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Top 10 Weird and Wonderful Finds at the NASFT Fancy Food Show

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By Rachael Narins/Special to LAist

The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) Fancy Food Show was held in San Francisco last week. It’s a gourmet trade show with thousands of vendors set up in three rooms the size of several football fields. It’s also a bit of a culinary assault. Everything from sixty-two types of olives, to seaweed; ice cream to smoked lard was available to try. It’s akin to someone opening every single product at Bristol Farms, Unique LA and the corner store and offering you a bite. As a trade show though, it’s serious business. Vendors are vying to have distributors and manufacturers sample and (hopefully) order their products and grow their businesses.

We were there sporting a pretty nifty press badge. It was the first time our lives so many men (hundreds) have glanced at our poitrine (saw we weren’t going to bulk-buy anything) and dismissed us. Humbling and yet, made it so much easier to just let go and eat all the carbs and chocolate in site. Oh, and foie gras. Mmmm.

Wandering the halls, with vendors grouped by country or some other origin, we couldn’t help but note the incredible lack of bacon and coconut water, which were two of last years big items. The lovely Bacon Salt people were there offering their pork-free products including bacon-salt popcorn though, which made us smile. (Hello, genius!) We saw two bacon candy bars but that was about it. Jamon on the other hand, was strongly represented. Perhaps there is a sea change…

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The trends we did notice were alternative grain crackers/breads/chips (chips made from lentils, chips made from chick peas, crackers made from—yes—meat, gluten-free crackers, puffed amaranth chips, you name it) and a whole lot of beverages made from things like palm water, soy milk, almond water, matcha and tomato water.

Here are our top 10 choices for best in show.

10. Hela Curry Spice Ketchup — This is for when you want to grill some dogs on the grill at home but are still craving that currywurst flavor. Not as sweet as Heinz, this product was rich in tomato and highly-spiced. They offered it with Pringles to sample, and we kinda thought it worked.

9. J and D's Bacon Pop — So they took the totally fun kosher bacon salt (made with soy and smoke flavoring) to the next level with a microwavable popcorn. If bacon flavor is your thing, this popcorn is for you.

8. Chez Gourmet from Marie Veggie Burgers — With cute names like Wow! Mushrooms and Oregon Harvest Chez Gourmet burgers get it right. Smooth but not pasty, packing serious flavor and lots of nutrition from ingredients like Anasazi beans and flax.

7. Taste #5 Umami Paste — The packaging is ultra sleek, the chef behind the product is terribly glamorous and the celebrity endorsement is extra fab, but none of that would matter if what was in the tube wasn’t incredible. But it is. The original Mediterranean flavor is a flavor bomb of anchovy, tomato, parmesan and mushroom, making it like the most glutamate dense product imaginable.

6. Wild Crafted Fennel Pollen — We can think of a dozen ways to use this lightly floral spice. Hand-harvested in Lemon Cove CA (where is Lemon Cove? We want to go there!) fennel pollen is mixed with spices like dill, pasilla pepper and lemon zest, it’s chic and different.

5. Fomz - This might be a love-it-or-hate-it product, but we for sure loved it. It’s super creamy, really tart, totally silly, fruit infused flavor foam from a can. What’s not to love?

4. Kugel Co. Savory Kugel — Sampled in both (dessert) sweet and savory varieties. If you didn’t grow up in a Jewish household you may not be familiar with kugel which is a starch (potato or noodle) and dairy casserole. This noodle, cream cheese concoction was insanely rich and incredibly delicious. We cannot wait to have it again.

3. Avitea Water — Plain water, with caffeine. No teeth staining coloring, no chemicals. Pure water, with caffeine. Comes in different strengths, too. Loved this concept so much, might have proposed to the sales guy.

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2. Twang Hot Lime Beer Salt Packets — Seriously. What took so long? Sugar packet sized servings of Latin flavored salt. Sure, the first thing you think is this is perfect for a quick Michelada, but honestly, this stuff would be awesome on popcorn, fries, and of course, margaritas. Every bar in town should have these on the counter.

1. Long Kow's Crystal Noodle Soup — Our winner for absolutely best, most happy making new-to-us product was for sure Long Kow’s Crystal Noodle Soup. Essentially the same as a cup of ramen, only with rice noodles, so each serving is 100 calories instead of 500. And it’s savory goodness. Really flavorful broth with chewy noodles, tofu and vegetables in a huge cup. Ready in three minutes. It’s warm and delicious and we are running out to buy some right now.