Thursday, February 28, 2013

Haenam Kalbi & Calamari

Quick Review!  Try somewhere new.

I've been meaning to get my teeth into some of the Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican and Centro-American Restaurants lining Highway 99 near my house.  A sort of penance for complaining that there aren't many restaurants in North Seattle.  Yeah - I've learned my lesson after the whole Ramen thing.
And I'll confess, what kind of penance is it if you have to go try food?  Clearly one I made up for myself.

So I was invited to go eat at Haenam Kalbi & Calamari (15001 Aurora N Shoreline 98133).

To start - they have roasted barley tea.  This is a lovely lightly sweet and pleasantly bitter drink.  Next time I'll have to see if they have Korean Ginger Tea.  That is one of my favorite Gingery treats.

The menu has good pictures and descriptions - so don't be nervous, just go in and try.  But what to try? 

First time, go with Stone Bowl Bi-bim-bop.  Hot bowl, rice, a variety of meats (tofu available), veggies and an egg.  The stone bowl makes the rice at the bottom crispy and good.  There is a galaxy of side dishes to accompany.  Kimchee (the spicy pickle) along with other fermented veg, dressed veg and some salads.

I tried Hwe dubbap - Basically Korean sashimi, but served over fresh greens, and then you put a bowl of hot rice over it, and eat it with a fantastic hot and sour sauce.  Num!

And if there's no other reason to go?  The have a really cute sign - a little piggy and a squid.
(Yes I shoulda' taken pictures.  I'll do better next time!)

P.S. The Yelp reviews tell you about more of the dishes if you are curious.  A solid 4 star place.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Adobo Lab – Part III: Results

Basic Chicken Adobo
(Please quibble with the recipe and make changes.  I’m begging you.)

glass bowl or tupperware for marinating
sauce pan or casserole
baking pan/sheet for broiling (line with foil/Silpat to avoid scrubbing)
tongs/fork/chopsticks for moving hot food around
stirring things
chopping stuff if you need to cut up meat

2 lbs chicken wings, legs & thighs
1C – 1.5C vinegar (rice or cane or ???)
¼ - ½ C soy sauce (or 1 - 1.5 Tbs salt)
3 bay leaves
1 Tbs whole peppercorns
12 garlic cloves
(1 or 2 crushed/torn dried peppers – med or hot)
( ½C – 1C coconut milk)

Prep: (super-duper easy)
If you are working with a whole chicken, or quarters, cut the bird at the joints.  (Freeze the breasts for something else – or use them tonight if you are marinating for tomorrow.)
Hit the garlic cloves once with a pot, or that “tenderizing hammer” you got with a kitchen set at some point.  Remove the papery skin.
Into the marinating vessel, add the vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, peppercorns, smacked and partially crushed garlic cloves (and any optional ingredients).  Stir to combine. 
Snuggle the chicken pieces into the liquid. 
Cover, place in the fridge and marinate for an hour or up to overnight.
(You can peel some potatoes or yams to add in chunks when you start the cooking if you’d like.)

Cook! (if possible even easier)†
Pour all the ingredients into your saucepan/casserole (including optional tubers).  Get the chicken down into the liquid.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.  At about 15 minutes, turn over or re-snuggle the chicken in the sauce.
(Another optional: In the last 5 min of cooking, add a hard boiled egg or two).

Remove all the big chunks. 
Use your stirring spoon to smash up a few pieces of the softened garlic into the sauce.  Turn up the heat to reduce the sauce to coat-the-back-of-a-spoon thickness.  At the same time…
Place the chicken pieces under the broiler to crisp any skin (about 4 min for each side of wings and legs, and about 5 just on the skin side of the thighs.)

Return everything to the thickened sauce.
Serve over rice or with stir-fried and/or grilled veg (bok-choi or cabbage – always a good idea).

Refrigerate any leftovers for easy food the next day.  Or freeze for much later.  (This is the kind of thing that loves to be doubled – cook 1x, eat 2x)

† I've looked over a bunch of crockpot recipes.  Can't vouch, but the consensus seems to be:
Use 2 or so onions sliced into rings to create a platform for the chicken.
No need to marinate - as Madge the Manicurist used to say, "You're soaking in it."
Use the same recipe, maybe add a little water to make sure everything is snuggled into the liquid.
Cook at Hi for 3-ish hours
Cook at Low for 6-ish hours
Skin on and bone in are essential for this version.
The broil-flip-broil is nice, but not essential.

