Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tohato All Osatsu Cookies

If you're a kid and offered a choice of cupcakes, you will always take the chocolate one. The coconut one is probably your last choice, though raisin may trail behind even coconut. One thing about growing up is different sorts of food gets you worked up. It's not that chocolate isn't great, but you've spent your whole life gobbling chocolate and it's lost some of its luster.

I realize that the previous paragraph is likely heresy to some people, but if I were offered the choice of a chocolate chip cookie or a sweet potato cookie, I'd take the sweet potato one hands down. For the record, I'd also take a pumpkin or chestnut one over chocolate. I love chocolate, but it's pretty predictable and I'd like my calories to carry a bit more interest. I know that I risk dozens of chocolate lovers (possibly hundreds) wanting to beat me to death with Hershey bars, but there the truth is in its vegetable-preferring honesty.

In my quest to track down and sample all of the "All (insert flavor here)" brand of cookies, I was delighted to come across these sweet potato ones. Previously, I favorably reviewed the All Cranberry VEPlus ones. These cookies are similar in construction, though different in size. The cranberry ones were mini cookies and these are full-size at about 5 cm. square (about 2 in.). Each cookie is 28 calories and there are 14 in the bag. I bought these on sale for 98 yen (about $1) at a local supermarket.

The cookies taste pretty much like sweetened sweet potato mixed with a relatively bland biscuit-like cookie. The cookies are made like a flat bar cookie with a 2 layers of cookie dough sandwiching in some dried sweet potato. They're slightly chewy because of the sweet potato (which is like a mashed raisin after drying) and not too sweet. The texture of the cookie is between a cracker and bread. It sounds bad, but it's actually pretty nice. They look dry, but are tender.

I really liked these and think they'd make a great cookie to have with tea as an early evening snack. At 112 calories for 4 cookies, you could have quite a few without eating too much and I think they're likely better for you despite being a cookie. Besides being a sucker for sweet potato, I also love varying textures and these are unique in a pleasurable way. I'd definitely buy them again, but I think some people might feel they aren't decadent enough to be a real treat.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Baked Mayonnaise Arare Sembei

When I reviewed the Mayo Mania corn snack, I talked about the fact that Japanese people adore mayonnaise to an almost scary extent. Lest you think that weird mayo snack was an anomaly, I bring you mayonnaise-flavored sembei from the fine folks at Kameda Seika. In fact, I had quite a snack spending spree at the market when I picked these up. It was like the new fall flavors for everyone were out and I had so much new stuff to try that I ended up loading up on new junk food.

Of course, part of the reason new flavors are out is that autumn is on our doorstep and that means chestnut and sweet potato treats will be out in full force. I'm not sure how mayonnaise figures into the fall equation, but maybe it has to do with getting fattened up for colder weather... not that the Japanese seem to get any fatter no matter what they eat. I don't know what the secret is, but let's say that I'm glad that this bag of sembei came in 6 (15 gram/.5 oz.) snack-size packets containing only 71 calories each. I do not have the Japanese metabolism for mayonnaise consumption.

Unfortunately, a half ounce really isn't much. The amount you see pictured above is the contents of one packet. The longest piece is about 4 cm. (1.5 in.) long and there are only about 6 of them per bag. Since these are "arare" type sembei, they are craggy and quite crunchy. The texture of these is very satisfying and they certainly do not feel baked in any way. They're greasy and left a residue on the tissue that I put them on for picture taking.

These smell like mayonnaise, though the scent isn't overwhelming. The first bite reveals the highest concentration of mayonnaise flavor, but these aren't like the Mayo Mania rings because those tasted like eating right out of the condiment jar. This is more of a mixed flavor and the mayonnaise taste becomes less prominent the more you eat. By the end of my packet, I was noticing the other seasonings and the familiar taste of sembei more than the mayo. These are nicely savory and include the flavors of parsley, cheese, and vinegar.

