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Chinese New Year Food and Gifts 2024


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Saturday 10th February 2024 is Chinese New Year's Day and the start of the 15-day-long Spring Festival.

 

Food gifts are a big part of the festivities and the supermarkets in China and elsewhere fill up with crap no one normally buys the rest of the year.

 

Today, I was visited by two representatives of Liuzhou Municipal Government bearing gifts. I would have put them in the Unexpected Gifts topic but

 

a) they were expected

 

b) I thought you might want to know the details

 

so, I think they merit a topic of their own. I'm putting this here rather than the China forums as CNY is now observed worldwide. That said, for obvious reasons, my contributions will be China specific; others' may not be.

 

First though an overview.

 

IMG_20240207_110325.thumb.jpg.50c02f455706a3230e5652e35f1c8353.jpg

 

IMG_20240207_110221.thumb.jpg.2e5bb29218163c49a6eca79ec015b844.jpg

 

IMG_20240207_120310.thumb.jpg.90159e546494a0fc53aa8575e2026f1e.jpg

 

Some of these obviously need explaining. Hold on to your rickshaw. It could get bumpy.

 

 

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A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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I'll start with the strangest. For some reason which evades me, these are very popular here in China. They also display a fascinating glimpse into European geography. Danish cookies plastered with the UK Union Flag and pictures of what they doubtless call Big Ben, something very few people have ever seen. It's the Elizabeth Tower.

 

IMG_20240207_121651.thumb.jpg.86ec89b76171aa06e5a4f242e3ab65dc.jpg

 

The actual cookies (a term that further removes them from being British) are made in that famous Danish suburb, Malaysia and imported via Shanghai.

 

The box contains actually contains a 908 gram tin of the butter cookies and a separate box containing 100 grams of the vanilla rolls.

 

IMG_20240207_123626.thumb.jpg.0f2a985abc958e61d04ebc7e925feaea.jpg

 

IMG_20240207_123726.thumb.jpg.cdfc64cd6f6063b199b20ac9d3ce2d57.jpg

 

Neither are my favourites. Too sweet but they are considered to be a high value gift here.

 

IMG_20240208_121904.thumb.jpg.65812a6ce7fb9be24fa8f727d6459ee8.jpg

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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Of course, a good British Danish Malaysian biscuit (to use the correct term) requires a nice cup of tea. I have a choice from my gifts.

 

First up we have a 高山绿茶, a Yunnan Alpine Green Tea.

 

IMG_20240207_130256.thumb.jpg.5cabf3aeab799d9da17a4485595ff5c9.jpg

 

Then, perhaps more appropriately for The Year of The Dragon, a couple of packs of 铁观音茶 (tiě guān yīn chá) a type of oolong tea, also from Yunnan province. The dragon connection comes from oolong being a corruption of 乌龙 (wū lóng), as it's actually called in China, and which means 'black dragon'.

 

IMG_20240207_130213.thumb.jpg.40ee37a40022f860898bf80b28c0b5b4.jpg

 

More later.

 

Why the formatting changes part way through a word is a mystery. 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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Of course, no one wants a cheap looking gift, so presentation and perceived value is important. Luxury imported goods are an obvious choice.

 

IMG_20240207_133752.thumb.jpg.e2b0eb18785abcf3187b5f5815fea618.jpg

 

Something like this box of chocolates from Britain, perhaps. The only Chinese text on the packaging is on a paper ribbon wrapped around the English only box front. The reverse has marketing waffle in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Russian, all adding to the allure.

 

And there is the message: Distributed by Codex Chocolate Limited in UK.

 

The revealing word is, of course, "Distributed". Further investigation of the paper ribbon and its Chinese small print reveals the chocolates are made in, you've guessed, China. Kudos Chocolates (Suzhou) Company Ltd.

 

The website www.icodex.co.uk is inaccessible. The company may be just a paper company. I don't know but registering a company in the UK is simple and cheap.

 

Opening the tin reveals a cheap plastic liner filled with tiny individually wrapped chocolates. They're edible but nothing to write home about.

 

IMG_20240207_151829.thumb.jpg.7d6a54e250595d3f3793b270258741aa.jpg

 

IMG_20240207_153203.thumb.jpg.e2937d99b9a329f77faad4cffc6cd669.jpg

 

All in all, there is about 20 times more pricy packaging material than chocolate. By weight, of the total package weighing half a kilo, there is only 168 grams of edible confectionery.

 

Hmmm.

