Monday, August 31, 2009
Some things place me in a real approach-avoidance conflict. That's when you both want and don't want to do something. I'd seen this "mammoth meat" snack in shops for a couple of months before taking the plunge and finally buying one of the two available flavors. The picture of the snack on the front does not look appealing at all and the whole "mystery meat" angle wasn't grabbing me at all.
I'm guessing this is an effort on Tohato's part to build a new brand image by picking something unique and strange, much like their Tyrant Habanero brand with it's evil jack-o-pepper mascot. I don't know how this one is doing, but I can say that an awful lot of these have been on display at the local Family Mart convenience store for quite some time. The red bag, which contains a soy sauce and garlic flavored meaty cracker, in particular seems to be lingering. The yellow bag variety has a version with black pepper and "medium rare" meat. I don't know if the way in which the meat is "cooked" affects the taste much, but I think it factors into the color of the cracker.
Speaking of the cracker's color. These are absolutely an unappealing-looking snack. They look like dog treats or cinnamon rolls that have been run over by a steam roller. They smell like soy sauce and garlic beef jerky, which is no surprise because these are flavored with Japanese tare sauce. Tare is a multi-purpose word for various versions of thickened soy sauce with flavoring. I've most often had it with yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), sushi or other meat dishes.
The crackers are thin and crispy and not too different from any other form of cracker on the texture front. The flavor is a deep meaty taste with a heavy emphasis on pork, garlic and soy sauce. There's something about it that is just "off" though. I'm not sure what it is, but there's a strange taste which is like gamy meat. Yes, it seems right that mammoth meat would be gamy tasting, but it doesn't make for a good snack.
This is not unpalatable, but it's just not that good. The whole bag has about 10 crackers slightly bigger than a saltine (if it was round). Each cracker is about 21 calories and it's not a pleasurable enough experience when there are so many tastier things around for a similar caloric impact. If I could have this or, say a Hershey's Kiss at 25 calories per morsel, there would be no competition. The Kiss would win hand's down.
If the graphic on the bag appeals to you, you can download a desktop picture showing a pattern with it here.
Friday, August 28, 2009
You never see molasses for sale in Japan. In fact, it's actually rather difficult to explain the concept of molasses to students. Gingerbread doesn't exist in Japanese culture (as far as I've seen). Commonly available Japanese brown sugar is also really light in color and weak in flavor, so you get the feeling the native's don't have a taste for strong molasses flavor.
These cookies are called "black sugar" cookies, but what they actually are are molasses chocolate chip cookies. The goop pictured on the front of the bag even looks like molasses, though the web site calls it something like "black sugar nectar". So, maybe Fujiya is trying to cultivate a taste for molasses, or just coming up with yet another flavor of Country Ma'am cookies.
There are five tiny cookies in the pack and it costs about 150 yen ($1.60). Each cookie is 3.5 cm (1.4 in.) in diameter (10.5 g./.34 oz.) and they're 48 calories per cookie.
Unsurprisingly, the cookies smell like dark brown sugar or weak molasses. The texture is perfect. They're crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. There are generous amounts of chocolate chips in them, so you can taste the chocolate very well and the sweetness level is about right. The flavor, however, is a matter of taste. My husband liked these, but I couldn't get on board with the combination of chocolate and molasses. To me, it was just not a good mix.
I think someone who likes chocolate chips in their gingerbread would love these and though I certainly wouldn't buy them again, I can't fault anything about the cookie. It's just a matter of my tastes.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I've never thought much about white chocolate and how or why it was invented. I only know that my earliest experiences with it were the white chocolate Easter bunnies in my Easter basket. Sure, they looked cool because who doesn't like a white rabbit, but they were always the last thing I wanted to eat.
A little research on Wikipedia reveals that, like processed cheese, white chocolate was created to use up a byproduct from another product's manufacturing process. With cheese, it was using up whey. With white chocolate, it started as a way to use up excess cocoa butter. Given that cocoa butter is now a prized part of chocolate production, I have to wonder what the incentive is these days to produce white chocolate. I guess some people just enjoy it. For the most part, I'm not one of them.