I really liked these, and had to resist opening up another packet. That being said, I can't give these a "very happy" rating because I think that mayonnaise is a flavor which I can't quite get that excited about. I also think that, while I'd buy these again, I wouldn't do so often because I could only see turning to these if I was in a particular mood. If you adore mayonnaise though, these are certainly going to please you. If you like it, you might want to sample these once for fun. You'll almost certainly like them unless you hate mayo.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vegetable Mix KitKat

Naming this a "vegetable" KitKat isn't exactly truth in advertising. It does contain apple, carrot, grape, lemon, celery, green pepper, asparagus, Chinese cabbage, kale, and an increasingly diminishing list of vegetables and herbs. That being said, this really tastes like apple with an undertone of carrot. These are the only two flavors that are truly present. The bar smells like apple, and that is the dominant flavor, but the carrot comes through as a secondary flavor.

This KitKat is a joint venture between juice maker Ito En and Nestle Japan. The bar is likely flavored with the components of one of It En's juice varieties. I can't say that I've sampled them since I am a bit wary of Ito En after my previous experiences which ranged from "meh" to "yuck". I can say that there are quite a few vegetable and fruit juice combination drinks for sale in Japan and most of them favor the fruit end, just as this bar does. That makes the vegetables mere marketing tools rather than serious components. It's tantamount to pureeing one small, well-cooked broccoli floret and dropping it into a huge bowl of brownie batter and saying that the brownies now contain vegetables.

The advertising cheat aside, this bar is actually just fine. It's not stellar, but it is pleasant in the same way as the apple flavor KitKat. The carrot aspect adds a little more depth to the flavor profile and perhaps the overall fruit and vegetable combination mitigates some of the sweetness of this being a white chocolate-based bar.

I'd actually consider buying this again if the mood hit me. Mainly, you'd have to be thinking that something with apple flavor would be appealing, and that the texture of wafers would be good to go with it. There's something about this type of candy bar which makes it feel less heavy than chocolate, despite actually being the same calorie-wise as a regular KitKat.

This is also reviewed at Jen's KitKat blog here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kabaya Strawberry Crunchy Panda Biscuits

Look at the poor panda on the cover of the packet. He looks as if his cranium is being smashed by two strawberries that weigh as much as an anvil. Either that, or he's having some creepy orgasmic response to the tube of condensed milk in his right paw. Either way, it's not a pretty picture.

Incidentally, strawberries in Japan are frequently consumed with sweetened condensed milk. It's a semi-translucent, milky liquid that is often used in slightly dirty-minded ads and video by dewy-eyed idols. It's supposed to conjure up salacious notions in the minds of those with a more lecherous bent... not that I know anything about that.

Getting back to business though, my husband picked up this packet of cookies from snack maker Kabaya at New Days convenience store. He then proceeded to leave it in his bag throughout a hot day. There were 6 cookies in the bag and 4 of them looked like they'd gone through one of the types of transporter accidents you see on Star Trek. The combined blob wasn't fit for photographic recording, but the two above weren't as badly harmed.

The cookies smell like white chocolate and strawberries, which is no surprise since that is the main selling point. The biscuits themselves are pretty bland and all about the crunch. My husband found the cookies too hard and I found the white chocolate too sweet. The strawberry flavor is not bad. It even has a finishing tang to it which has verisimilitude with consuming actual strawberries. One of the ingredients is "strawberry sugar", so I'm guessing there is some real fruit in them somewhere.

Each cookie is about 30 calories and so sweet that your teeth will ache. They're not bad at all. In fact, I can easily see how someone who is into super sweet cookies would enjoy them, but they just weren't my cup of tea. The bag was finished, but neither my husband nor I would want a repeat of the experience.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kameida Seika Barbecue Sembei

Any time I get in the mood for some new and interesting sembei, I head down to the local Family Mart. If you're in Japan and want to have the best access to short-lived, but tasty sembei, that's your "go to" place. By the way, that's, a statement I never thought I'd be making in my life as I never thought one got in the mood for sembei if one was not raised in Japan or by parents of Japanese decent. Ah, how my horizons have broadened due to this blog.

