Category Archives: en passant

Musings, mumblings, discoveries and asides.

Imported pastries at Woolworths/Safeway

Woolworths clearly weren’t satisfied with importing “artisan” bread all the way from the other side of the Pacific (see my article here), but are also selling a diverse range of pastries imported from Europe. They’ve been doing for at least a few months, but I’ve been slow to write about it.

Interested in the (slightly underbaked) maple/pecan plaits, or the attractive hazelnut twists, or the Portuguese custard tarts at Woolworths/Safeway? Look carefully at the price label. Although I’ve noticed a change to omit the country of origin recently, this is what I was able to snap back in July.

I recognised the maple pecan plaits… I’d seen them in Danish supermarkets. So what are they doing here, about 10,000km away? While novel product is appreciated in our distinctly unnovel major supermarkets, I can’t help but wonder, yet again, WHY Australian businesses can’t supply product of at least similar middling quality, and WHY Woolworths is happy to source such product from overseas — if you’re going to buy egregiously imported stuff, you might as well promote the product as something special (at least then it would look like the importation was justified and it might motivate local businesses to do better).

Note that I don’t know if Woolworths is responsible for the importation or if a third party is bring this product in and wholesaling it.

And in case you’re interested, the plaits are very sweet and moderately pleasant, while the Portuguese custard tarts look like crap and are unlikely to be a happy experience.

Confessions of a Rice Bubbles (Rice Krispies) addict

Hello everybody. My name’s Duncan, and I’d like to share something with you. I eat bubbles of puffed rice every day. Every day.

Everyone who knows me well enough to welcome me into their home on my travels knows that I eat one thing for breakfast. It verges on religion. If I stray from the one true breakfast, I am punished with bad moods and heavy stomach (or growling hunger). What’s more, perhaps unusually for something so mundane, I’m quite faithful to one brand — they’re known in Australia as Kellogg’s Rice Bubbles and in most other markets as Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (which is their original name).

I like my Rice Bubbles with cold milk. And it mustn’t be UHT/long-life liquid. Ick. Cold, pasteurised milk (for want of access to unpasteurised). No sugar (though I used to have half a teaspoon in my youth).

I’ve been eating Rice Bubbles for, oh, about 85% of my life. My earliest memories are accompanied by snap! crackle! pop!, though I have strayed on occasion: I’ll blame my parents for forays into puffed wheat and shredded wheats and such things (though they might object). And travelling makes life very difficult. You see, Rice Krispies overseas are quite hard to find. In France you have to go to a hypermarket and pray a little. In Germany I knew who had the goods and had to make long distance trips with a car boot or many cloth bags. In Sweden, Rice Krispies were widely available but priced like gold-dust, meaning that the appearance of discount coupons led to frenzied shopping and filling of cupboards (I wonder if I can find the photographic proof! I’ll post it here later if I find it).

Worst of all, many people just don’t get my favourite cereal. The apartment owner in Paris who had rented out his place to me for two weeks looked aghast when I, as a friendly gesture, told him there was half a packet of Krispies left in the kitchen. “Why would I eat kid’s food?” he snorted. Hmph. German fellow students in college used to listen to my breakfast as if it were a new-fangled wireless, incredulous at the orchestra of white noise emanating from my breakfast bowl. This is not to say that my international friends are unsympathetic to my addiction. Indeed, some have gone to admirable (and much appreciated) lengths to obtain my bubble-dope, even when I’ve protested that there are tolerable alternatives when on the road.

For instance, freshly baked croissants (or even oven-heated frozen ones!) can hit the spot. I hate müsli, but at a pinch I can stomach some without much fruit. And I can eat buttery thick pancakes and pikelets if I think of them more as a treat than breakfast.

The worst surrogate, however, can be fake bubbles. For a while in Germany there was a non-Rice Krispies brand of puffed rice. It was made of some sort of sprayed aerated ickiness which tasted thoroughly foul. For years, that trauma kept me away from other clones, but straitened times pushed me to explore other surrogates in recent years and, luckily, I chose well at the first attempt. The Australian supermarket chain Coles had a house-brand version, Rice Puffs, that actually tasted almost the same as my one-true-cereal.

Alas, Coles has betrayed my trust — a recent repackaging of the Rice Puffs product didn’t just mean a prettier box. Behind the scenes (and undeclared) they had changed their supplier. The result was very disappointing. And so I have returned to the original again.


Exhibit A is the one-true-cereal. Exhibit B is the now-missing Coles version. Exhibit C is the small, unfluffy, yucky Coles stealth-replacement product.

I wonder if I’m the only single-cereal-addict out there… ?

