Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Frito Lay Takoyaki (Octopus Dumpling) Snack

I've mentioned before that I have never tried actual takoyaki (octopus dumpling), though I think this year will finally be the year that I lose my "octopus" virginity. I'm thinking I'll take the plunge and sample the real deal this New Year's if a takoyaki stand shows up at the local shrine on New Year's day. In the meantime, I purchased this bag of Frito Lay takoyaki corn snack as a way of going to 3rd base before I make a run for home plate. If these aren't bad, how terrible can the real deal be?

I have seen this snack in many shops and it can be had for about 100 yen ($1.20) at most supermarkets, snack shops, and drug stores. I haven't seen so many of them at convenience stores, but this isn't a new release so that is no surprise. Each bag is 70 grams (2.5 oz.) and has 351 calories. 

The picture on the front of the bag talks about how these have octopus powder, onion, aosa (which is "sea lettuce") and Otafuku sauce among other flavors. Otafuku sauce appears simply to be the brand name of a type of sauce commonly put on takoyaki and I think it is likely the main flavor component of this snack. When I opened the bag, I wasn't greeted with any particularly noxious odors. In fact, they smelled like any other bag of spicy corn snacks that one might buy without any funky seafood overtones.

Each little ball is a perfectly average and pleasantly crunchy corn puff coated with a variety of seasonings. There's definitely some onion powder and some sort of vinegary flavoring with a hint of soy sauce. The thing that I don't taste much of is any sort of strong seafood taste. This is mainly a savory blending of rich vegetable flavors with deep vinegar and a bit of soy. The salt level is about right to add bite but not to overwhelm.

This was a decent enough snack. It's not the sort of thing that I could see craving or wanting to buy again, but if I had a desire for something salty, I wouldn't turn my nose up at these if someone placed a bowl in front of me. Mainly, I think this is designed for active fans of Otafuku sauce and those who associate that particular flavor with takoyaki. I have to imagine real octopus dumplings taste more like, well, octopus. I'll probably finish the bag very, very slowly since I'm not over the moon about it. I wouldn't recommend it as a casual experimental sampling, but I think fans of takoyaki may find it rather pleasing.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Intense Roast Soybean KitKat (Tokyo Regional)

My husband and I learned about a large branch of a discount snack shop in a famous shopping area in Tokyo called Ameyokocho (aka Ameyayokocho) called Niki no Kashi. The shop carried a wide variety of domestic and imported snacks and some actual food. Even though that shop had a lot of interesting stuff, most of it was variations on common themes that I can get locally. Honestly, the best finds were imports - Rocky Road bars and malted milk balls from America and waffle cookies from Europe.

How does this relate to this regional KitKat? Well, one of the other shops in the Ameyokocho area was carrying this regional KitKat at a discount price. Usually, these cost 800 yen ($9.60) for 12 mini bars (66 calories each, so each mini is about 65% of the size of two fingers of a regular KitKat). at station shops and airports, but this little place had it for only 500 yen ($6.00). It also helps that this is a flavor I'm actually interested in trying, unlike many of the regional KitKats which very much look like reruns of commonly available flavors or stuff that's so weird that it isn't appealing.

Since I have tried kinako KitKats before (and liked them), the main question for me was what "intense" was going to mean. It turns out that "intense" tasted a lot less like toasted soybean flour than the regular kinako KitKat big bar. To me, this tasted very much like chocolates that are mixed with peanut butter such that you can't clearly taste the peanut butter but the chocolate carries some of the flavor.

It's hard to say if this is "intense" really. I think that roasted soybeans take on a peanutty flavor the more strongly they are roasted. They lose some of their soy flavor. I liked these quite a lot, but didn't feel they were particularly "Japanese" tasting so much as a (good) variation on milk chocolate. If they weren't more expensive than regular KitKat bars (and they are), I'd definitely buy them again.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dear Girl Thunder

Sometimes I buy a product based only on its name, and this was one of those times. The name isn't quite as funky as it sounds though. This is a candy bar affiliated with the "Black Thunder" line of products made by Yuraku. I believe the "thunder" parts relates to the fact that the bars are full of crunchy cookie bits.