Attention Paleo-Peeps!  (And other people who are avoiding extra sugar)
No sugar is needed as long you have bones and skin to add richness to the sauce.  The large amounts of sugar in many of these crock-pot recipes is needed to give body and as a thickener when gelatin and fat are absent.

Adobo Lab - Part II: Experiments

Not a complete set - just a baseline.

Not being Heston Blumenthal or Alton Brown, much less Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, there's just no way I can explore all the ins and outs of Adobo like they would, or whatever they are pursuing.  They do that for a living.  I do it to relax.  And their graphics staffs are clearly more awesome than mine (me).

Your basic chicken wing adobo.

That being said - I've put a bit of study into the Adobo thing (books, internet, and a lucky connection to a real live Adobo cook.  Even luckier - who was willing to share.)  And now it was time to try.

This particular project got started with a whole mess o' extra chicken wings.  See, last time we ordered wings from our butcher, they came pre-split.  So we got half as many as we thought.  This year, expecting that, we ordered accordingly.  And got unsplit wings, so had twice as many.  Next year - we're ordering by the pound.  3rd time, and all that.

4 vessels for experimentation
I decided to attack a few of the main elements: 
Vinegar type - cane or rice - and lots or less?
Salt source - soy sauce or regular salt
Marinate - 1-3 hours or overnight
Coconut milk - yes or no
Spicy or not?
Notice - I didn't even get into the sugar thing.

Lots of garlic.  I don't understand skimping on garlic.
Especially when it gets cooked to mellow and sweet.
Each had about 1.25 lb (0.55kg) of chicken wings  (sorry no pork - but this was more of a sauce challenge)

The basic recipe I started with was
Batch A:
Marinate the chicken for 2 hours in
1/4 C rice vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole pepper corns
4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
and I wanted to make this one of my spicy ones, so I also threw in
2 small crushed del arbol chiles (sort of seranno hot, not Thai birdseye hot.)

Pour this all into a cooking vessel of your choice.  Add a little water so you can snuggle you meat mostly into the liquid.

Bring to a boil.

Return to a simmer for 30 min, flip the wings half way through to make sure they get plenty of sauce time.

At the end, I put the chicken wings under the broiler for about 4 min on each side to crisp up the skin, while I boiled the sauce to reduce it down to a back-of-a-spoon-coating thickness.  You can smash up some of the softened garlic cloves into the sauce.

Dueling Sauces
first round
Cocoanut Milk or Not
Return the chicken wings to the thickened sauce to coat them.

Almost there -
Just one more step!
And then bat away the grabby fingers as you try to get a picture.  Or just give up, go with the flow and eat.


Yeah.  Uh, I have spent MUCH longer cooking food that was nowhere near as good.  And this was great.  Getting the family to taste test this, and the next three versions was really easy.  The crushed chile only added a pleasant background of spiciness.  If you want “hot, spicy” Adobo, you’ll need to add a whole bunch more chile pepper.  This was a nice subtle amount.

To get a little more baseline data, I did another 2hr marinade with coconut milk -
Batch B:
Marinate the chicken for 2 hours in
1/3 C cane vinegar
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole pepper corns
4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled

Follow the same cooking instructions as above

And following one version of coconut milk lore, in the last 10 minutes of simmering I added 
about 1/3 C coconut milk (I eyeballed)

Then I did the broil-flip-broil while I reduced the sauce.

I liked this one better because I LOVE cocoanut milk.  The rest of family could have done without the coconut milk (quote, "Didn't ruin it, I just like it plain better.") but all liked the MORE vinegar version.

So onto the overnight marinades.

Batch C:
Marinate the chicken overnight in
1/3 C cane vinegar
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole pepper corns
4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled

Follow the same cooking instructions as above,
and the broil-flip-broil while I reduced the sauce.

The soy flavor really came through in the overnight marinade, maybe a bit too much.  But the vinegary bite and all the rest of the flavors were amazing.  I can see why this has been captured by enterprising crock-pot cookers.  (To crock-pot adobo recipes, just pop them in for about 6 hours on low - maybe with a little extra liquid to cover everything).  There were no leftovers.  I wish there had been.  So I could have some more.

