Friday, May 17, 2013
When I first returned to the U.S., I bought things which I had old memories of in order to see if they still tasted like I expected them to be. One of the first things I tried was a bag of Hershey's Kisses. I wanted to see if they were different than those sold in Japan. I came back to the place we were staying and put them in the refrigerator. My father-in-law, who had picked us up and the airport and was spending a week with us while we tried to get our "sea legs" for living in the U.S. (something we desperately needed his support with), said that he found that chocolate tastes better when it's not too cold. I believe that is true, but not for cheap chocolate.
When I tried Pocky Midi, I liked it a lot better while cold, but I expected that I'd feel differently about this Almond Crush version. I figured the softness of the former was caused by the white chocolate base used in the strawberry. Well, not so much... I think I figured out why I have never been a big fan of Pocky and that's because the coating is too soft for my tastes. As I mentioned before, I like chocolate with snap. What is more, I like nuts with crunch and this had neither, until I got it cold. Then, all was right with the world again.
I like the general concept of Pocky since I am a fan of chocolate and pretzels, though certainly one of my issues is that Pocky's pretzel sticks are not actually salted. I think the flavor profile would be better if the sticks were adding depth to the flavor profile rather than simply being a delivery mechanism for the coating. Nonetheless, this coating is one that did strike my fancy. I'm an enormous fan of almonds. They are second only to hazelnuts as my favored nut of choice to party with chocolate in a sweet, and that's only because I'm an incredible Nutella whore.
The coating on these is very typically Japanese in that the chocolate isn't overly sweet, has just a few more bittersweet notes, and is super smooth and fatty (hence the softness). The nuts add more flavor than crunch, but they do add some textural interest as well. The flavor depth is pretty good with the chocolate hitting first, the basic mix of both coming second, and the almonds coming on strong at the end.
This is pretty much a no-brainer for anyone who likes Pocky, almonds, and chocolate. For me, I really did like them, and those lovely almonds that rough up the chocolate landscape are a siren song to me. These came to me courtesy of the fine folks at Candysan, who are carrying this for only a $1.73/170 yen a box. If I were making an order, I may not order this alone, but I'd surely toss a box into an order for more exotic things like the previously reviewed green tea Oreo chocolates.
Sadly, this completes my review of the box of goodies sent to me by Candysan, but there are always more things to be found and reviewed.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Image from Lawson's web site.
There were certain things in Japan that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole when I first got there. This is one of those types of things. Now, if I had a 5,133-foot pole, I'd use it to get my hands on one of these babies. For a mere 150 yen and weighing in at only 191 calories, you can enjoy this "Uchi Cafe" treat at limited Lawson convenience stores. It was available from May 7, 2013, so it should be around for a wee bit, but don't count on seeing it for terribly long. These things tend to have a short lifespan as they are marketed at the fickle affections of young women who value novelty.
The outside is soft mochi and is filled with sweet bean paste that has a whipped cream center. The package comes with "black honey" sauce, or "kuromitsu" and it's sprinkled with kinako (toasted soybean flour). I'm sure that it doesn't come with an elegant little dish or wooden stick, but I'm sure you can transfer it from it's plastic package to a more fitting serving situation. This is part of the "premium sweets" line, which focuses on incorporating cream into the treats.
This is one of those treats that would hit every mark with me - mochi, whipped cream, kinako, and anko, though I would probably skip the kuromitsu.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
It's much harder for me to write captions for pictures that show funky stuff in the name than for something boring. There is little that I can do which can enhance these types of pictures since they are much funnier standing on their own. The only thing I can say is that this is only truly funny if you're a bit of pervert who thinks that flora have genitalia. I'm the sort of pervert who can imagine that, and so very much more.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Image from Baskin Robbins Japan.
Baskin Robbins Japan has been churning out (no pun intended, really) ice cream in that island nation for 40 years. To celebrate this, they're selling a special "anniversary sundae" made up of one scoop of ice cream with a bit of whipped cream and some colorful candies. I guess the 40th isn't nearly as impressive as some others since that's a pretty puny sundae.