I thought this might be an attempt to market a special line of candy bars toward women, like the ill-advised "Fling" candy bar. Further investigation seems to reveal that it is based on an anime show. Products based on anime are a dime a dozen in Japan, so that was a big disappointment. The bar could have contained some secret estrogen-enhancement ingredient, or been formulated for female tastes (not that I'd know what that is), but, no. It's just a boring name based on a cartoon.

Fortunately, the bar itself is actually pretty good. Like the other bars in this line, it is small, about 3 inches long by 1.5 inches wide (7.6 cm x 3.8 cm) and made with very weak and soft chocolate. The shining star of it is all of the little cookie pieces that pepper the interior. They're not too dense so they're not incredibly hard, but they are pleasantly crunchy. The bar has a nice cookie flavor coupled with coconut and cocoa.

There's no nutrition information on the bar, but considering the original Black Thunder was about 100 calories and this is very similar in size and composition, I think it's safe to conclude this is about the same. I found this in Family mart convenience store for about 25 yen (31 cents) and would definitely buy it again. If you like Twix or chocolate-covered Oreos, there's a chance you'll like this. It's not as sweet as those, but it has the same pleasant cookie qualities.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Koganei Imo

I try not to cover too many freshly produced sweets that can only be purchased if you actually live in or visit Tokyo. However, this is an exception because it is the first bean cake in Japan that I actually loved. It is, by far, the most accessible Japanese sweet for Western palates while maintaining a completely Japanese nature. Maybe everyone won't adore it as I do, but there's almost zero chance that a set of fully Westernized taste buds will dislike it.

 The box of 12 as it is given to us.

Koganei Imo means "golden (colored) potato", and while that is what these are called, they are not made with potato. They are simply fashioned to resemble one. The actual cake is finely mashed white beans mixed with sugar and egg yolk then wrapped in a tender crust and liberally rolled in cinnamon. It is the cinnamon that gives these the real edge over any other bean cake I have tried, but they are also incredible because they are hand made and fresh everyday.

The box under the paper wrapper with silk-screened (by hand, very likely) paper. This is classic Japanese gift wrapping with a layer of wrapping under a top layer.

The interior of the cakes is soft and sweet and the aroma of cinnamon wafts at you the minute you start to peel back the paper on in. If you warm one just a bit in the microwave (don't overdo it), they are a slice of cinnamon heaven which carry all of the appeal of a cinnamon bun without the calories or sugary overload. The beans themselves lend only texture and not taste so there's no need to be squeamish about them because they're made with beans. The filling carries mostly the sugar flavor with the richness of the egg yolks.

A whole cake with it's wrapper covered with cinnamon. It's supposed to look like a potato. You can judge what it looks like.

You can buy these in Ningyocho in Tokyo at a shop called Kotobukido. There's a good write up on the shop with address and phone number at Tokyo Food Life and another write-up at Food Sake Tokyo. They are a little expensive, but well worth the cost. My box of 12 cost 1250 yen ($15.15). Each is about 6-7 cm (2.4 -2.7 inches) long and makes for a modest treat. You can buy them individually in paper packets or in souvenir size gift boxes. The shop will serve you hot tea in the winter and cold in the summer when you enter, and you can eat your bean cake there or take it with you.

If you visit Tokyo, I strongly recommend seeking out this shop and sampling this unique and approachable sweet. I go there less often than I'd like, but when I do I buy a dozen, immediately wrap their paper wrappers with plastic wrap and freeze them for long-term enjoyment. They don't suffer for it, and 20-25 seconds in the microwave takes one from frozen log to cinnamony ambrosia.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Random Picture 39

Click this picture for a somewhat bigger one with more detail.