I am a fan, however, of Ghana milk chocolate so I wanted to give this variation a try. The bar is firmer than a milk chocolate bar and has a harder snap. When you put it in your mouth, it also does not melt easily and seems less decadent and silky. The bar smells like vanilla and the sort of white chocolate scent that I associated with the aforementioned white chocolate Easter bunnies that took up residence in my childhood basket.
The first taste is of very mild vanilla followed by a tiny hint of lemon. It's a little malty and has a somewhat sour aftertaste. Surprisingly, it's not super sweet and this was a very pleasant surprise. It has good sweetness balance, but weak flavor overall. In every way, it's a very subtle bar.
The bar is 45 grams (1.5 oz.) and has 279 calories. Cocoa butter is the second ingredient whereas it tends to be the third, fourth or fifth ingredient in regular milk chocolate bars. Mainly cocoa solids are missing from the white chocolate bar. Oddly, this bar has Vitamin E added to it and I wonder if that might be part of what adds a little sour aftertaste.
This is by far one of the best white chocolate bars I've ever had. I wish that was saying more, but the flavor is simply too subtle for this bar to appeal to me, so I won't buy it again. I have a feeling that fans of white chocolate might find that the bar isn't sweet enough for them, but I certainly would encourage white chocolate lovers to sample this. For those who are relatively indifferent to white chocolate, this is unlikely to win them over.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Several months ago, one of my husband's students brought back a box of "apple pie" from Korea and gave it to my husband as a souvenir. That box had about 10 or 12 little pies in it and he slowly ate them. I had just one.
Fast forward to today when my husband and I amble down to the local QQ (99-yen shop) and meander around looking for band-aids and various snacks. Among the pile of snacks elegantly displayed in their original cardboard boxes and stacked at the back of the shop are these Sweet Box apple pies. The style of the box design as well as the picture of the pie on the box looks very much like the Korean pies that he got as a souvenir. Out of curiosity, and because he kind of liked the pies, we picked up a box.
Note that this box only contains 5 pies and cost 99 yen (about a dollar) and the Korean one had twice as many. The origin of the pies is China, but the distributor is Japanese. My guess is that these are exported to various countries with different packages based on their ultimate destination.
One can't expect much from this sort of thing. The best you can hope for is a happy surprise. Of course, I wasn't going to be surprised because I had the Korean ones already. The main problem with these "apple" pies is that the apple portion is so sparse. Most of it is "pie". And by pie, I mean a very dry, flaky crust, which is half pie and half cracker.
The smattering of apple filling tastes a bit like super thick apricot and apple jam, and is not very sweet. Because of the distribution, the first bite is mostly dry pie with the tiniest hint of the fruit. The second bite of filling is a bit better, like a tart apple, but there's so little of it that it's not worthwhile.
On the bright side, each 4 cm by 8 cm pie is only 63 calories. You're not getting much for the investment. I think these might actually be useful for pairing up with ice cream. The texture of the dry pie would probably add something to a sundae concoction, especially if you paired the ice cream with some sort of fruit sauce.
All in all though, these are really not very good. The pie is substandard. The filling is fine, but too sparse. About the only good thing is the price, and even then I think you could do better with your 99 yen on something infinitely tastier. I won't be picking these up again.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Advertising is an interesting art and science. I used to receive a menu for a Chinese restaurant that featured a dish which looked like a whole baby pig, snout to tail, had been roasted and was going to be served to the customer. That grossed me out so much that I never patronized them.
On bags of wasabi-flavored snacks, you often see a green, gnarled root with what looks like broken, scabbed over pustules on it. These roots have never really drawn me to wasabi products, though after seeing them enough, they haven't really repulsed me either. I guess it's a good indication of how cultural experiences shape your perceptions of what is and is not attractive food-wise.
Given my positive experience with Sweet Box's regular kaki no tane (persimmon seeds) with peanuts sembei, I scooped up this wasabi version at the local 100 yen shop. I figured that if the regular kind was good, a hotter, spicier version certainly couldn't be any worse. These Sweet Box packets of snacks are also great value with 6 packets and decent portion control at 120 calories each.
