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BITES : Hot Pot Peril Update

February 15, 1996|CHARLES PERRY

Last year, there were so many explosions in China involving restaurants specializing in hot pot dishes that 100 people were killed, 38 of them in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province alone. As if that wasn't bad enough, now China's Ministry of Internal Trade has been appealing to hot pot restaurants in Hubei, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces to stop adding the shells of opium poppy pods, which contain small amounts of opium, to their dishes. The restaurants are presumably hoping to soothe their customers, not actually addict them.

The Twinkie Papers

This year, the 66th anniversary of the Twinkie, the Hostess Cake company proudly informs us that it takes 45 seconds for a Twinkie to explode in a microwave oven.

Think about that a minute. What other pastry gives out such a figure? What other food company of any sort would be confident that we'd want to know? There's something about the Twinkie, something surely connected with the folk belief that it has a shelf life of 100 years, that makes us curious exactly how destructible it is.

The most elaborate investigation appears to have been conducted by students at Rice University who dropped Twinkies from sixth-story windows, fried them with electrodes and so on--including zapping them in microwaves, of course. They're not the first to do this--Jane and Michael Stern published a similar study in Spy magazine about five years ago--but if you're curious, their results are presented, in appropriate pseudo-academic style, on the Internet athttp://www.rice.edu/%7Egouge/twinkies.html

An Ice Cream Too Far

Manuel da Silva Oliveira, an ice cream maker in the northwest Venezuelan city of Merida, is in the Guinness Book of Records for making the greatest number of flavors: 610. Some sound odd but turn out to be old ideas. Pumpkin? Pumpkin ice cream was made hundreds of years ago. Avocado? Avocado desserts are known in Latin America. And the "Alice B. Toklas Cookbook" gave a recipe for garlic ice cream 40-odd years ago (true, it was actually a salad dressing for hot days).

Not all the rest are so scary either. Spinach ice cream, Guinness stout ice cream? We're not impressed. Black bean? Why not? Chinese restaurants make red bean ice cream.

But that tuna ice cream does sound weird, and so does the cheese flavor and the one ominously named "mollusc."

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