 

Coming next something more honest.

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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Conceptually, I gather some of the gifts should be referencing the animal year (dragon = tea), are sweets also traditional as we use in other cultures, “sweets for a sweet year”? Or is it more of a tradition of presenting something outside the every day/indulgent?

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1 hour ago, BeeZee said:

Conceptually, I gather some of the gifts should be referencing the animal year (dragon = tea), are sweets also traditional as we use in other cultures, “sweets for a sweet year”? Or is it more of a tradition of presenting something outside the every day/indulgent?

 

I actually requested the tea; it isn't particularly traditional as a New Year gift but they asked me if there was anything I needed and when they called I had just used my last of what I had.

 

The sweets and snacks (which I'll detail tomorrow) are traditional though. People load up on those just as we do at Christmas in the UK  and I guess you do at Thanksgiving etc.

 

And yes they aren't something most people buy normally, at least not in bulk.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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4 minutes ago, KennethT said:

Is the Long Jing tea called Dragon Well there as it is here and in HK (Lung Ching in HK)?  I believe it's from Hangzhou...

 

Yes. 龙井茶 (lóng jǐng chá) means Dragon Well Tea and is from Hangzhou.

 

 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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2 hours ago, BeeZee said:

Conceptually, I gather some of the gifts should be referencing the animal year (dragon = tea)

 

Actually, I'm not sure they chose that tea with dragons in mind. It is just one of the most popular teas here.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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1 minute ago, dcarch said:

I am thinking of making dragon roll sushi with pot stickers.

 

dcarch

 

Lobster would be more appropriate. The Chinese for lobster, 龙虾, literally means 'dragon shrimp'.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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The one gift in my cornucopia of gifts that I do buy regularly is to be found in one of the two large bags like this. 

 

IMG_20240207_221607.thumb.jpg.65cfa975ee0eda64cd7135ff4dbf9951.jpg

 

Nuts.

 

Each large bag contains 15 x 23 gram bags of mixed nuts and dried fruit - walnuts,almonds,cashews, hazelnuts, cranberries, blueberries, blackcurrant and raisins. There are also two 240ml cans of nut milk, which I pass on to a friend. 

 

IMG_20240207_223426.thumb.jpg.00c0b058fd3d73920786e0dd531201c7.jpg

 

I often have a small pack or two in my camera bag for emergencies.

 

 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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25 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

Lobster would be more appropriate. The Chinese for lobster, 龙虾, literally means 'dragon shrimp'.

Fantastic idea!

I was thinking it would be difficult to sculpture a dragon's head and tail. But I can make a lobster dragon roll sushi with a lobster head and tail.

 

dcarch

 

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10 hours ago, liuzhou said:

I'll start with the strangest. For some reason which evades me, these are very popular here in China. They also display a fascinating glimpse into European geography. Danish cookies plastered with the UK Union Flag and pictures of what they doubtless call Big Ben, something very few people have ever seen. It's the Elizabeth Tower.

 

IMG_20240207_121651.thumb.jpg.86ec89b76171aa06e5a4f242e3ab65dc.jpg

 

The actual cookies (a term that further removes them from being British) are made in that famous Danish suburb, Malaysia and imported via Shanghai.

 

The box contains actually contains a 908 gram tin of the butter cookies and a separate box containing 100 grams of the vanilla rolls.

 

IMG_20240207_123626.thumb.jpg.0f2a985abc958e61d04ebc7e925feaea.jpg

 

IMG_20240207_123726.thumb.jpg.cdfc64cd6f6063b199b20ac9d3ce2d57.jpg

 

Neither are my favourites. Too sweet but they are considered to be a high value gift here.

 

 

That is indeed one weird looking tin.  But in its favor it is nothing if not collectible. What a stroke of mad genius to spotlight Ted as a representative of the King's Guard. I guess he needs a sugar fix to keep himself upright.

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I said the nuts were the only thing among the gifts that I've actually bought. That, I now realise, was incorrect. I have bought half of these in the past.

 

IMG_20240208_093633_edit_101139837800191.thumb.jpg.a9fbb1f6bc7671d328f6854464928a47.jpg

 

This box contains two 300 grams tins of wafer biscuits: one cheese flavoured; the other vanilla. I've bought the cheese type before - once. I've never previously seen the vanilla version.

 

IMG_20240208_093600.thumb.jpg.4838d55171eae67a60abd9ae64c057f3.jpg

 

These too, are imported; this time from Indonesia. The cheese ones aren't bad although any real cheese flavour is masked by their sweetness.