Our local Family Mart convenience store has been carrying imported Pop Chips for about a month. My husband brought back a bag of Pop Chips, a healthier type of potato chip which uses pressure to cook and a small amount of oil, and I really liked them, but I was disappointed at the price. For a .8 oz. (single serving) bag, it's 228 yen ($2.82). It wasn't that they were so expensive, though that didn't make me especially happy, but because at that price, they can't possible sell well when positioned next to 100-150 yen ($1.24-$1.86) larger bags of Japanese salted snacks. There's almost zero chance that they'll stay on the market here given the price, and that's a disappointment to me personally.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hida Natural Cheese Softly Bar

One of the things about food in Japan that keeps me interested, yet also ambivalent is the way in which they take a flavor that I associate with one sort of presentation and mix it up with one of a very different presentation. I guess I have an approach-avoidance conflict going on with such foods. I'm repelled, yet also curious.  I must say that I'm glad this is a situation in my life that mainly applies to food, and not other areas of my personal life. If you're going to be strangely repelled, yet curious, you don't want it to be about something which may land you with a social disease.

I should note that I did not buy these (so I can't offer a price), but rather that they were given to my husband by an acquaintance as a gift. You can see by the picture above that the box has a unique accordion file-style way of opening to allow display of the individually wrapped bars inside in a break room or on a coffee table. Clearly, this is one of those things designed as "omiyage" or souvenirs, often picked up by traveling businesspeople and given to coworkers who remain back in the office toiling away.

These "Natrual Cheese Softly Bars" are a curious menage a trois between a savory element (Gouda cheese), a cookie, and a cracker. The bars smell like a pungent slab of cheese, but the texture is dry, but not crumbly. It's soft and easy to bite into but dense. The taste is lightly sweet, fairly cheesy, but not in an intense Gorgonzola way.

The shining star of this is the texture, which is very pleasing because you can tell that there is a lot of fat layered into the flour. The first ingredient is margarine, followed by flour then sugar and cheese. If you took a cheese cracker and tried to change it into a bar cookie or shortbread, this is what it would be. Usually, this sort of sweet and savory mixture comes across as a very funky and unhappy marriage, but it works pretty well in these cookies. That being said, though I found these reasonably enjoyable, I wouldn't seek them out or buy them myself.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ryoma Sakamoto Purple Potato Tart Crunky

And so, we come to the end of my dalliances with political revolutionary Ryoma Sakamoto themed candies, because, frankly, I'm sick of them. His likeness has been slapped on everything these days and the snacks his face is applied to are nothing special. Though I liked the yuzu cookies, the other items haven't really lit my fire. This Crunky would be included in that sad group.

Frankly, Crunky has really let me down in most of its variations. While I like (not love) the regular bar, its malt puffs don't seem to work well with other flavor mixtures or textures. I think the puffs are too strongly flavored and compete with whatever they're with, and mainly milk chocolate works with them. Someone at the Crunky product design level needs to say that when they use the Crunky brand to crank out derivative products, they should use bland crispy rice, not their regular malty puffs.

I had some small expectations for this because "purple potato" is essentially the brother of another color of the yellow-fleshed sweet potato, and I love sweet potato. The candy even smells nicely sweet potato-ish and the very first sense on the tongue also conveys that lovely tuber's essence. Unfortunately, that hint rapidly turns into strong sweetness and malt puff flavor once you start crunching your funky crunchy little morsel. At the end, you're just in textured malt puff and buttery white chocolate land. If you adore white chocolate, that's not a bad place to live, but it wouldn't be my residence of choice.

You can pick these up nearly anywhere for about 100 yen ($1.20) for a box of 10 individually wrapped slabs. Each is only 22 calories and 3.9 grams (.14 oz.), so you're essentially getting a Hershey's kiss portion with about three times the wrapping with every bit. They aren't bad at all, merely not great. Though I think that they may be loved by malt puff and white chocolate fans, I wouldn't buy them again and I think it'll take me some time to finish the box. I'd rather spend my calories on other chocolates most days.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bourbon Kinako Wafers (Petit Series)

The word "petit" when rendered into katakana English becomes something akin to "poochie". Because I automatically translate po-chi into English and read "petit", I forget  how goofy it sounds. "Poochie wafers" sounds like a dog biscuit rather than a cookie for humans.