And this one... I warn you.  I went all crazy and unorthodox, the way I do sometimes.  (Green Curry Crab Chowder, Savory Aebleskivers, Canning jars in a sous vide - OK, that one's becoming normal)
I used some the "suggested additions" to adobo.  The ones where you might end up hearing, "Well that's really not adobo anymore."
I like to live dangerously.  Or eat well.  Or something.

Batch D:
Marinate the chicken overnight in
1/3 C rice vinegar
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole pepper corns
4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled 
1 whole anise “star”
1 crushed medium hot pepper (red-jalapeño hotness)
1/3 C coconut milk

Follow the same cooking instructions as above,
and the broil-flip-broil while I reduced the sauce.

Well, maybe they’re right, the not-quite-Adobo people.  It was more Thai curry-ish. 
Good Thai curry – the kind with the sour bite of tamarind and deep, complex, enviably mysterious flavors, and lusciously creamy. 
That overnight soak in all those spices created something more than what went in.  And for the life of me I could barely taste any heat.  I think the chile-ness simple added to the magic.   It was very good, but not Adobo.

What have I learned?

1) Cook Adobo again and more. 
2) Even my household is already subject to division on the coconut-milk-or-not front.  That didn’t take long.
3) Which vinegar is not as important as how much.  A bit more is better than less, just like with the other spices.
4) Marinate overnight if you have time, but still make Adobo even if you don’t. 
5) Use a little more soy sauce for a short marinade, less, or just salt for overnight.
6) I have no input on the sugar debate, except to say I didn’t miss it.
7) A little dried chile is nice.  And it won’t make things hot – just more interesting. (The vinegar does that.)
8) Use meat with some fat on/in it (chicken thighs, legs and wings, pork, stew beef? or stew lamb?) and never ever “boneless skinless chicken breasts.”  I know enough to know that those cooked in this heedless, low maintenance way would be awful.  (Can you imagine putting BSCB’s under a broiler for 4 min on a side after they were already cooked?!!  (choke, cough, so dry)

Check Out Adobo Lab – Part III: Results  for a nice starter recipe.

and in a bit (but not yet)-

Adobo Lab - Part IV: Hacking the Conclusions  for Adobo-Style Crispy Chicken Wings.
(yes, we have lots of frozen wings - yay! food saver vacuum bags.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adobo Lab - Part I: Research

Sometimes you just have to get out of the way, and let circumstances lead you.  Or maybe I'm just a Food Fashion Victim.

Either way, cooking with vinegar has been nibbling on the edges of my awareness for a few years now.
There were the Escabeche adventures with zucchini.  (The first time I ran across "escabeche" I thought that was the name of the fish I was eating.)  There was the refrigerator pickling (especially with fruit).    There is my on going love of sherry vinegar as a flavor that smooths out and unites the flavor of savory dishes that are missing that certain something.
And then there's 11 different types (is that 12?  Nope, that one's vanilla) of vinegar lurking in my pantry†.

Spanish/Iberian Penninsula cooking has some really intriguing, vinegar heavy, cooking as well.  And it makes sense in a land that has long had urban populations living in places where it just too hot to "refrigerate" food.  Cooking to preserve is the way to go.  Vinegar does a pretty good job - and was cheaper than salt when there was plenty of sun for growing things.

And the sea-faring thing.  Ship's stores in vinegar were handy too.

Which gets us to Adobo.

First, the disambiguation:
1. You can buy "Chipotle Chilies in Adobo (sauce)."
2. You can eat the Filipino dish Adobo.
Adobo is a Spanish term for cooking in vinegar.
So to find it as a cooking term in 2 places where those Spanish sailors spent a bunch of time leaving boot prints, only makes sense.

1. Adobo Sauce in the Mexican incarnation is chile and vinegar sauce often with garlic, sometimes with tomato - and like all other sauces, rife with local variations.  It is primarily spicy.

2. Adobo (the dish) in the Filipino variation is meat stewed in a vinegar based sauce.  From there, many versions - and their associated traditions, abound.

