Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Tabasco Tsunarare Snack
There is a class of souvenirs sold in Tokyo which is clearly designed for tourists only. They're cheesy and ugly, but people who visit heavy tourist spots like Asakusa must eat them up. If they didn't, I can't imagine things like black velvet wall hangings of women sauntering amongst the cherry blossoms wouldn't still be on offer.
While I'm largely immune to most of the cheesy souvenir stuff, I'm a bit of a sucker for things with sumo wrestler art on them. I'm also a huge fan of hot stuff. While perusing the sembei section of the local 99 yen shop, I was delighted to spy this bag of Tabasco rice-based snack with an old-fashioned sumo wrestler painting on it. That being said, it seems downright disrespectful to digitally cram a coiled piece of sembei in his mouth and shove a jumbo jug of Tabasco in the crook of his arm. The only part which doesn't seem weird is the Tabasco logo printed on his kesho mawashi (the apron-like deal hanging from his belt). Real sumo wrestlers sometimes have corporate logos on their kesho mawashi. Pepsi and McDonald's in particular have sent poor wrestlers parading around the ring with their corporate logos emblazoned on them.
This snack was made by a company called simply "Mama". It's a brand I've never encountered before and is located relatively close to Tokyo (in Chiba). They don't have a web presence and my searches didn't turn up anything about them besides the fact that they also make some cookies which have been talked about by a few Japanese bloggers with lukewarm responses.
I had a very curious experience with this snack. It smells mostly like rice crackers with a hint of frying oil. On the first bite, mostly I tasted the oil with only some Tabasco heat at the end. Color me disappointed. After eating about 1/3 of the bag (and stopping there as the entire bag has 428 calories), the heat and Tabasco flavor started to build up. I didn't think I was going to like them very much, but then I kept eating them.
I feel a bit torn about these. I clearly enjoyed them, but I wish they had a better depth of flavor. There are other flavorings listed on the bag including garlic, onion, and pork extract, but they don't shine through very strongly. I think these are a classic case of Japanese tastes being catered to and it falling a little short for my foreign taste buds. I want something more savory, but the Japanese tend to be happier with less intense flavors. I also think the noticeable hint of frying oil is actually something desirable for Japanese snack consumers.
While I wish someone had tossed in some tomato flavor or at least ramped up the Tabasco and perhaps some more meaty extracts, I did like these. I could see buying them again if I were in the mood for something hot and this looked like the best of limited options. This is a grudging "happy" rating, but I think it's fair, and the use of a sumo rating system never seemed more appropriate.