Thai Thai Sweet & Sour Shrimp with Rice

By: CP Foods

I Paid: $5.85 for a 14.1-ounce box (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars

Marketing: 4stars

Most of us have, after dozens of unpleasant or outright horrifying takeout experiences, given up on the sweet-and-sour concept. Easy to make and easy to sell, sweet-and-sour is a reliable trick for half-assed Americanized Asian franchises: Just throw a big ladle of sugary, gloppy sauce on top of whatever third-rate batter-fried ingredients you’ve got on hand, and you’re set.

Thai Thai, a line of frozen foods manufactured in and exported from Thailand, seemed to present a more attractive approach to the oft-debased cooking style with its Sweet & Sour Shrimp with Rice. Flogging “authentic Thai cuisine” and “no artificial colors or preservatives” on the box, it promised a more ambitious attempt at true Thai food.

The company has done a much better job than you might expect within its cooked/frozen/exported/microwaveable constraints. The shrimp’s breading is flavorful and not overly heavy. The shrimp themselves still have a snappy, lightly seafood-inflected flavor. The sweet-and-sour sauce isn’t seizure-inducingly sweet—it’s got a nuance of what tastes like natural pineapple. Even the rice is worth comment: It’s broken rice, starchy and sticky, and delicious when dipped in the brothlike sauce.

Granted, it’s not what you might think of as classic Thai cuisine: a complex and musky mix of lemongrass, hot spices, and Thai basil. It’s more like American Chinese food done with a sense of restraint and sophistication. That, by itself, is no mean feat.

Jimmy Dean Pancakes & Sausage Minis

By: Jimmy Dean

I Paid: $2.79 for an 8.5-ounce box of 10 (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 1stars

Marketing: 4stars

If there’s anything lower-brow than a box of these newly introduced microwavable miniature Jimmy Dean sausages enrobed in tiny pancakes, it would be highly entertaining and educational to learn of it. Because it certainly seems as though any attempt to go any lower on the cultural-merit totem pole buries you firmly in the fertile loam of kitsch.

On second thought, this product may already have found a home there. It’s nearly impossible to see the box in the freezer case without thinking: “My goodness. Are those bad-bad or so-bad-they’re-good?”

They’re solidly bad-bad, unfortunately. The mealy, greasy sausage is real enough, but the pancake coating is pretty fictional—it’s far more like breading than a soft, absorbent, fluffy breakfast delight. The advantage, no doubt, is that the robust breading prevents grease leakage and avoids sogginess. The downside, however, is that it’s difficult to soak up maple syrup, thereby defeating what many may consider to be the pancake’s raison d’être.

A grace note: A blueberry-pancake version is a solid step above its miserable plain brother. The sweet, no doubt artificially enhanced smell and taste of blueberry go a long way toward diverting one’s attention from the heavy breading and greasy core of the Mini.

Faint praise, perhaps, but that’s about as good as it gets when you’re this low to the ground.

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