my more traditional relatives, they may pronounce variously: “raver”, “lavel”, or “Ravel”. French Impressionist music and instant noodles, excellente.

Companies like Sapporo Ichiban have been making a dried variety of Yakisoba since forever. This is sort of my yardstick against which I was measuring this Maruchan variety. There’s also supposed to be a popular brand called “UFO” which I somehow haven’t tried yet. Maybe that’s next up on the review list.

Maruchan Yakisoba - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I guess what drew me to this one in particular was the fact that it had it’s own “tray” and you could just add water and nuke it. Usually, Yakisoba is made in a frying pan – even the instant version. At least I used to make the instant variety in a pan. It tasted much better than this one.

I don’t know if not pan frying it might have affected the outcome a bit. I felt this version was wetter and much too soupy. The yakisoba I’ve had before, whether in a restaurant or the instant variety, is almost always nearly dry. They have two packets in this box. The first is the dehydrated “vegetables” which are more for morale than anything else. You heat that up with the noodles and water. The second packet is the sauce flavor one, which you dump in at the end.

Maruchan Yakisoba - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Here’s a breakdown:

The noodles – Hey, let’s hear it for instant ramen noodles. They are pretty much the same noodles you’d find in typical ramen. The color was a little light for Yakisoba, I was wondering if perhaps I missed sprinkling all the sauce packet into the tray in my rush to eat it. The fresh packaged versions of Yakisoba noodles are 10 times better if you can get it (look for it in specialty Asian markets), but still, I guess I’d eat this during an earthquake.

The sauce – They say “teriyaki” flavor – I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, but I did notice that this tastes a little different than your standard yakisoba sauce, which is worcestshire flavored. It’s a bit sweeter, and does seem Teriyaki flavored. As I said before, this is more watery than usual. I want to say I taste some sort of apple thingy as well. It had MSG to the Max, pidgin style. But I guess I would eat it during an earthquake.

Veggie packet – I don’t know why they even bother. These are the same dehydrated bits of carrot and onions that you get in Cup O Noodles. Except for the addition of some cabbage shreds, which were actually the highlight of the meal, I could do without the obligatory veggie specks. If they really wanted to cut costs, they should just omit it and lower the price by 50 cents or so. Actually, if I remember correctly, the Sapporo Ichiban dried version doesn’t have any veggies at all in it, thus leading to a much lower price. Again, I would eat it before during or after an earthquake.

Overall – I guess what I have to say is that I would eat this before, during or after a debilitating earthquake. The convenience of the tray to let you warm it up in the microwave is sort of lost on me. I think I would rather spend less and get the lowest brow Ichiban variety. It’s nothing like fresh packaged yakisoba or yakisoba made at a restaurant. But hell, what are you going to do during an earthquake anyhow.

Price: $0.99 for 4 oz.
Found At: Fresh & Easy
Cheap Eats Score: 3/10

[Editor's Note: You may notice I seem to be mighty concerned about earthquakes. This is true, mainly because I am able to psychically predict them. I do this by eating a plate of Yakisoba and counting the number of times the noodles interweave. The next large one in California will be on August 5, 2015. You heard it here first. Still lots of time to stock up on supplies...]

2/10/09 | Wild Animal Crunch

[ Currently Eating: Pea Soup ]

Wild Animal Crunchhh - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

To say that I was severely disappointed with Wild Animal Crunch is an understatement of almost elephantine and Brobdingnagian proportions.

Oh, you like those fun words? Here are some more: mammoth, humongous, colossal, epic, ginormous, earth-shattering disappointment.

Look at the cute polar bear family. Woo – cubbies! They can haz mye heart. Hey and it’s brought to you by Animal Planet. Can’t go wrong there.

Plus the box sez: “NEW!” I am the wide-eyed sucker that advertising execs are targeting. NEW! How can you beat that. Must buy.

It also says this is a “Collector’s Polar Package”. Because there are a ton of people who collect nothing but cereal boxes. You haven’t heard? It’s the latest craze.

Yes, I fell for this hook, line and polar bear. I paid $1.50 for a cardboard picture of polar bears, a walrus, emperor penguins and seals (those are actually on the back of the box). Oh, I forgot – there was cereal in the box too. Kind of surprising – I thought they might have just filled it up with rocks or something and called it a day.

Wild Animal Crunchhh - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Actually, the cereal does look a little bit like rocks. This is supposed to be “naturally and artificially flavored vanilla-chocolate whole grain cereal”, with an emphasis on the “artificially flavored”. I think they were trying to make the shapes look like certain “wild animals”, but I couldn’t really make out what they were. A few were vaguely bear-shaped.

Hm… I changed my mind. These don’t look like rocks. They look like diseased polar bear molars without the roots. Yum. Hey, Polar Molars also rhymes! NEET-o.

The cereal tasted like chocolate flavored crispy weeds and sawdust, but I suppose that’s because it’s a whole grain cereal. I have to give them a little bit of credit – at least they’re trying to make it healthy. Although, the sugar content is enough to make my nose bleed. I don’t eat a lot of cereal, though, so it’s difficult to tell just how sweet this is.

