Chicago: Garrett Popcorns

One thing that you will not fail to notice when in Chicago, particularly when you are along the touristy areas like The Loop and The Magnificent Mile is that you will occasionally find people walking around in a brown paper bag.

Like this one …


I was in Atlanta for a meeting prior coming to Chicago. I was asking one of my colleagues for restaurant and food recommendations. Camille instantly exclaimed “Garrett! Garrett! Oh my God! Oh my God! You have to try it”. For a moment I thought Garrett was a restaurant. It seems like Garrett is a very popular popcorn in Chicago. I was kind of deflated when she said Garrett is a popcorn brand. I am not a fan of popcorns and for the life of me, I can’t imagine how good popcorn could get.

But when I was in Chicago I saw quite a number of people walking around with the brown paper bag from Garrett. So, I decided to just go and get it for … breakfast since I did not gave much of a breakfast anyway.


There are about ten Garrett Popcorn stores in Chicago with some of them in the airport. When I went to the one in The Loop, I was taken aback that there are actually some people lining up outside the store to buy popcorns. Whoa!

It wasn’t a long line and you get served very fast. The moment I walked into the store, the smell was very nice.

Garrett Popcorns had been in business for about 50 years already but always in Chicago. Even today, they only have one store outside of Chicago.

They became famous nationwide when Oprah Winfrey choose Garrett Popcorns as one of her “Favourite Things”. For those of you who watches Oprah on TV, her “Favourite Things” episode is aired once a year close to Christmas time. When Oprah included Garrett’s in her first “Favourite Things” episode in 2002, Garretts Popcorn’s website was overwhelmed and they became an overnight sensation. Just that one mention, Garrett was making popcorns 24 hrs a day instead of the usual 8 hrs. Oprah selected Garrett’s Popcorn again in 2005.


If you think that Garrett’s Popcorns has lots of flavours, don’t. All the flavours that matters are just two … and only two. The hero flavours are … (more…)

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The New McDonalds McMini — Have One On Us

ChowtimesNoWord32x32Complete Disclosure
This post is written based on twenty five Be-Our-Guest cards and a $20 McDonalds Gift Card provided by McDonalds Canada

I was looking back at my old posts. It seems like I have a lot of McDonalds related posts. Many of them are coupons giveaways. Previously, the coupon giveaways were good only in the US because they were issued from Illinois.

This time it is different. This time, it is McDonalds Canada who gave us the Be Our Guest coupons. The BOG coupons is good for Canada and we are giving every single one away. All you have to do is just ask.


Come to think of it, I had not have a McDonalds for the longest time. Don’t get me wrong. I like McDonalds — especially the Big Mac which I find it tasty. What stops me is the calories in it.

When McDonalds Canada launched the new McMini, the first thing that came to my mind was my 1-on-1 interview with Executive Chef of McDonalds, Chef Dan Coudreaut. During that interview, I confronted Chef Dan on the health aspect of McDonalds food. It was an awkward interview I must say because McDonalds did not expected me to pose hard questions. But I am glad I did. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

I also conveyed what a chowtimes reader wanted to say to Chef Dan … that she “likes to see McDonalds keep moving towards healthier food and continue to stop pushing supersize fries; and it doesn’t have to be soy burgers.” Chef Dan said that they continually listen to what the customer wants and they do try to promote healthier options.


That is why when I saw the McMini my thoughts was instantly on what Chef Dan said about trying to promote healthier options. Holding the McMini in my hands, I was rather amused with the size of the McMini.

It is so small! For a fast food company who used to coin the words Super Size, it is a step in the right direction.


Size does matter. It is just about 5″ in length and 1″ wide.

I was particularly interested in the baguette. Too bad I forgot to take a picture of the top view of the bread. When I read that the bread was a baguette I was excited thinking that it would be very much like the French baguette and was curious how McDonalds are able to keep the crust crisp.

While the McMini baguette has that tell tale slit, the “baguette” is more of a … (more…)

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1-on-1 Interview With The Most Powerful Chef in The World

The day before the Olympic started, the senior management team of McDonalds flew into Vancouver to host a global press event at the Games Main Press Center. McDonalds, as it is well known, has been a worldwide Olympic partner for over 40 years.

I was totally excited when McDonalds wrote to me a week before the Vancouver 2010 games asking if chowtimes would like to attend the global press event. I immediately said yes. I would not give up that golden chance to get into the highly secured Main Press Center and get close to the heartbeat of the games.

