Friday, May 31, 2013

El Mexicano Marias Cookies

When I came back to the U.S., one of the things I thought I should do was diversify a bit so that I covered snacks from other countries. While I've done that a little, I've still mainly focused on Japanese snacks. I have forgotten that I wanted to shoehorn in some other things, and Mexican snacks in particular. I have ample access to them, and they're generally pretty cheap, and writing about them encourages me to keep sampling new things.

Unfortunately, after awhile, I stopped "seeing" things. This is what happens when you live in a place for awhile. Everything fades into the background noise and you just don't even think about it. One of the things I appreciated about living in Japan is that I tended not to do that, and I wish I could stop it from happening here, but I do have to make an effort.

One thing I noticed in Mexican markets is that they are generally well-stocked with a sort of cookie that looks very plain and resemble butter cookies or crackers. I didn't expect much of them, and I expected even less of them when I picked up this package for a mere 33 cents (33 yen) for 6 oz./170 grams. That's a lot of cookie for very little cash. Most of the time, I see these types of things in enormous packages and I wondered what the appeal was.

One thing I never noticed before is that "Maria" is not the product name, but rather the name of a type of Spanish cookie which is fairly simple. It was created in celebration of the union between a Russian Countess and the Duke of Edinburgh in the late 1800's. It's essentially the unofficial official cookie of Spain and Mexico and apparently a popular first treat for children. At a young age, they eat it dipped in milk. That's a lot for a simple cookie to live up to, especially one that looks more like a cracker and costs a pittance as mine does.

I like how snacks from other countries come with some sort of historical pedigree. It makes the way in which most American snacks developed seemed pretty boring by comparison. In fact, I think most American snacks were either accidents, or willful attempts to take advantage of the plethora of cheap high fructose corn syrup available. Twinkies were invented because the equipment used to make strawberry cream snack cakes were idle when the fruit was out of season so they figured out something else to use the machine on. That's a far cry from a cookie inspired by a royal wedding that won the hearts of no fewer than two countries.

Getting to this little cookie, I realize that this being so cheap means that it is unlikely to be the apex of Maria cookie goodness. That's okay though because I do factor price into my ratings. I have to say though that, off the top, I didn't like the smell of these. There is a weird, somewhat fruity, chemical smell which is mirrored in the taste. I believe that it is fake butter flavoring and it's not horrible, but takes some getting used to. That's not really an endorsement nor am I encouraging others to buy these and acclimate themselves to it. It's just a statement of fact. I liked these better after I could learn to overlook that weirdness.

I tried these two ways, both as a plain brittle cookie and dipped in tea. As a plain cookie, it's tolerable, but not particularly flavorful aside from the fake butter and a tiny bit of sweetness. It's much better when dipped in something that adds another dimension to the flavor. Dipping also almost instantly transforms it into something extremely soft and more cake-like so you get both a textural change and some more flavor depth. I think they'd be better with coffee as well.

These are a simple pleasure, and at only 17 calories per cookie and not being especially "more-ish", not much of a threat to the waistline. They're not bad at all and I am inspired enough to buy another brand with a higher price tag for comparison, but I wouldn't buy this brand again even with the super low price tag. I think these are best used as a light tea time snack or as the base for some type of cooking, like a cookie crumb crust for a pie or to make an icebox cake. In fact, the way they lap up moisture would seem to make them a stellar (and cheaper) substitute for the classic Nabisco Famous Wafer icebox cake.

Note that I found a person who reviews a ton of Maria biscuit types and these were rated as "3" on his scale of -5 to +5. That would mean that, among this type of biscuit, a seasoned reviewer thought they were pretty good. Interestingly, he also noted a fruity flavor, so I'm glad to hear that that wasn't just my imagination.

Incidentally, in Asia, and, of course, Japan is included, these are often sold as "Marie" biscuits and I used to see the Morinaga brand of them all of the time. Going by the box illustration, they certainly do look quite similar to the Mexican ones, though I'm guessing the taste would be somewhat different.


SusieTron FiveThousand said...

I grew up on these. It's been ages since having one... but I don't seek them out. When we were kids grandma would serve them for us to dunk in our coffee. Sort of like my neighbors dunked their Oreos in milk.
I recall them getting pretty soggy and floppy... almost gooey.

Orchid64 said...

They do get very soggy, but mine didn't flop too rapidly. I can easily see them being the sort of thing that one would not necessarily seek out, but would consume if they were on offer. They're a little like pretzels on a bar. You'll eat them because they are there, but you wouldn't necessarily buy them for yourself.

I read that they are common or were common in cafes and tea houses back in the day. They may be a way of getting people to enjoy their drinks more or to order more drinks (just as pretzels do that at bars by being salty and inciting more thirst).