In conclusion, this review sucked. Uh, I mean, this cereal sucked. A Freudian slip there. Sorry, I’ve been having writer’s block lately and can’t think of what to say about a cereal that looks like a Martian Polar Bear’s butt spatterings. But I think the flavor of this would improve slightly if eaten with milk.

Man, I need to stop buying all this crap at the dollar store.

Price: $1.50
Found At: Dollar Store
Cheap Eats Score: 2/10

[ Currently Eating: Oatsymeal ]

Smart Start - Cheap Eats at BloglanderSome quickie Cheap Eats news: it appears the price of your favorite daily morning Kellogg’s cereal may be going up. I read about it on Iateapie today. While the increase will only be in the single digit percentages, it’s going to affect most of their cereals (exceptions are Special K, All-Bran). Price increases will be across the board for stores apparently.

As the article notes, it’ll be interesting to see what General Mills thinks of the price rise. The reason for the increase is mainly the cost of ingredients. I don’t eat a lot of dry cereal, so I can’t say how much it’ll affect us. But I guess if you have 10 kids and buy boxes and boxes of cereal a week, then you might notice the difference.

Wait, does this include Pop Tarts?

Oh, woe is me.

Source: Yahoo Finance via Tanya from Iateapie

[ Currently Eating: Sausage Stromboli ]

Stromboli?? - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

And a Happy Stuffed Sausage Bread New Year to you too.

I had a nice little dollar store Cheap Eats post all ready to go today. But that’s gotten preempted (much like all my favorite shows are preempted by stupid American Football nowadays) by some crazy Stromboli action.

I know it’s hard to believe, what with my dumblefingery baking skills, but I actually made a practical approximation of a Sausage Stromboli just an hour ago in the oven. I couldn’t believe it either. I hope this is a harbinger of Cheap Eats Baking to come for 2009.

Stromboli?? - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I know you’re supposed to use a pizza stone for this kind of stuff, but I was able to make one using just a Silpat on top of a cookie baking sheet. I think because the dough was thin, it didn’t matter as much. It didn’t have as crunchy a crust as a real pizza, and the cheese leaked out of the bottom, but the end result was pretty amazing. I did use a broiler tray for steam this time, so maybe that helped the crust. This one had canned tomatoes, jack cheese and cooked Italian sausage in it.

It’s about this point that I need to confess that the recipe for the stromboli comes straight outta Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (abbreviated as AB5MD from now on) which I got for Xmas. I really think they should’ve taken out the word “Artisan” – it tends to scare non-bakers like me away. At first I thought it was some frou-frou book written by a poofy-hatted chef in Limoges. They should’ve just said Amazing Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.

I hate to be one of those “book boosters”, but this bread tome is pretty damn good. I started off before this book going down the Jim Lahey No-Knead route (google it, for the NY times article, since the bastards prevent hotlinking). That recipe was the revelation, and this book extended it by letting you keep batches of pre-mixed dough in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Earlier, I’d experimented with making your own yeast – but I’ll save that topic for another day. Plus, it’s a little more inconvenient and requires more time. I just used the standard yeast packets.

I’m only on the basic master recipe in AB5MD which uses water, salt, unbleached white flour and storebought yeast. But it’s been good enough for most everything – however, I was surprised it worked well for the Stromboli because I didn’t have a pizza stone. Also, I’ve been using a combination of the Lahey method and AB5MD method for all the bread. Basically, I said forget the pizza stone and used a non-stick cast iron pot like Lahey recommended. Use the cover for 1/2 the cooking time and you don’t really need to use a steam tray. The bread comes out pretty good, though not perfect. The dough recipe is just an ordinary 6-3-3-13. That’s 6 cups lukewarm water, 3 tbsp yeast, 3 tbsp kosher salt, 13 cups flour. Mix it, cover and let it stand for 2 hours and put it in the fridge. That is all – enough dough for 8 1lb loaves. Halve the recipe if it’s too much to store.

I’ll try get a full recipe up for the stromboli, maybe an AB5MD book review as well, when I get to the other enriched doughs of later chapters. For now, it’s pretty darn good and cheap eats. It’s great to be able to make larger batches in advance instead of just one at a time like the Lahey method I was using.

[ Currently Eating: Coffee Coffee Coffee ]


Hye there. I’m going to be doing something sort of lame starting today. Since we’re already splitting food review coverage between Cheap Eats and Cheaplander, I’ll be cross-promoting it between the sites. So, if there’s a review over there, I’ll mostly likely post a link up over here.

I know, I know. This is nothing more than a scheme to make it seem like I’m writing more content here at Cheap Eats than I actually am. I’d be stupid not to do it, however, since Cheaplander is just getting off the ground while Cheap Eats has much more traffic and has been around for nearly 5 years.

For those who haven’t visited yet, Cheaplander is “supposed to be” just like this blog, except it deals with any topic – not only food. The main focus of the site has to do with “living within your means” – I guess that’s as good a topic as any in this economy. We’re also running it as a pseudo-group blog, so if you’re interested in contributing reviews, let me know. I might put up a “help wanted” shingle here in a bit. I’m also planning on running “contests” over there eventually.

(A note for all the companies sending in food for review: you have an equal chance of having your product appear on the Cheap Eats site and the Cheaplander site. It’s pretty much random right now.)



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