The first bite of these carries a nice hot hit of wasabi. Subsequent bites lack quite the same power, but there are still notes of the wasbi in there. My tongue must have grown accustomed to the flavor after awhile because the heat became more muted as I neared the end of the packet. It's interesting that my experience with these is the opposite of the regular version. The regular type gets hotter as you eat more. These get mellower as you eat more. I guess they use different types of peppers which affect the tongue differently.
I enjoyed these quite a lot. I'd certainly consider buying them again if I was in the mood for a savory peanut-including snack. I wish there was just a bit more wasbi flavor in them, but after my previous wasabi sembei experience, perhaps I should just be glad that it didn't start to burn the back of my nasal passages.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Sometimes I run across something which makes me very curious about exactly what it is. This item appealed to me on two fronts. First of all, what the heck is "chewing candy"? Second, it has a weird name. Why would anyone name this "Hungry's"? One of these questions could be answered by making the purchase and sampling the product. The other will remain a relative mystery.
This is made by mega-food maker Meiji, but it appears to be a separate division which handles gum, hard candies, caramels, and small children's toys that are sold in the candy section of Japanese markets (among other things). The fact that Meiji is so huge that they separate out their candy and gum section from the chocolates and other products is a good indication of how huge they are.
I found this candy at a discount snack shop. This was the first time I had ever encountered it. It's smallish, about 10 cm long (about 4 in.) and 2 cm wide (.8 in.) and only cost 28 yen (about a quarter). I noticed that the package doesn't really give you a good idea of what the candy is going to look like. You can see an illustration of a portion of it hidden behind the logo on the right. When you see the candy, you can see why they are trying to draw more attention to the maple syrup aspect on the left. It's not a pretty sight.
I didn't take a picture of a cross section of this because it looks the same inside as the end you can see in the picture above. You can see that little bits of something are studded in the "log" of stuff this is made of. The ingredients include almonds, hazelnuts, pineapple, and mango. I'm guessing that these little specs are a mixture of those things.
This smells vaguely sweet with a whisper of maple. It's quite tacky to the touch so it's best to eat it from the wrapper. When I took my picture, I put it on a tissue and it stuck to it (but I was able to pry it off). The texture, smell and general sense of this is like a softer Bit-O-Honey bar. If you've never had that, the texture of this is like a nougat crossed with taffy. It's easy to bite into and chew. It neither goes down like a caramel because it doesn't tend to have that slick, melting away feel nor like a Hi-Chew because it lacks that latex-like chewing gum feel. The flavor doesn't really carry much of the fruit bits or nuts. It has a nice maple flavor. It's sweet, but not throat burning or overbearing. Since maple sugar is the first ingredient, this is not surprising.
As for the name, I believe it is supposed to imply that you can eat this when you're hungry. The fruit and nuts bits are supposed to make this a more fortifying experience. I don't know if that is actually true, I only know that I liked it and would definitely buy it again. For 28 yen, it's a steal.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Some of the readers from my former personal blog mentioned that they would miss my recipes, so I thought I would mention that I will be posting new recipes on a blog I share with my friend called "Carl's Kitchen". I won't be posting regularly because I don't come up with new recipes that often, but if you want to see what's cooking in the Flower's house, you can subscribe to Carl's Kitchen.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Thanks for reading!
I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Thanks for reading!
My earliest exposure to "Mexican" style snack food in Japan was a bag of "ethnican" flavor chips. I never worked out what nationality the mighty ethnicans came from, but the chips did have a slightly hot, tomato flavor which was reminiscent of salsa. Mexican food isn't big in Japan so you don't find much in the way of food in the salsa-flavored range. I'm guessing this is because the Japanese favor mild flavors rather than complex, heavily spiced foods.
Glico seems to have retired the Alpen Salt and Chicken version of their Cratz pretzel snacks in favor of something new and more ethnican. The light blue bag has been replaced by a deep pink one emblazoned with a simple cactus. Like all of the Cratz line, these cost between 100 and 140 yen (about $1 to $1.40) for 44 grams (1.5 oz.) depending on where you buy them. Because of the roasted almonds, there are more calories in these than an equivalent amount of something like potato chips. The whole bag is 223 calories.