 

 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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... and finally I come to the largest box.

 

IMG_20240207_110301.thumb.jpg.0189c82cdccbcbf75e92f2ea3ba166d3.jpg

 

大吉大旺 (dà jí dà wàng) means something like 'great luck; great prosperity' and is a typical CNY greeting.

 

旺旺集团 (wàng wàng jí tuán), Wang Wang Group Corporation is a Shanghai company, established in 1962, which makes and distributes all kinds of snack products, both sweet and savoury. This is their CNY selection box.

 

I tip it out.

 

IMG_20240207_110536.thumb.jpg.48dcfe3b47400d7b4091de3bf1404ec2.jpg

 

I'll take these one by one at random.

 

First up is these shrimp rice crackers.

 

IMG_20240207_232931.thumb.jpg.dd0a1cdf836d3c402453bf883cf1ae4b.jpg

 

They're OK for the genre. Over salted and with that universal unidentifiable 'chip' flavour. Edible but I wouldn't go looking for them.

 

More to come. Lots more.

 

 

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A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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Next random snack.

 

超QQ嚼劲软糖

 

Super QQ Chewy Gummies - Cola Flavor.

 

IMG_20240208_113010.thumb.jpg.b1cbd4d7d57f90008eb4650357037b2f.jpg

 

Predictably disgusting. Additives added to additives and dusted with sugar. Chewy maybe. Super? No.

 

Binned.

 

 

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A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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These are more to my liking. 

 

蚕豆 (cán dòu), broad beans (Vicia faba) aka fava beans. These are beef flavoured.

 

IMG_20240208_164516.thumb.jpg.1e22fdfc00b9c5c7787431ebdc195ac1.jpg

 

The beans are cooked then roasted with flavourings and a bucket of preservatives and the like. I used to eat them, but they aren't kind to my teeth. Oddly addictive. 

 

If I were to buy them now, I'd buy them in the supermarkets where they sell them freshly roasted without the overload of science lab supplies.

 

IMG_20240208_171135.thumb.jpg.6746912575698b8d4bba013144a269fe.jpg

 

 

 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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Still in slightly savoury territory, 海苔花生 (hǎi tái huā shēng), seaweed peanuts.

 

IMG_20240208_185635.thumb.jpg.b31e285e1bd102f125d9698b47ebf2a8.jpg

 

These coated peanuts come in many guises, this one being nori.

 

Unfortunately, somewhat marred by the over-sweet coating. 

 

IMG_20240208_184955.thumb.jpg.a875cc63db4f410b6a05f2ab0e86b888.jpg

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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The idea that people eat the relevant animal on its New Year celebrations is a myth. For a start, of the 12 animals of the Chinese year cycle, one is mythical, two are illegal to eat and three unacceptable to most people.

 

Mythical: Dragon

 

Illegal to eat: Tiger, Monkey

 

Unacceptable; Rat, Snake, Dog

 

This weekend will be my 29th CNY in China and I have been served the same food every one of those years. 

 

The only one of the 12 to maybe  appear regularly has been chicken but never to my knowledge rooster.

 

have eaten everything on the list except the dragon, tiger and monkey but not at CNY.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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Still going through the snack selection box, I find these.

 

IMG_20240209_084526.thumb.jpg.a2ceff7419a34975ebae4a696b5c6c8e.jpg

 

Garlic Peas

 

In fact, the peas and garlic slices are separate and accompanied by small balls crispy dough. Most strange.

 

IMG_20240209_084945_edit_183100749083518.thumb.jpg.35ff52af64c54373ee6df3c140665ad8.jpg

 

They have a strong but not unpleasant garlic flavour. At least, they're not sweet.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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These are, I suppose, fairly normal. A sort of breadstick. In this case, "vegetable flavoured".

 

IMG_20240209_090449.thumb.jpg.a45b3bdef488b607d90c7a409857335b.jpg

 

According to the ingredients list, the vegetables in question include crab and chicken bones. Otherwise only scallions are listed. Alongside the usual chemistry set.

 

For some reason, the 56g box contains three separate bags, each containing 18.666666666666... grams of sticks (?).

 

They are crisp but taste stale and not the least bit vegetal. 

 

IMG_20240209_095911.thumb.jpg.a69bb1aab2f042e0908a298dbc658463.jpg

 

Not nice.