"Piri" (ピリ) in Japanese means spicy in a heat-related way, as opposed to spicy in a non-hot way. Putting these two characters on a bag of any salted snack treat greatly increases the likelihood that I'll buy the food, and they're on this bag of rice crackers. Of course, the maker of these crackers, Kameida Seika, is also my favorite when it comes to sembei.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, "barbecue" flavor in Japan means barbecued meat or vegetables cooked on a grill so it's not like what it is in the States (a sort of ketchup or tomato flavor which is similar to sauce rather than the grilled foods). These sembei, which are about 32 calories per large cracker, are an extremely satisfying melange of savory flavors including garlic, onion, chicken, paprika, pepper, and tomato. They have a small bit of heat, but nothing too strong. I don't know if they'd do for a chili wuss, but they also don't require a flame-retardant stomach or an asbestos-coated tongue. The texture is the "soft" type which is crispy and puffier rather than the "hard" type which is thin, brittle and potato-chip-like.

I loved these, and I think it's unfortunate that they aren't likely to be around past the end of autumn as they have a 4-month run (and were introduced in August). I highly recommend getting them while you can. Remember, they are only sold at convenience stores!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kabaya Jersey Milk Candy

I grew up around cows, and I always thought they were cute. To this day, seeing the image of a cow warms my heart a little bit. I just realized that, if I were a former farm boy instead of a woman, that last line would seem mighty creepy. Trust me when I say that I never had an inappropriate relationships with a bovine, unless you consider the one my family had as a pet until my parents sent her off to become a freezer full of steaks and burgers. (Yes, I cried.)

There are a lot of "milk" flavor treats in Japan. I'm never sure what they're supposed to taste like, and some of them don't seem to taste like anything, but when I unwrapped one of these candies, I knew by the color what it was going to taste like. The candy tastes like sweetened condensed milk. It isn't creamy, chewy, or silky despite having cream powder and cream cheese and boasting a content of 8.5% milk. It is nice hard candy though which you can suck on for awhile and fill your mouth with the flavor of the type of sweet condensed milk that you can buy in tubes in Japanese markets and squeeze on strawberries.

There are 26 candies (at 20 calories per candy) in the bag and I found it for 98 yen (about a dollar). In fact, the price was one of the biggest reasons that I decided to sample these. Normally, I'm not really drawn to this sort of thing, but I thought "what the heck" when I noticed how cheap it was. I was really on the fence with my rating on this, but not because it isn't well-made or enjoyable. "Happy" ratings are reserved for things which I think I'll buy again, and I'm not sure I'd buy this again because I'm just not a huge fan of condensed milk. However, if I were, I'd certainly get these again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lawson Value Line Chicken Rice

There is/used to be an interesting blog called "Konbini Life". You'll have to excuse my verb tense confusion because the blog is still there, but it is updated so infrequently that I'm not sure there's much life in Konbini Life these days. (Note: it was gone by the time I published this review, but was still there when I wrote it.) For those who don't know, "konbini" is what the Japanese call convenience stores like 7-11. I always loved the concept behind the blog because convenience stores are such a big part of urban life here. Many people augment their lunches, procure snacks in the midst of the workday, or outright buy meals at convenience stores. It's also where novelties and short-lived products go first so the sampling from such stores is always interesting.

Unfortunately, I believe Konbini Life's writer has succumbed to the what I call The Japan Times blog roll (sometimes slow) death sentence. It seems that easily one-third of the blogs featured on it start to seriously wither or die outright shortly after they show up on the list. Konbini Life has been removed from their technology main page list, but they were featured at one time (and the article about them is still there in the archives).

What does this have to do with Lawson VL (Value Line) chicken rice? Well, I think this type of product is exactly the type of thing which would be good to feature on Konbini Life or the venerable U.S. blog, Heat Eat Review. It's actually not a snack, but it's my blog and I'll feature the occasional frozen food or convenience food item if I want to. Fortunately, I rarely eat these types of things so they won't be showing up often and my body will be largely spared from frequent consumption of processed food.

The unadorned frozen rice with it's minuscule chicken particles (click to see a detailed picture).

This 180-gram (6.3 oz.) packet of frozen flavored rice was available in the small freezer section of Lawson 100, a cheap convenience store. I was having a busy day and had a little leftover chicken in the refrigerator and was too harried to mess around figuring out something to do with it, and not in the mood to just use the plain rice I have on hand. Note that I wouldn't choose to eat a packet of this "chicken rice" without extra chicken on hand as I know there won't be much meat in it. The picture above shows the frozen contents with the only identifiable nuggets of chicken circled.