The pithiest examination of Filipino Adobo's wide ranging variation was in this NYT Magazine Article: The Adobo Experiment.  But you needn't read it, all you need is the quote,
"This is Adobo.  Every man an island."
For snake's sake, you are talking about a country made of over 7,000 islands with over 100 languages (To quote Wikipedia, "between 120 and 175... depending on the method of classification.")  So there's going to be more division on the "National Dish of the Philippines" than the French have over cheese. (Wikipedia says 350 - 400 distinct cheese varieties, that reduce down to a paltry 8 groups, Pah!)

The Spanish word Adobo overlaid whatever the indigenous word(s) for the cooking in vinegar were.  And I'm guessing there were a whole bunch of them, so a nice uniting term won over - or just beat up the longer, harder to remember words.  So the technique is definitely older than the Iberian Visitation, but they brought the current name.

Now that's out of the way.  On to the technique.

For all that variety, the dish Adobo has a backbone, or a set of uniting principles, if you will.

*a vinegar base
*bay (laurel) leaves
*black pepper

*bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer
*thicken the sauce

Already there is choice/controversy right at the get go - the vinegar.  Cane juice vinegar is the "most" traditional, with rice vinegar running a close second.
Next - what is the source of the salt?  Plain ol' salt or soy sauce?  Clearly soy sauce is a Chinese influence, but (of course) there are questions about how long soy sauce has been making inroads on Philippine cuisine, and Adobo in particular..
I shall skip over the how much garlic & ground pepper vs. whole peppercorns questions as too mundane to dignify.
Meat/Proteins seems to be more of a regional/what you have question, rather than "fightin' words."  Chicken and pork (including combinations) seem to be the most common, and the addition/use of squid has adherents, along with goat, beef, fish, hard boiled eggs and even tofu.
But the big questions seem to be:
*Spicy or Not?  Does one add chilies, and if so, which ones, dried or fresh and how much?
*Coconut Milk?  (or Coconut Cream?)  To add or not to add?  And again, when and how much?
*Additional Spices?
*Sugar? And if so, what kind? And when?
*Add potatoes, yams or green vegetables?  Other plant parts?
(If you mention fish sauce you are likely to get a, "Well then that's not really Adobo any more.")

And then when you get into cooking techniques - things can get really prickly.

*How long does the meat marinate? (Does one even bother?)
*Sauté/sear the meat first?
*When do you stir the sauce?
*Does one reduce the sauce with the meat, or remove it?
*And if the meat is removed, does it get broiled?  And if so, does one baste? Or fried for crispiness?

As you can see there is so much to quibble over.
For me, there is so much to try.

For actual recipes.... Please see Adobo Lab - Part II: Experiments

†In case you are wondering:

White Balsamic (I know, it still seems pretentious to me too, but I like the light, fruity flavor)
Red Wine
Malt (the fish & chips stuff)

-------- new since December -------
Black Magic (I'm not sure, but it tastes of wine & blackberries - it was a gift, and is tasty)
Honey (Really, mead vinegar.  Quite a pronounced "meady" flavor - begging for summer produce)
Cane Juice [Datu Puti]  (In a pinch this and White Balsamic can stand in for each other)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Yeast are Aerobic! Yeast are Anaerobic!

Let me take a moment for a public service announcement.

So it has been years since I was asked, "are yeast aerobic or anaerobic?"  Granted, I've been desultory in the extreme about researching it, but at last I know the answer to this question.  And you can too.

This looks a lot like my first yeast sighting -
when I learned they were single cell critters
Ah... High School.
Experience leads one to believe it is both.  They are submerged in liquid when you proof* the little Saccharomyces sp., but the yeasties work fine in merely damp environments where they are exposed to air.

Look Ma!  Asexual reproduction.
Oh wait... no Ma. Or Pa.
(psst... occasionally yeast will go through
sexual reproduction, that's how variety is propagated.
Certain environmental conditions tend to trigger this.)
[I love the Wikipedia Creative Commons]
So now, at last, thanks to the research and consolidation skills of others, I know that yeast are both.  They are anaerobic during fermentation when they are engaged in chomping up sugars (of all sorts of descriptions) and pumping out carbon dioxide and ethanol (part of that "yeasty smell').  But when they are exposed to oxygen, they can go to aerobic respiration, and produce mainly CO2 and water.

