Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question comes from A.V. Club food editor, Kevin Pang:
“You’re alone and hungry. Your inhibitions are out the door. What food or food combination are you eating when no one’s looking? Me, I eat dried ramen bricks dipped in mayonnaise.”
I have eaten so much cookie and brownie dough that I say with confidence that eating raw eggs is fine, just fine. But it’s the pre-egg stage of cookie making that I here confess: I love the step that is beating the sugar and butter together, and I enjoy nothing more than furtively making sure no one’s in the kitchen with me before mowing down on that sugary, buttery concoction. It’s a taste of that delicious dough before the addition of blah flour and baking powder (and eggs—not that I care about the eggs). Who needs it? Butter + sugar is pure ambrosial delight. Unless someone else is there. Then I wait to eat the raw dough like a normal person who doesn’t mind uncooked eggs.
I mostly eat this snack when no one else is looking because that means no one else is around to complain about the smell or concept or the freedom I have to make the life choices I want. As you can probably tell, I get a little salty when my dietary choices are challenged, especially when the challenger has never tasted a snack as delicious as sardines in tomato sauce placed atop original Keebler Club crackers. Trust me when I say it is a winning combination and that my mouth is already watering after writing about it.
I’m envious of Becca’s answer because it embodies an essential kind of gross dad snack I feel the need to cultivate now that I have kids, something that I and I alone enjoy not just to the exclusion but the detriment of everyone else in my household. Something that if I were to extend the offer to “Just try some!” would cause a reaction ranging from scrunched-up face to actually physically leaving my presence. The closest I have right now is kimchi, which, being Korea’s official national food, hardly qualifies as an esoteric little snack. But still, “the food that smells like toots,” as my daughter christened it, is mine and mine alone to enjoy. It’s a versatile snack I enjoy over eggs, in ramen, or straight out of the jar with chopsticks. The only constant is that I’ll be eating it in seclusion, because it only takes a moment between when I pop the lid off the jar and I hear the first indignant protests of my fumigating our home with fermented deliciousness.
I eat Hostess or Hostess-style fried and boxed apple pies exactly one time a year: When I get them for free from the annual Sweets & Snacks Expo here in Chicago. They’re so very terrible for you (500 calories! 31 percent of your daily fat!), but they’re so very good. I tell myself that as long as I don’t buy them, it’s okay. I’d never down one in public, though, so I always take my pie home, throw it in the pantry, and then treat myself some night when my husband’s out at a movie or some morning after a long, hard night of too much drinking. And for those five amazing minutes, my life is that much better. It’s the rarity of the whole thing, I think. It’s a special, bad-for-me treat, and that makes it all the more delicious.
I don’t believe in food shame; eating is one of life’s great pleasures, and muddling that up with other people’s conceptions of good and bad is just a way of shooting my happiness in the foot. That being said, I’ll cop to not feeling like my best self when I buy frozen White Castle burgers at the store. After all, if I’m going to weather the GI storm of a full slider meal—complete with that fatty sludge that’s steamed like a salty kiss into every sandwich—I’d rather have it fresh. But White Castles are few and far between in the Pacific Northwest, and so I make do with the secondary article. Luckily, the frozen White Castles are actually pretty great, perfectly replicating the in-store flavor in all its pickly, oniony goodness. Whether that’s a testament to the freezing technology being used, or a slam on the original item, is a decision I’ll leave for the reader.
Like William, I don’t shame easily when it comes to food. But there’s one snack I only fix for myself when I’m home alone: Jays barbecue chips and sour cream. I could probably make a baked potato with just a little more effort, but I’m usually more invested in finding a way to eat sour cream, which is something that’s baffled at least one of my roommates. But these smoky, salty chips pair perfectly with the creamy chill of sour cream (preferably V&V Supremo Foods brand, but a dollop of Daisy will do in a pinch). The Open Pit flavor’s too sweet, and the hot one too spicy—believe me, I’ve tried.
The menu at my college cafeteria, like every college cafeteria, was made up of about 80 percent breakfast cereals, at every meal. Since the regular food was so terrible, my fellow dorm rats and I soon got creative in changing up cereals to offer both sweet and savory sustenance. Here’s one: Cracklin’ Oat Bran, cream cheese, and the dorm’s cinnamon spread, which I once found a recipe for online to discover that it only consists of—surprise—a stick of butter with some cinnamon sugar mixed in. But the one that has really stayed with me, mainly due to its beautiful simplicity, is Corn Chex with cheese melted on it. Preferably shredded cheddar (although sometimes I have mozzarella days), in the microwave for 40 seconds exactly. It’s gooey, crunchy, and nostalgic, my favorite combo, especially when I’m home sick. The worst part? My son is not a big cereal-and-milk person, so I’ve turned him onto this concoction when he can’t decide what else he wants for breakfast. I know, I’m a monster.
Of my food fetishes, none is more shameful than candy corn. I am fully aware that it is one of the most hated foods on the internet. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t encounter some anti-candy-corn propaganda on Twitter, Facebook, or BuzzFeed. It’s a toss-up as to what people despise more about this confection—the aggressively sweet taste or the dry, waxy texture. But those are precisely the aspects of candy corn that I love. And it’s not a nostalgia thing either, since candy corn did not play a particularly prominent role in my childhood. I’d say my current addiction started about 15 years ago, when I picked up a $1 bag of the stuff at a Cub Foods. I have been publicly disloyal to candy corn on several occasions since then, agreeing with the haters just to get through a conversation without an argument. Sorry, candy corn.