The mugs are actually rather nicely designed to have both a retro feel (the stripes bring about thoughts of old-timey ice cream parlors) and modern elegance. If I were in Japan, I wouldn't need another mug (as they appeared to reproduce when food touches them like porcelain tribbles) so I probably wouldn't buy the sundae to get the cup, but I'd surely get one if I hadn't had a cabinet overstuffed with dishes. Note how they kindly put the sundae in a paper cup inside of the mug so that you don't mess it up with the food. Also, the sundae being so anemic means that it'd languish down in the bottom and require some sort of deep sea camera to get a picture of it for promotional purposes.
They are available only at some Baskin Robbins shops and in limited quantities. No price is given because old "31" is a franchise and pricing is controlled to some extent by the owners. They will be available up until May 10 or the end of their supplies. You can choose your scoop, but I'm guessing you can't choose whether you get the pink or green mug.
Monday, May 13, 2013
The last time I tried consumer-level chocolate-covered potato chip snacks, it was a disaster, so I was concerned that these might be scary as well. What was more worrisome (can you see my brow knitting as I fret over candy-covered salted snacks?) was that the former disaster was also made by Meiji. If I get more wrinkles, I'm going to have to consider a suit against said company.
Fortunately, these lacked the ingredient which I think torpedoed my last attempt and that was "cheese powder". There as a horrible pungency to them which killed the love I feel toward chocolate-covered salty things. And, yes, I do love them. One of the great loves of my life are Royce chocolate-covered chips and Snyder's chocolate-covered pretzels. I don't love them often, no, no, for that would mean that I'd have to buy new pants, but I do love them all too well when I have infrequent encounters with them.
This treat comes my way via the kind folks at Candysan, that's the importer I mentioned last week that beats the prices of local Asian grocery stores. I'm continuing to make my way through the generous box of snacks they sent me. They're offering this for $2.01 or 198 yen or even 1,54 euros. I never considered offering prices in the final currency, but they're an international sort of business. I realize this every time I go to their site to link to the product and find that I have to click on the little American flag in the upper right hand corner because my browser is apparently too dumb to recall my preferred settings (or I'm too dumb to configure it to remember... I guess I lived in Japan long enough to "take responsibility" for things that are my fault).
At any rate, I was pretty skeptical about the appeal of this particular product to me personally because of my less than enthusiastic response to white chocolate. I was pleased that they are sufficiently salty for the salty sweet aspect to shine through. Sometimes the saltiness is so subdued that your tongue has to think extra hard to find it. This is not what I want. There is also a nice crunchy chip hidden beneath a fairly thick layer of white chocolate that feels pleasantly cool and rich on the tongue.
The white chocolate is "the rub" on this, at least for someone like me who can be rubbed the wrong way by it. It's good white chocolate, actually, in that it's not horribly cloyingly sweet as the white stuff can sometimes be. It is fairly sweet, but it also has a nice buttery flavor and the sweetness is cut to some extent by the salty chips. That buttery element explains the baked potato with butter illustrated on the front of the box at least. On the down side, the white chocolate is soft and that's not something I like, as my refrigerated strawberry Pocky Midi in my review mentioned.
I have mixed feelings about this that make me wish my ratings system were different and that there was something between "happy" (which means I'd buy it again) and "indifferent" (which means I wouldn't buy it again). I enjoyed this and am very glad that I had the chance to sample it. However, I'm not sure I'd have it again. It has the same quality that bad pizza holds for me. I don't love it, but I can see craving the experience again when the planets are aligned properly and the stars tell me it is time to do so. There's something weird about wanting something you're not wild about, but it holds a particular charm. If you love white chocolate and the salty sweet combination, this is a no brainer to try. If you don't, and I do not, then it's an iffy proposition.
Friday, May 10, 2013
I'll also be honest and say that I'm not the biggest fan of strawberry chocolate. Though the quality of it tends to be better in Japan (less artificial taste, more of a sense of the real deal), the fact that it usually has a white chocolate base does not help. Usually, white chocolate is too soft and sweet for my tastes.
So, with these considerations in mind, I tried to give this Pocky a fair shake. Eating one at room temperature didn't impress me as it is incredibly soft and melts on the tongue in a way that I didn't care for. The flavor felt like it turned to sweet mush in my mouth. While the box description says that it has three components, the biscuit, "whip" chocolate, and a fruity coating, I couldn't really distinguish them as separate components when it was around 75 degrees.
