A Swiss Kids’ Drink and the Silk Road
Fusion Food in a Bento Box



One of the desserts at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market in Manhattan is Ovaltine Kulfi in a Bento Box.  So what does a kids’ drink have to do with Pacific Rim chefs?  Was Marco Polo peddling Ovaltine at the court of Kublai Khan?

Tell the truth, Ovaltine had not yet been invented in Marco’s day.  It came a while later. But if you were a foreign kid in Shanghai’s Foreign Settlement before the Second World War, you probably knew Ovaltine, along with Wheaties, which were also popular.

Ovaltine is a malt-derived powder used to flavor milk and has been around since the early Twentieth Century.  Besides the basic malt flavor, there are a couple other variants, with more intense chocolate content.  Ovaltine is popular with children. [1]

So a modern Marco P<olo had retraced the great Italian’s footsteps during the early Twentieth Century, order book in hand, signing up local Asian distributors for Ovaltine.

Ovaltine has been popular with expatriates and locals alike in several Pacific Rim countries.  But chefs of Haute Cuisine, Nouvelle Cusine or Fusion — where do they come in?

Ovaltine is a little like Bovril or Marmite — you love it or hate it. And it has its cult of lovers — this group has created whole recipe books for their favorite product. [2]

So it’s not surprising that somewhere along the line,some Indian chefs p;layed with the idea of putting Ovaltine into the Indian frozen  dessert called kulfi.  Ovaltine Kulfi has now been around for a few years and there are several recipes available. [3]

Pastry Chef Pichet Ong at New York’s Spice Market has  been making Ovaltine Kulfi.. [4]

The Spice Market is part of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s culinary empire.  JGV puts his Ovaltine flavored kulfi in one of the Bento boxes served at the Spice Market.  [5]

In a what?  A Bento Box.  But isn’t Bento a Japanese concept?  Well, yes, and if you open one of JGV’s Bento boxes, you might find a Thai salad among the contents.

And you could find Ovaltine-Flavored Kulfi.  So Ovaltine gets involved in a kind of ultra-Fusion cuisine combining Thai, Japanese and Indian influences, among others.  And Swiss, too.  Because Ovaltine hails from Berne, Switzerland, where it was first developed in 1904.

Ovaltine and Asia: It’s not really so surprising to find Ovaltine in a Fusion recipe. The drink has been popular in Asia for many years, and has been made in Thailand and China.

Ovaltine and Health: What about Ovaltine and nutrition?  Isn’t it a sweetened drink?  Could it be a healthy food? Maybe not ideal for some purists: Ovaltine is high in sugar, but according to some analyses, a single serving of the basic malt flavor (3 tablespoons or 21.3 grams) has

  • just 80 calories
  • no saturated fat
  • no cholesterol
  • is high in iron
  • high in Vitamin A
  • high in Vitamin C

These are the top nutrients.  The manufacturer advertisers “12 vitamins and minerals in every glass.”

To sum up

Ovaltine is a food with a Swiss origin that is sometimes a player in the Fusion food area.  High in sugar, but low in calories, no saturated fat or cholesterol and contains some valuable nutrient elements.

And according to most diners, JGV’s Ovaltine Kulfi in a Bento is delicious.  One diner called it “a dense fudgy log of chilled chocolate, really sweet but it was delicious.” [7]

For Further Information:

[1] “Ovaltine,” article, Wikipedia —  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ovaltine
[2] Ovaltine recipes — http://www.yummly.com/recipes/ovaltine
[3] Ovaltine kulfi ––  http://www.zencancook.com/2011/10/gianduja-chocolate-kulfi-w-caramelized-banana-cocoa-nibs-popcorn/
[4] Ovaltine Kulfi at Spice Market —  http://www.starchefs.com/chefs/rising_stars/2005/newyork/html/ovaltine_kulfi_p_ong.shtml
[5] Ovaltine Kulfi in Bento Box —  http://www.spicemarketnewyork.com/pdf/SM_%20NYC%20Bento_Lunch_08.19.10-1.pdf
[6] Ovaltine nutritional information —   http://www.ovaltineusa.com/
[7] Dense fudgy log of chilled chocolate —   http://minyungee.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/nyc-restaurant-week-at-spice-market/


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