Monday, March 15, 2010

Tokyo Choco Banana Bars

Recently, one of my students said that she waited in line for an hour to buy a modified Swiss cake roll. I asked her what made it so special that it was worth the wait and she said it was because the cake was not rolled in a swirl and was essentially like an omelet full of whipped cream. She said the whipped cream wasn't very sweet, so you could eat a lot of the cake without getting full. I never did extract a reason why being able to eat a lot of fattening cake was a bonus, but I told her that I would never wait in line to buy any food, no matter how popular it was.

It's not uncommon for a particular food to become very popular as a result of being hard to get when it is initially released, and then for it to later be more fully available. Things like this Tokyo Choco Banana start out that way. First, they are sold in one place only and become popular enough for people to wait in line for them. Later, they start to open up shops in other areas and finally they vanish because everyone gets bored with them. Incidentally, I discovered that the exact cake that my student waited in line for an hour to buy was available line-free at a local station. I don't have the heart to tell her about it though.

Tokyo Banana shops are mainly in major stations around Tokyo. The number of them has been steadily growing and their products' market infiltration has reached a point where select items are carried at all-purpose high-end sweets shops. My first encounter with their products was a sign at a tony store in my area that specializes in traditional Japanese treats. I actually heard of them quite a bit sooner than that via one of my readers, Nate; he had written to me last November and mentioned that he had bought a chocolate bar with a delicious banana cream filling. At that time, I hadn't come across this candy bar because it wasn't on offer at Tokyo Banana shops at that time. Clearly, it is either seasonal or available at certain shops only.

My husband bought a box of 3 of these bars for 530 yen ($5.94) at Shinjuku station when he encountered them. He loves banana sweets, but I'm only so-so on them. The box is designed as a gift or souvenir and does not include calorie information. The web site, however, says that one 40 gram (1.4 oz. ) bar is 243 calories. Each square is about 48 calories. The ingredients are vegetable oil, sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, banana powder, maltose, lactose, skim milk, egg yolk powder, emulsifiers and flavoring.

When I unwrapped the bar, I was greeted with a heavenly chocolate smell. It really had a terrific aroma. The first bite was of very strong banana at first and extremely fine, smooth, soft milky chocolate second. On the second bite, the banana flavor becomes slightly more subdued as the taste buds acclimate to it. The texture is wonderful for those who like fatty chocolates. It has a creamy center and smooth chocolate that feels rich and decadent on the tongue.

Though I'm not a fan of banana chocolates, the texture of this really drew me in. My husband, on the other hand, found the banana flavor so intense that it came across as fake to him. I think this is the sort of treat that one might take to or not based on how strong banana flavors are perceived. This was a real borderline product on the rating. My husband would have given it indifferent, and I actually would not be inclined to buy it again, but really did enjoy it. I gave it a grudging "happy" rating because it's so high quality and I did like it, but am unlikely to purchase it again for myself due to a low affinity for all things banana-flavored.

Note that these bars can be purchased at the airport in addition to being available at scattered shops throughout Tokyo. They can also be bought on-line if you can read Japanese.


sophia said...

I'm not a huge banana flavor fan either, but cute packaging! Haha I think it's funny your student waited an hour.. for a cake roll!!

I really love your blog ^_^

C said...

Hi Orchid!

That's funny that the food fads in Japan become "bubbles" and eventually they pop. I thought American consumers were immune to this mad-rush to follow the trend, but the exact same thing happened to Pinkberry (and all the subsequent copy-cat stores). I'm sure you've heard of it...It's frozen yogurt with various fruit toppings and costs a pretty penny! These things popped up EVERYWHERE several years ago, and now many of the stores are for lease. Yep, the fad totally died down!

Having said that...That novel roll-cream cake concoction sounds heavenly! And I'm with you on banana-flavored items...GAG (for the most part)!


Orchid64 said...

Sophia: Thank you so much for your kind words and taking the time to comment. The packaging really is nice, as is the bar design!

Connie: Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!

I've read about Pinkberry on occasion and wished a branch would open here. I've read that their style of frozen yogurt was supposed to be lower calorie and healthier than other types. When I was in the US, TCBY was pretty big on the west coast and my husband and I used to go there regularly, but they died out a long time ago. I wonder if the expensive "healthy treats" thing is cyclical based on the economy or changing tastes.

C said...

Hi Orchid (again!),

You're so diligent with replies! Awesome blogger, you are. ;)

I also caved to the Pinkberry fad and indulged many times when it started here in Los Angeles. Initially, it was (this is all hearsay) inspired by a South Korean fro-yo chain called Red Mango. So two Korean-American entrepreneurs started the "tart" fro-yo trend here in the States.

You know how you reviewed the Yakult drinks? The fro-yo actually has that kind of taste...A sweet & tart dairy flavor, if that makes any sense. The concept was good and the stores were really too cute but it was way overpriced (now, self-serve & self-top frozen yogurt places are more popular than Pinkberry).


ebidebby said...

I think I would have the same reaction as your husband, but I've always been curious about Tokyo Banana, though, so it was a fun read. Not sure why it's the souvenir snack for Tokyo, though...pretty sure I never saw any banana trees there...

Orchid64 said...

Ebidebby: Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

I think in Tokyo they grow special chocolate bananas... that's why they serve them at temples during New Year's holidays. ;-)