Lunch after a school holiday swimming pool session with Bennie and one of his school mates.
A Chinese restaurant that has already appeared in these pages but that has no relevance to this post, so shall remain unnamed.
As we await our food, we are presented with a big plate of prawn crackers.
Chimp, chomp; crunch, crunch.
Halfway through the rapidly dwindling stack of snacks, I voice a not particularly original observation: “These taste like nothing!”
But then I think, to myself this time: “What are prawn crackers made of?”
Further, could it be they are actually made from the eponymous anti-matter “nothing” that is such a feature of the Garth Nix seven-book fantasy series The Keys To The Kingdom, which Bennie is just about to complete and I am just starting?
And if they’re actually made from prawn meat and other stuff, are there any really nasty ingredients as well?
And if not, are they good, bad or indifferent in health and nutrition terms?
I have a hunch that prawn crackers inhabit the same realm of foodiness, if not in practice then at least a little in theory, as seafood extender.
Some rudimentary sleuthing turns up first of all, and no surprise, a long story at the always informative if notoriously unreliable Wikipedia.
My loss I know, but my Asian travel experiences are virtually non-existent, so living in Melbourne’s west for more than a decade is as close I’ve gotten.
And that’s a pretty darn fine “second best”, IMHO!
Still, while I’ve had the more homely style prawn crackers served at Vietnamese places such as Phu Vinh, I am wholly unprepared for the information that prawn crackers – krupuk in Wikipedia’s preferred name – are widely and enthusiastically eaten all over Asia and beyond, with all the regional and national variations you would expect.
A little more digging turns up various forum discussions, recipes and ingredient lists.
The gist of it all, I gather is prawn meat combined with tapioca flour plus seasonings, including – according to many links – MSG.
But while it seems prawn cracker makings are mostly on the benign side, the cooking process – deep frying – is not.
Presumably, then, they’re on the same sort of footing as potato crisps.
I even find a celebrity recipe!
And a 2012 UK news story in which a company using another celeb chef was pinged for false advertising – no prawn in them thar prawn crackers, M’Lord!
More digging and things start to get seriously weird, as I start turning up questions such as “Can rabbits eat prawn crackers?”, “Can you feed your hamster prawn crackers?”, “Can you feed your hamster crackers and tuna?” and even “Do rabbits eat their own rabbits?”
Still, I reckon commercial variety prawn crackers are the food equivalent of muzak.