A few emails to and fro with several people within McDonalds follows after. They were asking about chowtimes and stuff like our traffic profile. After a while they asked … would you like to speak to Chef Dan Coudreaut? Chef Dan, you see, is the Director of Culinary Innovations. The man behind the food … and in many respect, considered as the most powerful chef on this planet.

Whoa! Play-acting as a journalist among hoards of journalists is one thing but being offered a 1-on-1 interview with The Man is yet another. As much as I did not know what to do, I knew I could not pass off this once in a lifetime chance. I replied “yes” first and then try to figure out something along the way.


Truth be told … when I mentioned on Twitter and chowtimes of the 1-on-1 interview, there was one particular reader who wrote an email (albeit politely) that she will no longer support chowtimes because of my acceptance for the interview. She symbolically asked me to remove her name from our email distribution. That sort of set me thinking how much emotions that some people shows at the sheer mention of McDonalds name.

What is it that evokes such responses? Is it that McDonalds pushes unhealthy food? Is it that McDonalds epitomizes the successful corporate world? Why does it seems more acceptable to eat dim sum (as a random example) than to have a Big Mac?

I am not going to push for an answer. You know and I know that everyone can argue until the cows come home and we will never be in any agreement. I went to the McDonalds event with an open mind and no prejudice with the intention to hear the low down from the #1 chef of the #1 restaurant in the world.

I have a feeling this post might invite reactions and I welcome all views.


It was a mad scramble getting the press credential. The media event was to be at 9AM and by 8PM the previous day, I had not received any instructions on what to do and where to go. I shot off an urgent email to McDonalds at night and that set a few wheels in motion. I think someone dropped the ball on chowtimes. I only got the go ahead at about 5AM — 4 hours before the event!

I was armed already with the questions I wanted to ask Chef Dan. Many of the questions were from chowtimes readers.

It was a wet day when I took the Skytrain to the Convention Center. I was given a couple of run arounds before I got to the right section to collect the press credential from. The volunteers were new on the job and had a hard time locating all the passes that were prepared upfront. It took 20 minutes to locate my pass — got me worried that they might not have my records and miss out on the event.


Almost everyone in the broadcasting world you can think of is there. They were wearing shirts with logo of Reuters, NBC, etc! The photographers who were seated near me were all carrying big cameras … not one camera but two. And they seem to know each other. There I was a small time blogger — sigh, no one really bothered to talk to me other than saying “how is it going?”.

I don’t dress like they do and certainly don’t carry the right type of equipment. Next time, I am going to print a T-shirt with the logo so that I can feel more like part of the gang.



While waiting for the event to start, we were served some food. It was early and serving full sized sandwiches was not quite right, one thing that I like was the Mini Mac. The bite sized Mini Mac tastes exactly like the Big Mac. It is amazing that they managed to make it so small — it was just like the size of a 25 cents coin.


I see that no one really touched the fries. It is because it it’s still too early for fries. But I took it because I wanted to sample their new sauces.


The new sauces were not to my taste. Maybe it is the name that they gave it — zesty mango, sichuan and thai. I was particularly interested in the Sichuan one. It was more peanuty than anything. It wasn’t spicy in anyway that can be associated with the word Sichuan. But I know … these sauces were not created for Asians but for the US market.


The press event was somewhat short. There were speeches from McDonalds management, the IOC and VANOC. The speeches were quickly followed by some fun and games.

The McDonalds Champion Kids program flew in children selected from Canada and all over the world with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the Vancouver 2010 games first-hand. These 6-14 year old also have a chance to serve as youth correspondence to share their experience with their hometown news outlets.


After the event, I was introduced to Chef Dan. He comes across to me as a down to earth kind of person. Very approachable.

As we settled down, I was shifty and nervous. I was nervous because of what I was about to say to kick off the 1-on-1. I just said three words … “Junk food. Why?” (more…)

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McDonalds Mac Snack Wrap — Have One On Us!

Freebie time again!


McDonalds USA sent us another stack of “Be Our Guest” cards for give away to chowtimes’ readers.


This time it is for McDonalds latest addition to the new Snack Wrap Line — the Mac Snack Wrap.

Look at the picture above. What a beauty isn’t it? That is the official media picture of the product. They always look better than the real thing they sell in the restaurant.


I picked up the Mac Snack Wrap on the way home from work today. I just got to taste for myself how it is. Each one costs about $1.90 … or is it $1.60?

You know, I just can’t remember how much I paid for this. Suanne always says that I don’t check each time I use the credit card.

I must admit, I don’t. It’s a guy thing. Most guys never check these sort of things, don’t you think so?


Peeling open the warm flour tortilla, there is half of a normal beef patty. I think it is made with a normal quarter pound patty cut into half.