I would never recommend anyone buy this and eat it as is as a meal since there is certainly not enough protein in it by itself. If you see identifiable bits of chicken in the pictures, they are my leftovers and not from the original product.

The gussied up rice with my leftover chicken layered on top.

The front of the package says that this rice is flavored with tomato, ketchup, and chicken. Though I'm not a huge fan of ketchup (I never buy it or use it as a condiment), I don't dislike it as long as it's cooked into something and the flavor is diluted.

After being cooked up and stirred around, the orangish oily coating stains the added chicken and it glistens enticingly.

Unsurprisingly, this smelled like ketchup. You can see by the color that there is a noticeable tomato influence. The ingredients list includes tomato paste, ketchup, onion, green peas, soy sauce, paprika, and onion extract. You can see lots of little bits of onion in it and about 8 peas. Interestingly, this is almost exactly as many peas are pictured on the front of the package. I wonder if someone was counting them.

Without my added chicken, this was not bad at all. It has that frozen food taste which seems to come along with such types of foods (their equivalent of new car smell, I'm guessing), but also has a tomato paste/ketchup flavor coupled with onion, garlic, and nicely savory but not too salty seasoning. Some of the subdued savoriness likely comes from soy sauce. With my chicken added, this was actually pretty serviceable as a small meal as the chicken adds heft, protein, and a better flavor and texture balance.

It was a little greasy, but it had good firm rice and the peas were firm and turned a bright green after I heated this for about two and a half minutes in the microwave. You can't really taste the onion as an individual part of the meal, but the peas are relatively flavorful when you get one in a bite.

There were 311 calories in this and I imagine that the whole meal came in under 350 calories with my chicken breast slices added in and I felt quite full. Note that I had this with a big glass of iced milk tea, but I think that the added fat (which made it a bit greasy) probably helps one feel sated even with a smallish, carb-intense meal like this. I will also mention that about an hour and a half later, this gave me heartburn, but that's probably from the acid in the tomato paste and ketchup.

I'd certainly buy this again under similar circumstances, but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat it often, nor will I likely develop a craving for it. It made for a nice change of pace and a more flavorful pairing to my chicken than homemade rice from my freezer. It was also exceptionally cheap for a lunch given that the chicken portion probably cost about 33 yen (it was only about 1/4 of a breast) and the rice was 99 yen. However, it's not exactly the best balance without more vegetables or some fruit on the side.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tirol Cream Anmitsu Chocolate (Premium)

Anmitsu is a slightly complicated Japanese dessert with multiple components. The nutshell explanation is that it is cubes of clear, relatively flavorless jelly with sweetened beans (an), fruit, and a sweet, black syrup (mitsu). Given that the dish incorporates a lot of flavors and textures, making a tiny square of chocolate that brings the dessert to mind would seem to be tricky.

For those who don't know or have forgotten, I'll state again that Tirol Premium chocolates are about 1-inch square (2.54 cm) candies sold individually in convenience stores for between 30-50 yen each (between 30 cents and 50 cents). My husband bought this one and he said it was only 21 yen (about 20 cents) for some reason. The "premium" variety tends to be more complex than the smaller ones that come in variety packs and of higher quality, so expectations of this type of candy are a bit higher.

This chocolate has a milk base and a white dome with a little blob of jelly in the middle. There is a dark, sweet syrup on top of the jelly. Clearly, the texture of the gelatin in anmitsu is supposed to be conveyed by the gummy-like interior and the black sauce by the syrup. The scent is somewhat hard to pin down but there is definitely a fruit scent in there along with chocolate.

The first bite reminds me of a funky chocolate-covered cherry flavor. "Cherry sugar" is one of the ingredients and clearly is present to bring to mind the fruit in anmitsu. The jelly center is not tough, but also takes some effort to bite through and has a tendency to just pop out of the softish chocolate. This is quite sweet, but there is just the quietest whisper of a bitter note at the end.

I've never eaten proper anmitsu because the concept just doesn't appeal to me, but I liked this because it is very reminiscent of a chocolate covered cherry and I love those. That being said, this may not be for everyone. Though the cherry flavor is not strong (no cough syrup notes here), there is a bit of an intense flavor which is connected to the syrup and it's very sweet. I ate mine with some coffee and I think that helped not make it a sugary overload for me. I recommend it provisionally, and I'd buy one again if I were in the mood.

