To think. I was going to save this to eat with my honey for Valentine's Day. Barf. On multiple levels.
Some people know this from Panda Express. And if you've had the chance to have real Chinese food, you've probably had honey walnut shrimp at some banquet dinner. I kind of regarded it as a "meh" food, but I remember it being on the table every time I visited Taiwan and had a "big family dinner" out always at the same restaurant. And once I started dating A, I discovered that it's pretty much staple Cantonese banquet food. Chinese people pretty much never prepare this at home, mainly because you'd rather splurge on it eating out with family with cash and calories. Picking this up to review was a no-brainer.
This is ain't no health food. So let us close our eyes to the fat, the sodium, the sugars...and the sad part is that it MIGHT be marginally healthier than what you'd find at the restaurant. Can I also add that this is like the worst food for allergies (nuts, wheat, milk, eggs, shrimp). I mean, the only way to make this more lethal is to add a few bee stings.
Whether you choose stove-top or oven, the directions recommend nuking the sauce. Which we did.
I count 20 shrimp. So the claim that each package has 18-20 shrimp checks out. The shrimp comes breaded. Typical restaurant honey walnut shrimp is fried in a bit of cornstarch, so the breaded coating isn't that authentic. However, more Americanized Chinese restaurants will often use thicker, crunchier batter, so I suppose the breading here is supposed to mimic that.
That sauce looks like something I would pour into a coffee drink.
Candied walnuts - yeah there's not too much of it. A notes that the sauce accounts for most of the weight of this product.
How do I say this. THIS SMELLS LIKE CHEESE. WHY. WHY DOES THIS SMELL LIKE CHEESE. WHY. Like the smell of the mass-produced, fake American cheese that comes wrapped in individual slices that I lived on for the first 15 years of my life. It smells like the artificial cheese my mom toasted on dry wheat toast in the toaster oven. It's a somewhat nostalgic smell - but not in a good way because it also reminds me of all the times that the toast sat on the counter uneaten or was left forgotten. In the car. In a lunchbox. Under a couch. Don't ask.
Instances like these are exactly why I want to know 1) WHO decides that CHEESE SMELLING Chinese food is somehow marketable and profitable and 2)WHO in their right mind manufactures a CHEESE SMELLING Chinese food. I mean, cheese is rarely found in Chinese cuisine, and if it is found it's FAKE CHEESE. Cream cheese, cottage cheese, American cheese, powdered parmesan - it's all the same to them (also doesn't help that many are lactose intolerant).
The main culprit? CREAM. CREAM DOES NOT BELONG HERE. Honey walnut shrimp sauce usually involves condensed milk, sugar, and honey. Never cream. I mean yeah, it adds a creamy texture to the dish - but it's like the creaminess of melted artificial cheese. Honestly, the only way I would be able to eat this is if I held my nose the whole time. But then you can't taste anything! It's lose-lose!
I really don't get it. At all. I mean, it LOOKS like it's SUPPOSED to taste good! I mean, I can't even give an productive opinion on this sauce. Every time I try to detect what the heck is going on with the sauce, the smell distracts me and renders my tastebuds useless! Is it too sweet? Probably. Does it resemble actual honey walnut shrimp sauce? I can't tell BECAUSE IT SMELLS LIKE CHEESE. I can say moderately nice things about the shrimp - the actual shrimp is not bad. It's a decent size. The breading doesn't become soggy at all. I'm sure they would taste just fine in a different sauce. I mean why not take the contents and dunk it in any really any other sauce that I've reviewed on this blog (orange, sweet & spicy, teriyaki, "Korean" BBQ...). It would still be better!
BTW, that picture shows the contents of the entire package. Seems like the $6.99 for 20 shrimp is right on track with the inflated restaurant prices. Go figure. Who knew that cream and condensed milk and perhaps some other random stuff would produce a toxic cheese fume. Y'all know me. I love me some cheese. But this here ain't pretty.
It's just one of those things that is so weird, you can't help but laugh. As far as how bad it is? It's not nearly as bad as the worst TJ's food ever, but if I'm wondering how something compares to that...that ain't good. Google any recipe and make it yourself. Hit up Panda Express. Splurge at any Cantonese restaurant. Any of the above are all better than this.
**update: I got a refund for this product. My TJ's store manager is CONVINCED that I got hold of a bad batch. I showed her the picture on my phone, and she commented at how funny it looked (could have been the lighting). Still, she suggested I give it another month or two for my repulsion to subside and then give it another try. I'll consider it...but I'm still skeptical.
TL;DR: Trader Joe's Honey Walnut Shrimp. The disgraced, cheese smelling cousin of a distinguished Cantonese banquet food. Shame shame shame. 2 out of 10.