In it too are the same Big Mac sauce, shredded lettuce, some traces of cheese, a little bit of pickles, and chopped onions. It does not quite look like the official media picture.

I don’t know if you know this. The difference in the Big Mac from the other burgers is … (more…)

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Belgian Fries on Commercial Drive at 3rd, Vancouver

After dropping the boys off for yet another of their top secret training, Suanne and I decided to go to Commercial Drive. We hardly ever go to Commercial Drive at all. Not sure why though, especially knowing that there are a lot of good eating places here.


While checking out the restaurants along Commercial Drive, we came across Belgian Fries. I remember reading a well researched Foodospohy’s review just a few days earlier. Although the review came out negative from Foodosopher, we went nevertheless. We are not picky eaters and we can’t imagine how bad french fries could get.

I remember reading a lot of other reviews of Belgian Fries and each of them talks about having Poutine. I thought it was kind of funny, odd too, that the Quebec version of french fries is the thing to have in a place called Belgian Fries. On the awning in front, just beside their Belgian Fries banner is the tagline that says “CBC Montreal: Best Poutine in BC”. Perhaps they should name this place the Montreal Poutine or something like that … No? Yes? No?

Anyway, Belgian Fries is located on Commercial Drive at East 3rd Ave.


The interior is bright and spacious. The music is loud. It is definitely a youngster hangout. We felt old in there. We could smell the deep frying from the edge of the restaurant where we park ourselves. One thing that irks me is that the floor is so sticky like they had never mopped this for ages.

They used to be half the size you see in the picture above. I am not sure when they had expanded but looking at this old picture of Belgian Fries, you can just imagine that business must have been very good.

To order, you pay at the counter and they will give you a number. They will call your number once it is ready. This means that they make the fries only on order — which is good.


We got the Montreal Smoked Beef Poutine to share. The large one costs $8.50.

It sure looked unhealthy and I mean very, very unhealthy. It also looked very delicious and I mean very, very mouth watering.

We had a way to eat this. You really need a strategy because it could get very messy. We started off by … (more…)

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White Spot on No 3 Road, Richmond

This post is written using a $10 gift card given by White Spot.

Suanne has a big collection of coupons like you never believe. She clips coupons from the papers diligently and stashes it in her small drawer. So we get a lot of them. Some of them are sent directly from businesses to us with the hope that we will write about it.

Over the Christmas holidays, Suanne took out all her coupons and checked the expiry dates. She knows that a lot of them expires at year end.


She found two from White Spot. There is a coupon for a free Legendary Burger Platter which is worth about $9 which Nanzaro got for doing some community work. We also had another gift card (with $10 value) which White Spot gave four months ago when they were promoting the Pirate Pack.

So we decided to go and use them before they expire.


It had been very long while since we had been to White Spot. It must have been at least 5 years already. Which is kind of strange I guess for a Vancouver food blogger not to have written about a very successful Vancouver based chain.

White Spot started in 1928 and that make it over 80 years old. Given that long history, White Spot claim themselves to be the “oldest successful chain in North America”.


We went to the White Spot in No 3 Road and Ackroyd. There is another White Spot in the Richmond Center but we decided to go to this one which is bigger. Our boys did not want to go out because they were “too busy” … with their new PS3 games and notebook they got over Christmas. Nanzaro had always wanted to use the coupon for himself but this time he just said “It’s OK, mum. You just go ahead with dad.” — without taking his eyes from the video game.

We were rather surprised how busy White Spot is. There is a wait for tables despite that this restaurant is quite big. We are thinking that it could have been the holidays where people tends to eat out than cooking at home.


White Spot has a weekly Bar Specials. We ordered one of their frozen cocktails called the Mango Madness which costs $4. It is a frosty blend of mango and rum.


It was good. It was more mango than it was rum actually. I can tell because my face did not turn red.


I got a question. How do you get to the sugar at the rim of the glass? I mean, they provided a drinking draw. If they did not have the straw, then drinking straight from the glass makes sense. Do you drink from the straw and then lick the rim? Is that how you do that?

Suanne was hysterical when I did that and the people at the neighboring table laughed too. *shrug*


We got their biggest burger platter. It is called the … (more…)

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Churros from Empanada Hut in Lansdowne Mall, Richmond

Updated: 7th March 2011: This outlet is closed according to

We are still searching for the perfect Churros in Metro Vancouver ever since we tried that great Spanish snack during our vacation in Spain this past summer.