Tirol has added a desktop picture for this particular chocolate to its collection. If you'd like to download it, you can get it here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kinako Petit Bit Chocolates

It occurred to me as I was pondering the writing of this review that these candies could be used as a very unkind way for a woman to break up with a guy. She could send him a packet of these and say that the candy was doing the talking for her in explaining the reason for the relationship ending. It'd be cold, of course, but at least he'd have some sugary goodness to console himself with.

If you're not looking to crush a man's soul, you can still enjoy the candy for itself. These kinako chocolates are firm, fresh, and sweet with an excellent balance between the sugar and the kinako flavor. Sometimes kinako is nuttier in flavor and sometimes it carries more of a soy flour taste. In this case, they carry more of a soy flour flavor. The taste hits you in a burst after the initial bite and is quite delightful. There are little puffs in them which make them a bit like a crunch bar, though the number of puffs isn't as high as something like a Crunky or Nestlé' Crunch bar.

There are 11 candies in each package and you can find these at New Days convenience store (among other places) for about 100 yen (about a dollar). Each candy is about 24 calories and well worth the price both on the hips and in the wallet. Male ego crushing is simply a potential side benefit.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Brief Blogger Snafu

Just a quick note to say that I'm aware that the pictures aren't loading in the most recent review. It's an issue with Blogger, and I'm not sure that there's anything I can do about it. I would say to wait and try to reload the post later when the issue will likely be cleared up!

Sorry for the inconvenience! And thank you for reading. :-)

Pure Orange Gummy Candy

Note: Blogger appears to have eaten the pictures for this post, and I'm afraid I no longer have the originals so the best I can do is a screenshot of the product from Kanro's site. Sorry about that!

One of the bad points about writing this blog is that I rarely get a chance to return to the items I sincerely enjoyed. There's only so much junk you can eat, and despite my liberal sampling of various sweets, I am trying to be very careful about how much food of suspect nutritional value that I consume. Most of the time, I'm eating small portions and letting my husband finish the rest or eating the remainder through time.

I really like the Pure line of gummy sweets. I've only had the blueberry kind that I reviewed last October once or twice since then, even though I liked it a lot. There are a several other flavors, but none of them grabbed me enough to place trying them at the head of a long line of other curious foods until I saw these navel orange gummies. I hate oranges, but I love orange-flavored things. This is one of those rare occasions where I dislike the real fruit and like things flavored like it. Generally, it's the other way around (especially for bananas and strawberries).

These gummies, brought to us by Kanro, are sprinkled in the same sort of pixie dust coating as all the other Pure gummies. The coating is a sort of citric acid powder combined with what seems to be sugar. It adds a certain tart and sweet quality to the candy. The candies are clean to hold and firm, but soft and easy to bite into.

These taste just like orange juice. There's a strong hit of navel orange flavor. The sourness seems to ramp up the intensity of the sweetness. My husband says he finds these super sweet, but I find them merely super intense in the best possible way. I could easily eat the entire bag in one imprudent sitting, but I try to keep consumption down to no more than three 12-calorie jellies per day. Interestingly, there is paprika included as an ingredient in these, but you can't taste it at all. It's clearly included for color only.

All of the Pure gummies that I've seen are in 46 gram (1.6 oz.) bags for about a dollar (100 yen), but I think there are probably other sizes out there. If you'd like to see the array of flavors available at any given time, you can visit the Pure Pure Garden web site. It's in Japanese, but if you click on the pictures of the bags at the bottom, the illustrations of the fruit make it clear what types you can get.

There are few snacks I've had of which I can say I'd want to continue to buy them when I return to the U.S. This is one of them. I just love that sour and sweet mix with the real fruit flavor of these gummies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Akagi Grape Ice Pops

Part of the design on the front of this box depicts a grape that has been partially peeled. I'm not sure what image peeled grapes conjure up in the minds of most people, but, for me, it brings to mind decadent Roman officials. You can see them at their bacchanalia asking slaves to peel their grapes just before doing unsavory things to the backsides of their poor servants.