When you open the bag, it smells like salsa and ketchup with a melange of savory spices mixed in. The pretzels are dense, super crunchy and a little hard. The flavor is very intense, as is the case with the other types of Cratz. They're clearly made to be eaten with a beverage so that your palate is cleansed between bites. There's a little heat in these that hits at the back of the tongue and throat. They're quite spicy with tomato, onion, garlic, and chicken flavors. The ingredients include salsa seasoning, chicken extract powder, tomato paste, and bacon extract.
I liked these quite a bit, but less so than the other flavors of Cratz. I think they reproduced a salsa-ish flavor pretty well, but it's a bit too intense even with a Diet Coke to wash them down between bites. I also noticed that there seemed to be far fewer almonds in this than the previous bags. It could simply be that I was unlucky though. I'd buy these again if I were in the right mood, but I'd be more likely to buy the bacon pepper or cheddar varieties.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
The spawn of the banana fad in Japan continue to multiply like bunnies on aphrodisiacs. I wish they'd give it a rest because, frankly, I'm tired of thinking of things to say about banana-flavored stuff and my husband isn't going to stop buying these things. Of course, I don't have to review them because he buys them, but not doing so would seem like a wasted opportunity.
These caramels are actually rather special because you can't buy them anywhere except New Days convenience store and you can only buy them as part of a big box containing 6 smaller boxes. Most of Morinaga's line of caramels, which includes milk, brown sugar, green tea and adzuki, are sold for about a dollar (100 yen) as single boxes. I don't know why you have to buy six boxes in one bigger box for these banana caramels, but it certainly meant my husband took on a far greater risk when he forked over about $6 (600 yen) for the whole lot.
The caramels look similar to and have the same texture as Morinaga's other very good caramels. They're firm and a little sticky, but soften easily in the mouth and become very chewy. They're very small, about the size of the base of a Hershey's Kiss candy and about 20 calories apiece. They don't smell especially strong, which always encourages me with fruit-flavored items. The ingredients state that the banana flavor comes from "banana powder". Other than that, they're mainly sugar and whey.
The banana flavor in these is strong, but not in a nasty or overbearing way. They very much remind me of some banana-flavored candy I had as a kid back in the U.S. but that memory is so far back in the recesses of my mind that I can't attach a brand name or even a candy appearance to it. The main point is that it's not fake tasting and isn't one of those chemical bombs that reminds you of the esters you worked with in high school chemistry class.
I'm not a big fan of banana sweets (though I love bananas as a fruit), but I found these fairly tasty. I wouldn't seek them out necessarily because, well, I'm not big into banana-flavored sweets. The rating I'm offering is based on the fact that I wouldn't balk at eating one of these if offered and that my husband likes them a lot and said he wouldn't hesitate to buy them again. If you tend to like banana-flavored items, as he does, you'd likely enjoy them.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I've been perusing the sembei aisles with an increasing sense of boredom as of late. Given my hatred of shrimp, I find a lot of the rice crackers that I haven't yet sampled increasingly unappealing. Fortunately, Iwatsuka Seika, the same company that made the smoked potato cheese cracker pellets I reviewed before, put out some kinako sembei and I'm a sucker for all things kinako.
If the fact that these are kinako wasn't appealing enough, being 15 calories per cracker upped the appeal. Unfortunately, being low calorie only helps if you don't feel inclined to gobble down half the 24-piece bag in one sitting. I regained control after 4 pieces, but that was still more than I felt I should be eating at once.
For the umpteenth time, I will remind everyone that kinako is toasted soy flour with a nutty, almost peanut butter-like taste. It's not for everyone, but it's one of the more approachable flavors among various common Japanese seasonings. These smell like kinako, of course, and are generously dusted on the outside with a layer of seasoning that includes cinnamon. There's a hint of sweetness and a vague suggestion of salt.
One negative point about these is that they're rather messy because the seasoning is applied so thickly. The bits of seasoning tend to just fall off as soon as you open the packet. Also, they're wrapped in paper wrappers which I'm sure aren't going to protect them well from going stale. Fortunately, I expect to gobble up the whole bag soon enough so there's little danger that they'll have time to go stale.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Despite my bad experience with the only drink I've ever purchased from Ito En, I decided to give the company's pink guava a shot. This is part of their "Aloha Maid" series which features tropical fruit flavors sodas in a low calorie soft drink. Besides this pink guava, there is also a lemon ice tea and a fruit mix that includes pineapple, orange, mango and lychee.
