Not make-up: Konnyaku Noodles
It's curious, but the moments during which I experience some of my fiercest homesickness usually have something to do with food. You see, I have this amazing group of friends back home -- friends who are almost as culinarily adventurous as myself. Midnight sushi, Vietnamese Subs, cheap pasta nights, seafood, Monglian, Korean, Thai... you name it, and I could probably find someone to go eat it with me. Or at least I could when I was in Calgary. How depressingly ironic: now that I'm in a city where it's unbelievably easy to sample new cuisines, my dining-posse is back out West!
Of course, my family liked to chow down too. In fact, one of my family's favourite winter meals was Hot Pot. Hot Pot is an Asian-style fondue... you'll find that pretty much every Asian (or at least Oriental) culture will have some variant of this. The Chinese version involves a pot of simmering broth, and various foodstuffs that you boil in the broth. These foodstuffs include things like thin slices of fatty beef (you need the fat to keep it tender during boiling), Asian meatballs, shrimp, tofu, and leafy greens. The possibilies are endless. After you fish your food out of the water, you dip it in any variety of sauces and eat it up. I know boiling meat in water sounds basically like the opposite of a good meal, but it's actually really tasty.
We all loved Hot Pot nights -- Mom liked it because she didn't have to cook anything, and us kids liked it because we got to be interactive and cook our own food. Dad liked it because it was some good eatin'. (Dads tend to like eating!) The steamy pot warmed the room, and the broth, fragrant with all the juices and flavours of the things we'd cooked in it, was hearty and savory by the end of the meal. We'd usually finish up by boiling greens and little bundles of Konnyaku noodles in the broth, and then lean back and feebly wimper, trying to digest all the lovely things we'd just eaten.
Well, I happened to go to a very Asian part of the GTA this week, and visited the very Asian supermarket there. Oh joy of joys! "Real" vegetables! All the right sauces! Proper soy milk! Chrysanthemum tea!!! (No offense to my neighbourhood Loblaws... you are quite satisfactory. But sometimes a girl just needs a wee taste of home, you know? It's akin to being separated from Kraft Singles for 8 months. Not a big deal, but a grilled cheese sandwich just ain't the same without it!)
So yeah, I'm pretty sure I scared the beejebus out of my roommate with the sheer amount of things I bought there. Amongst these things were the cute little bundles of Konnyaku noodles of the famed Hot Pot nights. Konnyaku is a root vegetable in the same family as taro root, and the Japanese use it in many different forms. I've only ever tried the noodles, which were sort of like a very firm gelatin (the noodles are also called shirataki). Milky-translucent in colour, they were thin, slippery, chewy, and kind of crunchy without being hard. The texture is somewhat similar to that enoki mushrooms.
These noodles don't have much flavour on their own, but they soak up surrounding flavours very well. They're quick to cook (just boil them for 5-10 minutes), and the bite-sized bundles are fun to eat. This is perfect college food -- sort of like ramen, but much healthier, especially if you add your own fixin's. I like using chicken broth, and adding pieces of chicken or beef and bok choy. I imagine that a Thai Noodle Salad or some other cold or spicy dish would be an excellent setting for these noodles.
Even better? Apparently, Konnyaku noodles are, like, Zero Food: Zero fat, Zero carb, Zero calorie. (Well, there are carbs and calories, but only like 20 calories per serving. I'm pretty sure there are more calories in toilet paper, and this stuff tastes a heck of a lot better.)(I'd assume, I mean. I've never eaten toilet paper.) Dieters have discovered and loved this; check out an article about it here. Plus, it's basically all fiber, so it'll do you all sorts of digestive-tract goodness.
It's pretty easy to get your hands on this stuff. Any major Asian supermarket should have this, and I'm fairly certain I've seen it at the Real Canadian Superstore. In the States, I've heard that Whole Foods carries the noodles. The only bad thing is that eating them sort of made me even more homesick than just looking at them. Oh well, at least I'm nostalgic on a full stomach!
[EDIT: I've had a few people land here from "shirataki + Calgary" searches. I remember buying them from T&T Supermarket in the NE, in Pacific Mall. However, these are the skinny-bundled kind. I haven't seen the broad fettucini-looking kind in Calgary, but I haven't looked either. If you're desperate, you could always untie the bundles, I suppose. In Toronto, I get them from T&T (bundles) or PAT Central, a big Korean grocery store on Bloor, just East of Christie (various styles, including the fettucini type). Yum.]