Most yeast are facultative anaerobes.  That is, they can do either depending on the surroundings.  Interestingly it is not just the presence of oxygen that causes the switch.  The tipping point at which they shift to one or the other is something that can be bred for.  It is a complex chemical and energetic calculation dependent on chemical inputs and gene expression in a particular strain.  So this is why you get "fast fermenters" (bread yeast), "slow fermenters" (brewer's yeast), and then variety in the slow fermenters such as "top cropping" (grows on the surface of the liquid) and "bottom cropping."  And then there are yeast that prefer different temperatures, pH's, sugars or mixes of sugars and produce different byproduct odorant molecules†.  It's wild!

There are a some yeast that are only aerobic (obligate aerobes), but none are only anaerobic (obligate anaerobes) like some bacteria.  Clostridium botulinum bacteria - the bug responsible for both Botulism and Bo-Tox (short for botulinum toxin in case you were wondering what these people are injecting into their foreheads) is a perfect example of an obligate anaerobe.  It dies when exposed to oxygen - and thus can only be found in improperly sterilized canned goods, sausages and other oxygen free environments.

The kitchen yeast in its
domestic habitat.
Docile and approachable.
(Thanks King Arthur Flour)

And now, back to our irregularly scheduled programming.

*  Stir them into some warm sugar water and see if they are still alive - by seeing if they start burping out bubbles.

† Odorant molecules - stuff that is smellable.  Watch out for musings on the musings of Hervé This in this space.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bamboo Rice Tea & Senbei

I did this one wrong... I know.  But crazy tasty tea and crunchies - sometimes you gotta go where the ingredient leads.

A breath of that bitter-sweet grassy smell of spring...
combined with crunchy-salty-sweet!

Marx Foods sent me some beautiful rice!

I'm supposed to use 2 ingredients in a recipe.  But I couldn't get over the delicate tint, smell and flavor of the infused bamboo rice.
That delicate green of expensive jade and fragile porcelain.

So I went another direction, and went with the two ways to draw the best of the sweet starchiness of this short grain rice, and the gentle bitter of the bamboo infusion.

And I love tea & snacks - especially the Japanese version with the crunchy savory/sweet senbei crackers.  And this... well.

I thought about going with a rice pudding - but I'm not enough of a baking alchemist to figure out how to make that happen without the cream or the eggy flavor taking over the delicate bamboo flavor.  I tried using rice milk - but it's lack of protein to contribute to a matrix made it useless in that context.  And by that time I just couldn't excite myself to separate eggs and go for an egg-white only... Oh never mind.

Because I had remembered the magical fried rice cake.  That roasty, toasty, salty, sweet crunchy indulgence.
Rice cake you say?  How can one of those circles of squeaky, packing peanut substitute possibly be an indulgence?  When it is Fried! That's when.

And nothing goes with fried-salty-sweet like tea, especially my new favorite tea - Gen-Mai-Cha*.  This is the tea blend with green tea and toasted brown rice.  The bitterness of the tea, balanced by the sweet toasted starch of the rice grains is somehow magical.

So I thought I'd send a few tablespoons of this rice on a trip through the oven - and this is what I got:

A lightly browned collection of toasty goodness - and the scent of bamboo was in the air.

I brewed up a bit of the rice all on it's own just to test - and yes, the toasty flavor of the rice was there, but so was a hint of spring - sort of that chewing on a grass-stalk bitterness.

The only problem - if I mixed that with green tea, the distinct astringency of the green tea would mask the delicate bamboo.
So off to the tea shop for some delicate White Tea.

Whoops.  Those are hard to find in coffee crazed Seattle.
Well, not so hard to find, really.  I know of 2.
New Century Tea Gallery - down in the International District and
Savrika Tea  - a new spot in Kirkland.

I didn't feel like parking in the CID or fighting traffic on I-5, and I didn't feel up to explaining my crazy idea to the staff at an amazing, but fundamentally traditional Chinese Tea shop.  I wanted free parking, and hopefully someone who would be sympathetic to this hare-brained scheme.  So to Savrika I went.  And was able to find exactly what I wanted.  A nice gentle and quite lovely white tea.

Then it's just the rice cakes...

Bamboo Rice Tea and Senbei**

small pan - lined with foil
sauce pan with a lid
stirring spoon
baking sheet
Silpat or parchment paper
measuring stuff
oven proof ramekin or other ceramic cup
(optional: ring mold - I used the ring off a small canning jar)
heavy pan/cast iron skillet
heat proof flipping spatula
extra fork or chopsticks
(optional: thermometer - hi-temp, candy or digital)
tea pot w/ a removable diffuser/basket


Rice Cakes -
1C bamboo infused rice
1+1/4C water
neutral oil with a high smoke point - enough to cover the bottom of your heavy pan with a scant 1/8 inch layer.
Lyle's Golden Syrup - or other thick caramel-y cane sugar syrup.