If the people at Akagi had thought of that, I'm guessing this box design could have been a lot more interesting. Who doesn't want to consume something and feel like they're taking part in a bacchanal? The fact that these are something to be slurped and sucked on only helps with the (okay, rather disturbing) imagery.

In a previous review, I sampled Akagi's similarly constructed mikan pops to great satisfaction. These are similar in construction in that they have bits of fruit embedded in a fruit juice base. You can see shadowy bits of white grape (because they've peeled the skin, you see) in the bar above. Each bar is the same size as the mikan version as well at 63 ml. (2.1 oz.) though the calorie count is slightly higher at 55.

Once freed from its clear plastic prison, you have a nice adult popsicle with good grape flavor and bits of fruit. I found the texture of the grapes less obtrusive than the bits of mikan. I'm guessing that this is because mikan, as a citrus fruit, is a bit stringy whereas grapes are just blobs. Grapes also simply freeze better. These bars are a little sweeter than the mikan ones, but still not over the top sweet.

I'll definitely buy these again, and if you want to keep something on hand for sore throats, these are really good. Of course, they're also really great if you love grape popsicles and just want to have one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kameda Seika Curry Sembei "Joy Pack"

How many failures does it take before one should give up on a good version of something coming along? Well, my previous experience with curry sembei was not great. The taste was good, but the texture ruined it. This time, I came across a variety from a company that has not let me down on the sembei front, Kameda Seika. I found this for about 140 yen (about $1.40) at a Family Mart convenience store and figured I'd go to the Japanese-Indian well in the hopes of drawing some sweet water this time. Besides, this is a "joy pack", so I was counting on truth in advertising.

There are 74 grams (2.6 oz.) of crackers in the bag. If you snarf down the whole thing, it's 370 calories. The crackers smell just like curry powder. Each cracker is about the size of a large potato chip. You can put a whole one in your mouth (or at least I can, and my mouth is pretty small). The flavor is a decent curry flavor, but much weaker than the cheaper Sanshin curry that I sampled previously. It was just a little hot toward the end, but definitely not for lovers of a really good burn. And, I love a good burn.

The crackers are fresh and crispy. They're "soft" sembei which means they're puffier inside and not brittle, but the flavor is somehow wrong. There's too much of a Japanese mixture in it. This could be something about the way the rice crackers are baked, or it could be the soy flavors that are added to it. I'm not sure, but I just wasn't thrilled with these. Don't get me wrong, they were fine and I'll easily finish the bag, but they just weren't good enough to justify having them again.

I'm pretty much giving up on curry sembei after these two tries. It's not that I don't think they can be done right, but just that I figure if Kameda Seika can't get it right, no one can.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sports Drink KitKat

I'm not sure how many people out there have never drunk a sports drink, but I'm one of them. I've just never seen the appeal of drinking anything after exercise besides water. It hydrates and it is free. I guess that's part of the reason people are told they need to restore their bodily balance with potions concocted by expert beverage makers. They aren't going to make any money off of you if you drink water. Nonetheless, somehow primitive man managed to make due after a big bison hunt with water, so I think I will survive as well.

In Japan, there are a plethora of sports drinks which I've never sampled (and probably never will). I once read that sports drinks are essentially Kool-aid types of drinks with salt added and that turned me off. It also set up some expectations of this bar which were not very high. I was in for a bit of a surprise. This was nothing like what I had expected.

The bar smells a bit like lemon-lime or grapefruit. Despite being white chocolate, it doesn't carry the "sweet" smell I associate with it. The taste is a melange of fruit flavors and yogurt. It's sweet, but not painfully so. I think that the part of this which resembles citrus fruits (mainly lemon) and the sourness of yogurt balances out the sweetness. If this is really what a sports drink tastes like in Japan, I may give one a try some day.

I was surprised to find that I liked this and even more surprised to that my husband liked it. He doesn't like yogurt (or grapefruit), but he enjoyed this. I think that anyone who liked the lemon KitKat might also like this. I'd certainly buy it again. Note that this was released on June 22 so it should be around for awhile.