Though this is made with both aspartame and sucralose, it has 60 calories per bottle because of the guava juice that has been added to it. This makes for a somewhat mixed taste experience. There is a light guava flavor and this is generally quite refreshing, but there is also a clearly detectable taste of artificial sweetener. Since this is more of a flavored water than a strong soft drink, the sweetener taste is not masked as well as it might be in a drink like Coca-Cola. One interesting point about this is that it has been naturally colored with purple potato rather than artificial coloring.
This was okay. If I wanted a lightly flavored carbonated water, I might even consider buying this again, but ultimately it's just not that impressive. Considering the experience I had with their salty lemon, this is actually a step up in my experience with Ito En's beverages.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Nestlé loves you. No, really, it does. If you don't believe me, buy this Nescafé "Happy Pack" because it's their valentine to you. You can tell by the fact that they have plastered hearts all over everything. In fact, I'm sure that they would have made a heart-shaped KitKat to put inside of it had it not defied the laws of nature and snacking.
Even the insert in the box is shaped like a heart that you unfold. Nestlé knows that you'll be more receptive to their promotional materials if they give them to you in a geographic shape which expresses the company's affection for you.
The "Happy Pack" showed up at a local discount snack store for 168 yen (about $1.70). It includes 3 packets of flavored instant coffee and 3 mini size passionfruit and raspberry KitKats. Each mini bar has about the same amount of candy as 1.5 fingers of a conventional KitKat. I'll admit that I mainly bought this for the KitKats, and, to do justice to them, I need to rate the box's contents separately.
The three types of flavored instant coffee are green tea, orange and caramel latte, and café latté. I drank the café latté only. I'll admit that up front. I sent the green tea one to Marvo at the Impulsive Buy (along with one of the KitKats) and the orange one is still sitting around. I was very careful to prepare the coffee precisely as the directions state. That is, I carefully measured out the 130 ml. of water that was required. It was thick and foamy, but so very bland. It tasted just like regular, blah, instant coffee, weak and inoffensive, with too little coffee and too much powdered milk. The thing that is keeping me away from the last packet is the fact that this stuff is just full of corn syrup, and it doesn't taste sweet.
Because I would definitely not buy the instant coffee portion of this again, I'm giving the coffee an appropriately low rating.
The mini raspberry passionfruit KitKats mainly smell like raspberry. The outside of them is noticeably darker than the usual KitKat bar and has a nice bittersweet chocolate flavor. It complements the berry flavor very nicely and is also a nice mix with the limited sweetness of the passionfruit. If there is anything about this to complain about, it'd be that the raspberry completely overwhelms the passionfruit for the most part.
Because I'm not a super great fan of bittersweet chocolate, I can't really give this a very happy rating, but if I could buy these bars without the lame instant coffee, I'd definitely get them again. I think people who are fans of darker chocolate might really go for these and it's certainly one of the nicest fruit KitKats I've ever had.
Friday, August 14, 2009
There's a super funky shop in a neighboring area which sells all sorts of novelty items for the hip crowd that hangs around the live houses in the area. They sell a ton of imported junk like big plastic M & M's full of, well, M & M's and the kind of stuff your pervy uncle might take to a party to amuse himself. They also carry a huge variety of extreme and atypical sweets. One of the caramels they had, for instance, was "Ghengis caramels" with a picture of Ghengis Khan on the cover. I almost went for it, but chickened out and bought these corn caramels instead.
As is the case with many of the weird caramels I review, this is from Hokkaido. They are the Nestlé of the caramel trade, it would seem, in that they are intent on coming up with as many freaky caramel flavors as Nestlé Japan is with KitKats. I can't recall exactly what I paid for this, but I think it was in the ballpark of 100-150 yen (about a dollar to a dollar-fifty) for 18 small caramels.
Each caramel is around 16 calories and wrapped somewhat loosely in wax paper. I didn't open the plastic wrapper on this box for well over a month and they kept in pristine shape even in the summer heat and humidity. I'm guessing now that the seal is broken though, that they will get a bit gummy through time.