 

 

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A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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Today, Friday 9th February 2024 is 除夕 (chú xī), Chinese New Year's Eve, probably the most important day of the holiday.

 

Most shops will close around noon or shortly after and everyone will head home for 年夜饭 (nián yè fàn), literally 'year eve food', New Year's Eve dinner, also known as 团年饭 (tuán nián fàn), Reunion Dinner.

 

Literally millions of people have spent this week travelling home for this meal with their families.

 

It's forecast to be the largest migration of people in history, as it is the first such to be almost Covid free since 2019.

 

So, what's for dinner? I've been looking through internet accounts of what people consider to be the essential New Year meal. Few agree; some are nonsensical. A large number of people describe what their family eat and assume everyone else is doing the same. It ain't necessarily so.

 

However, there are a few commonalities.

 

Chinese New Year is an orgy of superstition and most foods are chosen for their extremely tenuous links, mostly linguistic, to desirable material outcomes such as prosperity and success in the upcoming year.

 

Fish is important. But the superstition is more so. Fish in Chinese is 鱼 (yú), a homophone of 余 (yú) meaning 'surplus' or 'extra'. So, by eating fish, you will have surplus food and/or money in the new year. Obviously.

 

The fish, usually carp, is cooked (steamed) and served whole, symbolising family unity and harmony. The head and tail are left on representing 

 

a) the surplus will last from beginning to end

 

b) the notion of finishing what you start being important.

 

The fish is placed on the table with the head pointing to the eldest or most important guest and then we can eat. But not all of it! The fish is eaten over two days, doubling down on the 'surplus' theme. We have enough for tomorrow.

 

We pick the flesh from the middle part of the fish with our chopsticks. When we reach the bones we mustn't flip the fish over or all our luck will tip out and be drowned.

 

Then we come to chicken. Again steamed is most common. And again served whole. Chicken is 鸡 (jī). But 吉 is also jí, a near homophone (only the tone differs) meaning 'lucky'. So eating chicken will clearly bring luck!

 

Today, people will have been making 饺子 (jiǎo zi), dumplings. These must be wrapped and ready to cook before midnight. Jiaozi is associated with 交 (jiāo) and 子 (zǐ), the former meaning 'deliver' and the latter, 'midnight'. So the dumplings must be delivered before then.

 

交 (jiāo) can also mean 'exchange' so reminds us that it is time to exchange the old for the new.

 

The dumplings are also held to resemble ingots of gold and 角子 (jiǎo zi) is a monetary unit and coin, also representing wealth (despite the coin being worthless today). Indeed such a coin is often hidden in one of the dumplings bringing wealth to the lucky recipient providing they don't choke to death on it.

 

Tangerines and orange are also a New Year fruit. They are 橙 (chéng). An exact homophone is 成 (chéng) meaning 'success'. 

 

Pomelo is 柚子 (yòu zi), the first character of which is both a near homophone of 有 (yǒu) meaning 'have' and an exact homophone of 又 (yòu) meaning 'again'. Eat a pomelo and you'll have food again!

 

Other superstitions at New Year are associated with noodles (longevity) and spring rolls and many more.

 

After dinner, everyone sits down to watch the New Year Gala, a god-awful annual variety show on communist party controlled television. Talentless drones line up to bore everyone year after year. It reminds me of the old regime swept away by the Beatles 60 years ago.

 

I'm going to eat nothing particularly festive, then attempt to finish cataloguing my snack box in search of something edible.

 

新年快乐!

 

 

Edited by liuzhou
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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可爱的泡芙 (kě ài de pào fú)

 

Lovely Puffs

 

IMG_20240209_134811.thumb.jpg.be32607c54df1577709a6754eca38f52.jpg

 

牛奶味 (niú nǎi wèi) - Milk Flavour

 

Neither lovely or particularly milk flavoured.

 

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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These rolls promise thick caramel milk with pure cocoa flavour. They don't deliver.

 

IMG_20240209_153755.thumb.jpg.5b0caf5b68753bb9c36dca03c61ea464.jpg

 

The two 'heart cookies' as pictured and described on the box are notable for their absence from the actual contents.  False advertising.

 

IMG_20240209_153715.thumb.jpg.f9e7f4c301fdf418dd23407ddc20b3d9.jpg

 

The rolls taste exactly as I expected. Of bland, cheap pseudo-chocolate. Zero caramel flavour. Neither particularly pleasant or unpleasant. 

 

I could eat these. I'd never buy them.

 

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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