Airline food before you take off

I’m sitting in the Qantas Business Lounge at Melbourne Airport. The food is designed to prepare you for the inflight experience. Actually, I think the food on my flight might end up being better. The “Malaysian Chicken Curry” is one of those thick-with-starch sweet curiously-moist-chicken affairs with lots of turmeric for effect. The rice is seriously overcooked broken (why?) long-grain rice. I’m glad I stopped at a tablespoon of each.

Dessert, meanwhile, was a firm-cream lemony hazelnut-daquoisey thing, exactly like those insipid creamy “cakes” you get inflight. It’s staring at me now.

And why would you have a wireless network in the lounge which is called “Telstra” rather than something relating to Qantas? At least the Malaysian Airlines wireless access is clearly labelled (and, incidentally, accessible for non-lounge travellers sitting at the gates, though the signal can be weak).

I’m off on a trip. Look out for strange reports of better food!

What is your supermarket importing now?

Continuing my occasional quest for examples of disappointments in supermarkets, I have found a new example of the import-cheap-product-at-all-costs approach to retailing.

What do you think I found?

1. Canned corn
2. Artisan bread
3. Exotic mushrooms
4. Rubbery balls of mozzarella
5. Tomato sauce

Can you guess? Can you? Can you?

In Australia, we’re familiar with US cherries out of season. We know some local brands of chocolate are imported in part from New Zealand. And some local biscuit products now come from factories in China.

I’ve got past my surprise at seeing that Woolworths/Safeway “Select” chocolate biscuits are from New Zealand (and I think the Coles supermarket house brand biscuits are from Scotland). Such a pity the supermarkets’ drive to stuff higher-margin house branded goods onto their shelves is so clearly at the cost of local manufacturers and producers.

So what next?

Ladies and gentleman, I present my first piece of evidence.


A seemingly innocent display of fancy breads. They look quite appetising.


They come to you direct from the USA.

I don’t know about you, but at first sight, my brain refused to process the label. “Why are they bothering to tell us the origin of the cheese?” I thought to myself. Nope. Silly. The bread. Woolworths/Safeway is importing its “artisan bread” from across the Pacific Ocean. I wonder how many cents the USAmerican manufacturer managed to undercut a local baker by in order to win the contract! Was it really worth transferring business to an overseas producer for a product we can make very well at home?

Do any readers have other examples of stunningly stupid imports? (Please ignore (un)seasonal fresh produce issues, as they already receive a fair bit of attention.)

Hot cross buns save the day

On Good Friday my mother usually makes her fantabulous hot cross buns. Unsurpassed in the history of Australia. Or something like that. Usually there are just four of us devouring the buns. This year there were unbidden guests.

Dad was serving the buns. We were making our familiar drooling, moaning noises.

Perhaps our pre-orgiastic vocalisations acted as an incantation, calling up spirits from Easters past. They marched across the tablecloth.

They surveyed our Easter breakfast. At first we were seduced by their seeming innocence. Their yellow fuzz illuminated our breakfast table.

We noticed small groups forming amongst our visitors. “How sweet!” we thought. “It’s a group hug.” … or was it something more like a rugby scrum?

While we had been observing our cute little friends do their group hug, other visitors were busy… The hugs had been a diversion!

The yellow guests were as voracious as locusts. And when challenged, defended their bounty. They had the arrogance of conquerors, standing atop the battlements of a fallen fortress.

We cowered in our seats as the fluffy yellow marauders started mutating into hideous, daemonic things.

To our surprise, the frightening feasting horned chickens of Easter began to collapse. The mutation had not been a transformation into their true form, but in fact the hideous effect of a food allergy.

They couldn’t take the peel. We were saved! Beware of peel-hating Easter invaders!

American food nightmares (Men’s Health)

A few years ago, an American friend of mine in Denver told me of a chain restaurant (he worked there) which had served a slice of cake containing something like 2300 calories. Despite my sweet tooth, that just seemed foully excessive. Not long ago I found a magazine article that confirmed he wasn’t lying and that there are a lot of people consuming unimaginable calories in the USA… Another post in my quest to find disgusting food the world over, here’s a beautiful illustration of just how many calories can be packed into one pointless meal.

Men’s Health 20 Worst Foods of 2009

I’m particularly impressed by the following two items:

Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake
2,600 calories
135 g fat (59 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fats)
263 g sugars
1,700 mg sodium

Marie Callender’s Creamy Parmesan Chicken Pot Pie
1,060 calories
64 g fat (24 g saturated fat)
1,440 mg sodium

Marie Callender’s perpetrates the ultimate sleight of hand here: the nutrition information says this medium-size entrée has two servings, but honestly, when have you ever split a potpie? …

… but there’s much more indigestible “joy” to be found in the Men’s Health list. Ugh.

Honestly, if you’re going kill yourself with meals that are four times the recommended daily energy needs of an athlete, you should do it with homemade pastry, chocolate, custard, ice-cream, macarons, homemade bread and delicious cheeses!