I like my chocolate to have some snap, so I hit upon a "brilliant" idea and put the package in the refrigerator. I'm sure that no one in the history of mankind has ever put chocolate in the fridge, right? This instantly upped the game as it made it gave the chocolate coating some heft and allowed the flavors to take some time to unfold on my tongue. It is sweet, no doubt about that, but the strawberry flavor has a little bit of a bite as an end note. There is also a richness to the "whip" portion that much more gradually blends in when you have it cold. The coating is thicker than strictly necessary and that makes it sweeter than I'd like. If I ate one stick, I was in pleasure-land (for adults only). Two and it was bordering on cloying. One can look at this as incentive for portion control, or an indication that this is a bit much.
It's hard to give this a proper rating because I conditionally enjoyed this. If it is cold and I eat one stick, I'm happy to have it again. If it is room temperature and I eat more than one, then I'm not really keen at all. If you're a fan of Pocky, strawberry white chocolate, and fairly sweet things, you're going to enjoy this. If you're not, then you'll want to give it a miss. Candy-san is offering this for 210 yen or $2.13 on their web site if you'd like to sample it. Each box has 3 packages of 4 sticks at 113 calories per package.
I'm giving it a provisional happy rating, and suggesting you consider having it cold as well.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
"Baton d'or" means "golden stick" in French. Naming any product in French instantly improves its cache. Instead of being a repackaged Pocky stick, with it's snappy name and Japanese pop cultural tones, it's a sophisticated pastry. The package designs make me think about diet foods with their attempts to emulate a slender, curvy feminine figure, but that is not what is on the minds of the folks at Glico. The thing that makes this stick "golden" is butter, lots and lots of butter. With that fact, it seems unlikely that this will do much to trim the waistline.
This brand has actually been around since around the middle of last year, but is being beefed up with new flavors and stripped of its chocolate coating. The pedestrian flavors (milk, white, strawberry, green tea, coffee) above are being supplanted at a grand release at Hankyu department store with butter sugar, cinnamon sugar, maple sugar, strawberry sugar, and green tea sugar. Though it may seem that sugar is the big deal with these high class pretzel sticks, the real selling point is that they are dipped in clarified butter after they're baked (and then dipped in sugar). If I were still in Japan, I would totally want to buy one of these, especially the cinnamon one since cinnamon snacks are relatively rare there, but Hankyu department store is in Osaka and that's a long way to go for a designer pretzel. It would take a magic stick made of real gold to get me to fork over the price of a Shinkansen ticket (over $100).
These will be available from June 12, 2013. I'm guessing that distribution will expand beyond Osaka eventually, but that information isn't clearly provided at this time.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
I've heard that the consumption of energy drinks like Red Bull in the U.S. is creating serious problems for young people. The risk of caffeine intoxication is not small when people who don't have enough sense to pull up their pants because their underwear is showing are imbibing. Until I returned to the U.S., I didn't know that these types of things were so popular.
In Japan, energy drinks had been around pretty much for the entire 23 years I was there. Tiny little brown bottles of instant spunkiness kept tired businessmen alert as they toiled away into the wee hours. What I didn't realize until I read the English on the side of this box of Ukon Power was that they are probably also often utilized as hangover cures. You'd think this would be an obvious conclusion to reach, but, being a teetotaler myself, it just never occurred to me that much of this industry may be built around boozehounds who are looking to find their "get up and go" in a bottle after too many "nomikai" (drinking parties).
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Images from Pizza Hut Japan.
Most of what is given as part of campaigns is of limited utility. In fact, cups and bowls tend to be the biggest "gifts" that come with overpriced food. This time, they're offering a wooden "tray" and a cutter which could conceivably be useful. That being said, if you buy a pizza from Pizza Hut, there's a pretty good chance that they're going to cut the pizza for you and you'll eat it out of the box rather than grease up the adorable little Rilakkuma tray.
Personally, I think that the wooden tray would be put to better use as part of some sort of S & M furry activity... not that I think about that sort of thing or anything.