It is perhaps with some irony that this episode of The Snackdown is quite possibly its most positive, most wholesome one yet, in a time when our great nation is at its most negative and most uncertain.
Today I want to tell you about Hawkers United—Dabao 2020. The Facebook group was set up just around a week ago, when the Circuit Breaker measures were announced, and has since grown to some 120,000 members and counting.
The original aim of Hawkers United was to “help out hawkers who do not have delivery or marketing capabilities to have an outreach channel to the public”, which is about as wholesome as a baby unicorn projectile vomiting a rainbow.
And while The Snackdown would like to give a shoutout to every one of the vendors on that page, I unfortunately cannot. I am but one Snacktivist, and as it says so right there in my name, my purview is in snacks.
That is to say, foods that aren’t really foods at all, but the culinary equivalent of an appendix, or a vestigial limb. .
But anyway, Hawkers United is a truly Noble Cause, about as Serious as it gets. This provides a nice bit of juxtaposition, because if you think about it, is the exact opposite of The Snackdown, which is about as ignoble and frivolous as it gets.
You really owe it to yourself to go check the page out, because in addition to the aforementioned hawkers, there’s also small fresh/frozen foodstuff suppliers that will no doubt be hit hard by the Circuit Breaker measures.
So, while trawling through the small mountain of posts there, something caught my eye. A way that the Snacktivist can give back to Hawkers United, which as I’ve already established earlier, is a Worthy Cause. I am, after all, a huge advocate of Woke Snacktivism.
Specifically, I’m talking about Nelly’s Retro Snacks, which does exactly what it says on the Khong Guan biscuit tin. As in, it sells retro snacks, along with some not-so-retro ones across four locations in Singapore (two in the Yishun area, one in Toa Payoh and another at Golden Mile Food Centre), started ostensibly by someone named Nelly.
Unless it’s kind of like a Hootie and the Blowfish situation, where nobody is actually called Hootie and there’s no actual blowfish.
At any rate, Nelly’s Retro Snacks says it stocks over 300 types of biscuits and snacks from around the region, which pretty much guarantees you’ll be able to find something there that makes you feel just like that rainbow-vomiting unicorn I was talking about earlier.
Are you ready for some good cheer, achieved through the magic of nostalgia? I know I am.
‘Pepperidge Farm’ goldfish crackers
Just so we’re clear, these goldfish crackers aren’t Pepperidge Farm ones. They do, in fact, as with most things to come from Nelly’s Retro Snacks, come out of an anonymous brass-coloured tin.
But do these tiny piscine-shaped morsels fall short in any way to the real deal?
If I’m honest, they kind of do. There’s just a bit too much baking powder in them, and it doesn’t have the same sort of butteriness that the Pepperidge Farm ones do. It’s a small difference in quality, but perceptible nonetheless
But does it really matter? Well, no. Because chances are you’ll be grabbing small fistfuls of them at a time. And really, when you’re doing your best impression of Cookie Monster from Sesame Street, it doesn’t really matter what each biscuit tastes like because having more than 10 of them in your mouth at any given time tends to drown out subtleties in taste.
More importantly though, these ersatz Pepperidge Farm crackers will still be available when global supply chains collapse, the weaknesses of which were recently laid bare by the ongoing pandemic.
So, I ask you: WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW? WHERE ARE YOUR FANCY IMPORTED BISCUITS NOW?
Now, you have a perfectly viable alternative when the world goes to hell. And you’ll also be doing a good deed by supporting a small local business.
As always, you’re welcome.
Pineapple jam cookies
I can’t remember the first time I had cookies similar to these, but I remember that when I did, I fell in love instantly. What is there not to love about this most wondrous of snacks. It’s a pat of sickly sweet pineapple jam sandwiched between a pair of crumbly biscuits.
It’s like a pineapple tart, but eating it at any time of the year won’t earn you funny looks.
This is something I don’t get. Why is it unacceptable to eat supposed festive foods at any time of the year? I mean, I’d get it if we were living in more temperate climes, where drinking something like eggnog or eating something like a big, hearty stew during the height of summer tends to make it taste downright weird, if not completely off.
But pineapple tarts taste amazing all year round, so why is it not more popular throughout the year. I mean, people seem to scarf down inordinate quantities of the stuff during the festive period.