First off, Joe, candy-corn love is nothing to be ashamed of. Then again, I write that as a human being who is also something of a human garbage compactor. I love me some candy corn, particularly when mixed with peanuts, but my gross food loves go beyond that. They know me by sight at the local candy store and set aside one of my other weird, gross sweet-tooth favorites: a taffy called Sour Abba-Zaba that has the disquieting power to turn your bowel movements an unnatural green color. But maybe the grossest thing I’ve embraced with food as of late is microwaving Pop-Tarts. I didn’t get a toaster oven for my new apartment until recently and I had a weird hankering for Pop-Tarts, so I put some in the microwave and was both impressed and disgusted by how good it tasted. Thankfully, I work in isolation, so nobody but my dog can judge me and the gross food I enjoy.
Peanut butter by the spoonful, especially when I’m watching The Great British Bake Off. Crunchy, smooth, organic, Jif, it doesn’t matter. I tell myself it’s healthier than straight-up candy; I have no idea whether this is actually true, and prefer not to know. I feel no need to further justify or explain this lifestyle choice.
Piggybacking off of what Katie said, I recently made an impulse purchase of a jar of Biscoff cookie butter. Whenever I work from home—which is fairly frequently these days—I often take one very generous spoonful as an afternoon treat, sometimes when I’m having a cup of tea. The routine creates the illusion of a very proper snack, but really I’m just licking gunk off a spoon. Cookie butter is also wonderful when applied to toast, which is an incredibly redundant snack/meal since you’re basically spreading mushed-up biscuits onto bread.
I like a lot of stupid/gross/pointless foods, but in most cases those closest to me know about, say, how much I like Doritos, and mostly enable those bad habits. But when I go to the movies by myself, I’m far more likely to pick up a box of Mike And Ike… jelly beans, I guess they are? It seems rude to eat them with anyone else around; my wife thinks they’re gross, and if I’m bringing food to a movie with another person, I like to be able to offer some to that person in good conscience. And as the world has told me time and time again, no one wants to share your gross little fruit-flavored sugar pills, Jesse. So I squirrel them away from the prying, judgmental eyes of people I actually know (strangers, I welcome your scorn). Then again, I saw a young woman sprinkle Doritos on top of her popcorn at a recent movie screening, so maybe that should go to the top of my alone-time eating list.
Whenever I buy dessert-within-a-dessert ice cream swirled with delicious ingredients-—say, brownies, Oreo cookies, or cookie dough-—I can’t resist sneak-eating just those chunks and ignoring the rest. I fully realize that this is terrible dessert etiquette, and that anyone else looking to eat the ice cream will surely notice its pockmarked look and consistency. And, sure, I could just buy Oreos or make brownies and achieve the exact same satisfaction. But for whatever reason, the marbled hunks of dough and softened cookies just taste better when I’ve clandestinely scooped them from the carton. Perhaps the renegade way of consumption gives these sweets a little extra flavor boost?
You know that feeling you get when you smell or taste something that reminds you of a very specific childhood memory? It’s such a powerful little trip, and if that memory is a good one, it’s an easy way to fill yourself with some warm fuzzies. Chasing that feeling, and also a delicious snack combination, is how I found myself consuming mass quantities of my secret treat: crackers topped with ricotta and blackberry jam. This is something my grandfather made for me maybe once or twice when I was growing up. At some point, I ended up recreating it, without realizing the connection, and I was transported back to that moment. It’s a tasty snack regardless—a magic amalgam of sweet, salty, crunchy, and creamy—but the added personal history makes it that much more special.
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya
I eat anchovies like they’re chocolate. I don’t think eating anchovies is especially frowned upon, but inhaling an entire tin in about five minutes isn’t exactly considered “normal” behavior, based on the incredulous reactions I’ve gotten through the years. Remember when Rachel ordered a pizza with extra anchovies and then more anchovies chopped up and added to the sauce because she was mad at Ross and he hates anchovies? That sounds like the best pizza in the entire world to me. In addition to just eating anchovies by the handful on their own, I also add them to everything, especially late at night: Kraft mac and cheese, tomato soup, avocado toast, hot dogs. They’re all better with anchovies. But I often hide this habit, especially from anyone I’ve ever dated. People tend to not want to kiss someone who eats an inordinate amount of anchovies. Have you ever eaten an anchovy-wrapped cheese puff? I have, and I have no regrets.
Steel your gag reflex, because sometimes, when no one is looking, I put ketchup on macaroni and cheese. It’s a dietary faux pas that I developed in high school, when I would concoct a kind of poor man’s Hamburger Helper, lazily tossing some cooked ground beef in with my macaroni-by-the-box and calling it a well-rounded meal. “Ketchup goes great on hamburgers,” I absently rationalized the first time I tried it, but by college, I had developed such a taste for this odd mix of flavors that I would add the Heinz to the Kraft even when the hamburger wasn’t involved. This, of course, is just short of a crime in Chicago, where people turn their noses up at the idea of putting ketchup on a hotdog, of all appropriate uses for the condiment. So I’ve been properly shamed out of the habit, except under the rare circumstances where I find myself alone, ambitious enough to cook for myself but too lazy to make anything more complicated than the ol’ ostracizing Dowd special. People are right to judge me for it. But one person’s foul experiment is another’s delicacy.