When you're wandering a mall, hunger isn't your friend. It usually means some average meal to temporarily satiate, which you'll forget about as soon as you dump the tray. So to discover something left of center is a welcome treat, especially when your playground is the Bay Area.
Their signage was in the distance. Jollibee? Calbi? Oh, Calbee! What the heck is Calbee? As I walked closer, familiar packaging came into focus. It was those
Caesar snap pea crisps typically found at Trader Joe's, or next to the croutons and minced garlic everywhere else. That stuff was pretty tasty and good for you, but why stop when I can pick up a bag back home? In a word, options.
I used to wish dining had a Mermaids mentality, the movie where Cher and Winona Ryder shared an offbeat mother/daughter relationship, and all their meals consisted of hors d'oeuvres. How great would that be? No utensils. Condiments galore. Tons of variety. Works for me. The San Francisco-based snacking company designed a walk-up made for to-go munching, akin to Sweet Factory or See's Candies. A Salt House, if you will.
Pricing starts as low as $3 for a crunchy treat of your choosing to be poured into a container on the spot for future enjoyment. Their three major food “styles” are referred to as Sticks, Snaps, and Veggies. Sticks are potatoes with a crispy texture. Snaps are natural-shaped potato snacks. Veggies are all natural (i.e snap pea crisps) and prepared to retain the vegetable's taste and texture. They also offer something called a soy milk pudding, but it goes against our utensil (non)preference, so we ignore. I'm pretty sure the Sticks and Snaps were one in the same, but hey, we're just telling you what they said. Here's what we ordered.
The “purple mix” snaps contain eye-catching artisan red and purple potatoes. Grown in Japan, their technical names are Northern Ruby and Kitamurasaki (with some plain white ones thrown in). They are fresher and crunchier than any Terra bag. Snaps make french fries look like limp noodles in comparison, yet retain the desired salty, starchy quality we crave.
Our “harvest trio” veggie chips have an earthy hue of sweet potato, pumpkin and onion chips. With a potent aroma that reminds one to buy a pack of gum afterwards, the savory onion is the softest of the three, preventing the mix from getting too sweet. We are toeing the line of sensory overload at this point. Time for something dessert-like, but what?
remains unopened sits on my dining table, but the sugary sample still lingers in my memory banks. Its taste way more appealing than the name – tofu caramel crunch. Yeah, I said it. They resemble Cinnamon Toast Crunch squares with Ruffles ridges. If you haven't figured it out by now, texture is a wonderful thing. Unlike Kraft caramel squares at Halloween , these are delicate in flavor. However, the crunch they pack impacts your jaw like those treats owners feed their Welsh Corgi.
No, this isn't a square meal by any means. It's snacking at its purest, unadulterated form. We endure it on airplanes, in movie theaters, and in SF, it's a bonafide treat (minus the cable car). Thank me when you've noisily cruised by everyone else in the chaos of a food court. You've got things in the bag.
Calbee is located inside Westfield San Francisco Centre's Food Emporium. 865 Market St., San Francisco, (415) 281-0982; www.calbeeshop.com.