Roasted Bamboo Rice White Tea -
4 Tbs bamboo infused rice
loose leaf white tea - (I picked out Bai-Ho Silver Needle for this adventure)

In the saucepan, add 1C bamboo rice and 1+1/4 C water.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat a little, and stir occasionally while cooking covered.  When the water is absorbed and the rice looks sticky and pretty dry - and has a biteable, but clearly undercooked texture it is "done."

(Think - that texture I always imagine that gets contestants kicked off reality TV cooking shows, when they try to convince the judges that they meant for their rice to be "al dente.") About 10 minutes, give or take.
Oh - and DO NOT rinse this rice.  It's as rinsed as it needs to be.

When you finish under-cooking your rice, put it aside to cool while you line a small pan with foil, and pop in the 4 Tbs of bamboo rice.
Put about 1/4 C of the Lyle's Golden Syrup in a small ramekin or coffee cup - set aside.

Set you oven to heat to 350˚F, and make cute little rings of rice on your Silpat/parchment paper.  Put a little over a Tbs of rice int a small ring canning jar lid ring, and pat it down flat with your fingers.  Be sure to do this with damp hands or you'll get rice grains stuck to everything.

When the oven is hot, pop both the dry rice in the small pan, and the little rice circles on the baking sheet into your oven for 15 minutes. Or until the rice circles are firm enough to hold together - but do not look brown at all.†
The dry rice in the small pan should have a nice light toast on it - and smell amazing.
Pull both pans out and turn off the oven.
Put the Lyle's Golden syrup into the oven to warm up.
Set up paper towels for the rice cakes to drain on.

Let the rice circles cool down while you put some fresh water on to boil (OK Tea people, calm down, I'm not going to bring boiling water in contact with white tea.  It's OK).

Into a teapot, add 1Tbs roasted bamboo rice for each 6-8 oz. of water you are going to brew tea with.

Heat the oil in the heavy pan until a left over "undried" rice grain fries up to fluffy in a count of 10.  (Or about 425˚F for those of you with thermometers).  Place a few rice circles into the hot oil.  They should sizzle merrily.
The rice will fry and expand - sort of fluff up.  Flip over after about 45 - 60 seconds.  Use the extra fork/chopsticks to help the flipping go smoothly and prevent splashing oil.
When all the rice grains have lightened and the very edges take on a little bit of a light toasty color, your cake is done.  Remove it to the paper towels to drain.  It should be so delicately crispy it'll be a bit fragile.

When the water comes to a boil - pour it over the roasted rice in your tea pot - and set a timer for...
3 min if brewing 1C of water
5 min if brewing 2C
8 min if brewing 3C
12 min if brewing 4C.

At the end of that time - your water will be down around the 180˚F range - perfect for white tea.
For each cup of water you are brewing, add 1tsp of loose leaf white tea to your basket/diffuser and steep for 2 minutes.

Then assemble crispy rice cakes, give them a light sprinkle of salt, and then a drizzle of the warmed Lyle's Golden syrup.  (If you need to serve tea later, pop the fried rice cakes into a air tight container for a day or two.  Only drizzle on the syrup when it is time to serve them.)

hey Wait!  I need 1 more picture!

*Yes, tea people are can be crazy, obsessive, detail oriented snobs.  I know, I have been them.  But wade through the off putting smak-talk and they're no worse than wine people, coffee people and other (overly) knowledgeable experts who can show you amazing things.  Ask them about tannins and food pairings, flush, pickings, rains and other things that sound like wine terms.  Just don't say "tea bag" or tell them the water "needs to be boiling" and it'll be fine.

**No - these are not traditional senbei, but they hit that same magic of cruchy, salty, sweet, complex - and go great with your tea.  They're actually somewhere between senbei and Thai crispy fried rice cakes (nang led, khao tan).

† Don't get distracted and leave them in for 30min.  This is bad.  The only test case/failed attempt my son wouldn't eat ("Wow, bitter Mom.")