The caramels just smell sweet. I couldn't really detect any corn scent though these are made with real Hokkaido sweet corn. The flavor at first is pretty mild but the corn flavor ramps up as you chew. It really is like eating an ear of very sweet corn from a flavor point of view and is a pretty nice taste experience. You might expect it to be a tad strange, but I enjoyed it. However, I don't know if getting your corn in caramel form (as opposed to caramel corn) is everyone's cup of tea. I'd definitely consider getting these again if the mood struck me.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I've been told that Lipton yellow label tea is considered one of the more premium varieties of what the Japanese refer to as "black tea" that one can buy in Japan. The label seems to carry more prestige here than it does in other countries. Personally, I strongly dislike Lipton's yellow label tea and never buy it.
That being said, I adore their fatty, sweet, decadent cartons of milk tea. It is rich and has an edge of coconut flavor in it. Drinking a whole carton is an indulgence I rarely allow myself, but I really do love it. With my positive experiences of the calorie-dense milk tea, I decided to give this zero calorie carton of orange tea a try.
To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of flavored tea. I like tea with milk and sweetener and can do without all of the infusions of herbs, flowers, and fruits that you sometimes find. That's not to say I've never met a flavored tea I didn't like, but just that I'll always choose plain tea. However, I'm so desperate for any sort of new no calorie beverage in Japan, that I was willing to set aside my lack of enthusiasm for flavored tea.
The tea smells very good. In fact, it has a distinct bouquet of orange juice. The tea seems to have just the slightest hint of syrup when you pour it. This may be due to the fact that one of the cocktail of chemicals that sweeten it is maltitol syrup. There's also Erythritol, Surcralose, and ascelfame potassium. Though the ingredients sound pretty dreadful, the tea is good. It is sweet without being too sweet and carries a strong flavor of orange capped with some tea bitterness. The orange tends to overwhelm at first, but the tea finishes.
This did seem to taste a little like orange Kool-aid at times, but I still enjoyed it. My feeling is that, while I would certainly buy this again if the mood struck me, it may not be for everyone. In particular, I think that the high amount of sweeteners may be a turn-off for those who are sensitive to them. Personally, I'm so accustomed to drinking diet sodas that I tend not to notice any but the worst chemical concentrations. It could be that the melange of sweeteners is used to mitigate the strong aftertaste of any given one, or it may be that I simply can't tell. At any rate, I can't wholeheartedly recommend this for others, but I can do so with caveats and say that I liked it.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Doing this blog has taught me many things and one of the most recent is that all of the individual and double-packaging in the world will not protect crunchy, savory snacks from going stale... no matter how solidly sealed it appears to be. This bag of sembei was consumed largely in the first month, then one cracker perhaps in the first six weeks. The final cracker, which I saved for tasting when I got my lazy ass around to writing a review, sat in the package alone for 6 months.
Now, perhaps it got lonely up there and decided to punish me, but it was horribly stale. It seems that the sealed individual packet and the outer plastic bag being loosely closed were not enough to keep the ravages of the atmosphere from dampening it's rice crackery appeal. Once you open the bag, do not count on the individual packets to keep things fresh. This is the newest wisdom that I impart to you, gentle readers.
Fortunately, I do recall that this cracker was crispy and had a lot of snap when I ate most of them, so I can vouch for the texture if you buy them and consume them within about a month. They smell slightly soy sauce-like with a vague hint of something difficult to pin down. I believe that is the mixture of flavors and spices that come with the "dashi" portion of this. Dashi is Japanese soup stock which is composed of various ingredients depending on the region it is made in and the tastes of the person making it. The flavor on these is very savory and meaty with hints of garlic, fish, and, of course, soy sauce. The melange of flavors is really quite pleasant, and I'm not a particular fan of fish.
I really enjoyed these, but I had a little trouble choosing between "indifferent" and "happy" because, while I'd be delighted to eat these again if offered one, I'm not sure I'd buy a whole bag of my own volition again. It's not that they aren't tasty, but rather that I think I'd go for some other type of sembei over this if I had a lot of options. Part of the problem is that one cracker, though generously sized, is 64 calories, which seems like a lot for one cracker when I can have two brown sugar sembei crackers for the same number of calories. However, I wholeheartedly recommend these if you particularly enjoy Japanese soup flavors.