Friday, September 11, 2009

German Potato Gourmet Doritos

I can't speak for everywhere else in the world, but German potatoes are not a standard dish in any eating establishment I ever visited in America. They are, however, a standard offering in bars and restaurants where there is an emphasis on alcohol. Early in my stay in Japan, when I was working at Nova conversation school and socializing once a week or more with coworkers, we used to go to bars or restaurants which offered such fare.

During one of these social gatherings, German potatoes were the center of one of my more awkward and memorable social situations in Japan. My husband had ordered a small plate of "German potato", not knowing at the time what it was, but deciding to brave it even with a pretty steep price tag (about $3 for a very small side dish). He was given a very small, sizzling plate of nicely browned, greasy potatoes with bits of onion and bacon. He loved it and a female coworker of mine wanted a bite to see if she'd like it enough to get it, too. As it turned out, she liked it so much that she kept eating his ever diminishing portion. After she'd taken three bites (closing in on eating half), he commented that he wasn't going to have enough if she kept it up. She said that she felt as if her hand had just been slapped away and she was quite flummoxed because of it.

At the time, I wanted to crawl under the table because I wished my husband had just ordered another plate of potatoes rather than say something to her. In retrospect though, I think my friend should have just ordered her own potatoes. I also think that it was inappropriate of her to make it seem as though my husband were responsible for the tension that resulted from her eating his food rather than her taking responsibility for her bad manners.

I think German potatoes are offered in places with a lot of beer drinking because they are greasy and fatty and help people not get as drunk (or hungover). With the memory of that tasty bar food in mind, my husband picked up a bag of these gourmet Doritos at a local 99 yen shop and I was along for the ride. Of course, he only associates German potatoes with fatty goodness, not social embarrassment since he long ago forgot about the aforementioned incident.

These Doritos come in an 80 gram (2.8 oz.) bag and, if you can eat nearly 3 oz. of chips at one go, you'll consume nearly 400 calories. Though they don't contain any actual potato, as they are still corn chips, they are flavored with potato, bacon, and onion. The smell is distinctly ham-like. The amazing thing about these is that they really do taste very much like the German potatoes you get in bars in Japan. They even have that buttery, nicely browned potato flavor along with pork and onion. The only difference is the crispy texture and the corn chip flavor which hits you as you finish the chip.

This is a very good Dorito, but it is still a Dorito. If you like German potatoes, this should hit the spot nicely. My husband really liked these and I thought they were good as well, though I probably won't buy them again because of the unpleasant memories they dredge up of social awkwardness. ;-)

(Seriously, I'd buy them again if I were in the mood.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fuwa Fuwa Marshmallow Cake

This is actually the third or fourth one of these marshmallow treats that I've purchased. Every time I get one, I eat it before I can get around to reviewing it and taking pictures. The only reason this review is going out is that I bought two and the second one was earmarked for my husband.

These are called "cakes" but they're really just incredibly soft high-quality marshmallows with a filling. I've only ever seen them for sale in big name convenience stores like 7-11 and Family Mart. One is about the size of an egg and costs 53 yen (about 55 cents). There are a plethora of varieties of these out there, but it's hard to find them. In my Internet searches, I've seen strawberry and jam, and my husband has found lemon and caramel (which will be reviewed later). I've never seen them personally, but you can also buy boxes of 10 for 500 yen.

This particular version, which I've always assumed was the basic variety that the company started with, is filled with white bean jam. The taste is very hard to describe, but the beans don't have as strong a flavor as red bean jam (anko). There's a sense of vanilla and butter in these, but mainly they are a sweet, textural delight. The marshmallow is soft, but not chewy in the way that American ones can be. And it's not rubbery in the way that Japanese ones can be. These are unusual because they are made with gelatin instead of agar agar (a derivative of seaweed which is often used instead of gelatin in Japan). The bean filling adds a slightly grainy texture as well as flavor.

I couldn't find a manufacturer's web page for these (and there's no nutrition information on the package so I can't give calorie information), but searches turned up a ton of blog reviews and favorable mentions. Some people were unhappy about the price because it costs almost half of the price of an entire bag of regular marshmallows. I think the quality though makes it well worth it. This is like a gourmet marshmallow and I definitely recommend sampling it if you see one in a box by the check-out counter in a convenience store.