These pineapple jam cookies, if they weren’t awesome enough on their own, is like a portal to happier times. Close your eyes, crunch on them, get some pineapple jam stuck between your teeth and let the waves of holiday cheer wash over you.
It’s so good, you can almost pretend that you’re not living under lockdown Circuit Breaker conditions right now and that y’know, you’re on holiday and not really stuck at home developing a terminal case of cabin fever.
… Which in these plague-ridden days is probably preferable to developing an actual fever, but anyway.
‘Red velvet’ roll wafers
Red velvet is one of those really weird things that serve no other purpose than to be aesthetic. Effectively, it’s a chocolate sponge cake with a cream cheese frosting… except that instead of brown, it’s a vivid shade of red, which is most certainly not the DORSCON status we’re living under right now.
Anyway, these wafers were labelled simply as ‘chocolate’ on another ones of those aforementioned anonymous biscuit tins, which isn’t entirely off the mark, since as you know, red velvet is chocolate.
But is it really red velvet? Would that be giving retro snacks too much credit? I mean, red velvet is a relatively recent introduction to the local diet. But it’s got a mostly cream-coloured wafer, flecked with what looks like dark red bits.
It tastes… like red velvet. That is to say, it tastes like chocolate, in a love letter-y form.
And that’s good? I guess?
When I was a younger person, a proto-Snacktivist, if you will, my parents liked to hand down what they thought were valuable life lessons.
Wash your hands before you eat, they said.
Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, they said.
Oh wait, that’s actually good advice, given what’s going on in the world right now.
In addition to the truly useful advice, they also said things like don’t drink cold water after playing sports because it’ll shock your system. Then there’s something along the lines of don’t go to bed with your hair wet because that will lead to paralysis.
And who could forget, they told me not eat anything with colours that don’t seem quite natural. Suffice it to say, that virulent shade of green these pandan wafers come in isn’t anything that occurs in nature. Unless your version of nature happens to be seen through the lens of some highly illegal psychedelic substances.
The wafers themselves, violent green hue aside, don’t have much of an intrinsic taste. And yes, it’s the exact same one you’ll find sandwiching the ice cream you get from street vendors. The cream found within, well, let’s just say that, like its colour, it tastes too good to be true.
As in, it has more of a pandan taste than the real thing. It’s more pandan than pandan. Which begs the question why couldn’t McDonald’s have done this with their own pandan ice cream?
Not that I’m complaining, mind you. There’s a certain charm to eating something that’s so artificial and proud of the fact. No pretence, just plain old calling a spade a spade. Or in this case, artificially flavoured pandan wafers.
You must be thinking, “Why Snacktivist? Why would you eat knockoff Oreos when you could just as easily get the Real Thing?”
The answer to that question is, of course, “None of your damn business.”
Seriously, if I was an intellectual (and I am), I’d tell you for the same reason as I’m eating those goldfish crackers above. Because when society and global supply chains fall apart, knockoff Oreos are the only things you’ll be able to get.
But really, as with eating pandan-flavoured things that patently have little to no pandan content, there’s a certain charm in eating knockoff items that are clearly knockoffs. The same charm of bootleg Transformers toys. It’s quaint, in a sense.
The not-Oreos themselves are fairly unremarkable, in that it’s two chocolate cookies with a vanilla cream filling. But what’s interesting and different is that the cookies are thick. And I do mean thick.
Not in a ‘oh lawd, he comin’ sort of way, but they are noticeably thicker than your regular Oreo. The vanilla cream within still remains roughly the same, however. It’s like an Oreo Double Stuf in reverse.
And the chocolate biscuits, which I what I’ll nominally call them because they’re black, have an oddly pandan note to them. Why exactly I’m not too sure, but the combination of vanilla and pandan is a curiously appealing one.
Is it the perfect fusion of East and West? The proverbial cute baby of snack foods?
Is it an unholy lovechild of a relationship that should never have been?
That’s up to you to decide.
But I can tell you what isn’t up to you, however. And that’s STAY AT HOME. If nothing else, so you live to snack another day… and also because it's hard to torment your enemies if you're dead. Unless you can come back as a poltergeist to deal them minor, but infuriating annoyances such as misplacing their socks.
10-word review: The soothing, sweet salve of nostalgia will save us all.
Best paired with: A big hug from grandma.