So when Jonnek twitter’d me saying that he found Churros in Richmond, Suanne and I was pretty excited. BTW, did you know that we are on Twitter too? If you are interested to also follow us on Twitter, it is on


Our boys wanted to get the newly released Modern Warfare 2 from Best Buy (MW2 is an amazing game). So, we all took a drive to the Lansdowne Mall to pick up the game from Best Buy and then pop over to the food court to check out the Churros.

Jonnek informed us that the Churros can be found at the Empanada Hut.


Empanada Hut is famous for their empanadas. Having just had lunch, we decided not to try them although they looked very mouth-watering. Foodosophy did a write-up once on these empanadas, so you might want to check it out here.

Our mission here was the Churros. Here it is … (more…)

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Japadog in Downtown Vancouver

Street food is the pits in Vancouver.

As far as I know there are nothing but hot dogs that are allowed on the streets. It is kind of sad right? With such a cosmopolitan population, there are so much potential to make Vancouver the mecca of street food. Already we are probably one of the best in terms on ethnic cuisine in North America but for street food, it is the pits … with one exception.

Despite this limitation imposed on street food vendors by the city health authorities, we do have something that we could be proud of.

When Anthony Bourdain came to Vancouver, the one thing he chose to feature was Japadog (wind to the 7th minute of the youtube above). I might be wrong but I think Japadog is uniquely Vancouver.


Japadog started off with a storm at the corner of Burrard and Smithe in downtown Vancouver. Back then, the long queues were a spectacle. There were people who would stand in line for 30 minutes just for a hotdog.

When I was there recently, there was no queue. Maybe it was because they were forced to move across the street due to ongoing road construction at their usual spot and not many of their regular customers were aware if it.


Besides Bourdain, there are quite a number of famous people who had tried Japadog. They proudly display their famous fans’ pictures on their cart and what they ate.

Some of them are more famous than others. Click on the picture above if you can’t read properly who they are. 😉


Bewildered by the many combinations, I decided that that I won’t go wrong with their most expensive item on their menu — the Kurobuta Terimayo.

Kurobuta is described as the “Kobe Beef” of pork. According to Wikipedia, Kurobuta is listed as vulnerable because their are only 300 breeding females. Hmmm … I learn new things everyday.


I am not a hotdog person but I like Japadog. It is unlike any hotdog I had ever tried. What makes Japadog a difference is the … (more…)

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Barcelona: Guess Where We Had the Tarta de Queso

After the whole day of walking, our feet were killing us.  We looked for somewhere to rest and get a drink.  We wanted somewhere simple.


We came upon this restaurant which looked familiar.  So we went in and since they have really delicious looking pastries too, we ordered some.  Suanne gravitated towards the Tarta de Queso as always.  Alright, it is cheesecake but the words name Tarta de Queso sounded cooler.

It was served somewhat fancy considering that we did not expect a place like this to do that.


I had a simple pastry.  Loved the way they served this.  You may think that … so what?  This is nothing unique.  It sure is considering where we had this.  We had this in, believe it or not, … (more…)

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Barcelona: Getting Around Barcelona (and Our First Spanish Meal)

We got to Barcelona — finally.

As much as Suanne feeling that the vacation started when we crossed the US border, it is only when we landed in Barcelona that I feel the vacation really got going.  After all, Suanne has put everything on my shoulders.  She said that she is leaving it entirely up to me to do everything … she is there only for the ride.  I am the tour guide, she is the tourist.  She got the better deal.

Here is some self explanatory trivias for you which I got from Wikipedia.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

In terms of cities, Barcelona ranks #11 in the world.

It did not take us too long to clear immigration at the newish looking Barcelona airport.  We travelled light with no checked in baggage.  When travelling standby, you don’t want to have the mess dealing with retrieving your baggage in case you don’t get to board.


Getting from the airport proved to be easier than we thought.  Due to the lack of planning, I had earlier been prepared dole out some bucks (or rather euros) for taxi ride to the hotel.  I was really expecting it to be expensive too.  For some reason I do not know, many airport taxis in the world have surcharges making it more expensive than normal.  Do you know the reasoning behind this?

The Information counter at the airport speaks perfect English.  We were directed to down an escalator and there was a stand with a bus waiting.  The bus shuttles to the city very often and costs a few euros.


The shuttle bus last stop was at the main square of Barcelona.  It is called the Plaza de Catalunya.  It is like the Barcelona city center.

Having got off from the bus, we needed to get some bearings on where we are and where the hotel is.  The bus driver was of no help because he speaks no English.  So, we went to the Information Center office at the Plaza de Catalunya, lugging our bags along.  We were not so conspicious because there were tourists doing that too.  So, yeah … we blended in alright!


At the Info Center, the folks there were helpful.  But that place was super busy and (more…)

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