The Bourbon petit series is available everywhere in Japan. Boxes of these snacks in their long tubular packages are often placed on the top shelves in convenience stores and supermarkets. You can get a decent portion for about a hundred yen ($1.20). In addition to the tiny chocolate cakes I reviewed previously, they also offer a large range of small cookies and rice crackers. Whatever your fancy, you can get a night's snacking worth in one of these packets without totally pigging out. In the case of these wafers, 45 grams (1.6 oz.) provide 229 calories, or about 12 calories per cookie.

These don't smell like much of anything, despite being liberally covered in kinako powder (toasted soy bean flour). Each little cookie is about 2.5 cm (a little under an inch) square and looks more like a flat biscuit than a wafer. However, inside are layers with firm cream filling. They're nicely sweet without being overbearing and have a lovely toasted soy flour. Sometimes kinako comes across as very peanut buttery, but these are much closer to the soy side in flavor.

I absolutely loved these. They are fresh, crispy, sweet, and flavorful. If you like kinako, absolutely try these.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nippon Ham French Bread Pizza

I rarely buy frozen or chilled pizzas in Japan. In fact, I'm pretty sure that aside from a random Lawson VL "Mix" pizza for 100 yen (like this tuna one, only without the tuna and mayo) every once in a blue moon (however often blue moons make an appearance), every pizza I've bought of this type has been reviewed in this blog

I like to think I buy such pizzas when I have forgotten how bad they are in Japan, but the truth is that I occasionally sort of crave a bad pizza. That is, I crave one until I actually have one and then I am full of regret and bad carbohydrates. At the very least, I can always get a review out of these things when I take the occasional pizza plunge.

One "pizza" sealed for your protection.

This particular "chilled" pizza is "Japan's #1 brand" of said type of pizza according to the advertising. I have to wonder if that has more to do with the pricing and portions than the quality. I found this bag of 4 hot-dog-bun-sized "French Bread" pizzas at Seiyu supermarket for a mere 298 yen ($3.69). Any time each serving comes in at less than 100 yen ($1.24) each, it's on the cheap side for Japanese prepared foods. Each serving provides 245 calories and a small mix of cheese and a few scraps of ham and sausage. The ingredients include flour, "natural cheese" (as opposed to the ominpresent processed stuff in Japan), tomato puree, bacon, and very curiously, "apple pulp".

It sort of looks like the bottom of your shoe after you have stepped in something really nasty, doesn't it?

I had the first pizza as I imagine they are intended to be prepared. I unwrapped it from it's tight plastic and placed it directly on the toaster oven grate without a tray. The packaging makes a point of telling you not to use a tray so that you can get cheese all over the toaster oven and have a devil of a time cleaning the mess up later. The instructions recommend you toast it for a spare 3 minutes at 1000W, but that wasn't even long enough to melt the cheese. I think I gave it 7 minutes to get the cheese to the melted state you see in the picture above.

As for the pizza itself, there's a reason I compared its size to a hot dog bun and that's the fact that it tastes a lot like the devil's spawn of said bun and French bread, and this is an offspring which favors the dog's bun side of the family in texture. The bread does not get crispy at all if you heat it from the chilled state to a point where the cheese hasn't turned into a mass of brown bubbles. The results were a little better when I froze the remaining "pizzas" and toasted them longer. The bread had time to get slightly crispy before the frozen cheese got too over-cooked.

The flavor of this was pretty much like cheese on bread with the faintest hint of tomato. It wasn't a bad thing, but it was nothing like a "pizza" or even French bread. I did eat the rest, but mainly because it was there and easy to prepare. I also had a vat of lentil soup I had been trying to eat up over several days and this was a decent accompaniment. I wouldn't recommend this unless you're too lazy to put cheese on your own hot dog bun or piece of bread. You can do better even doing that if you use more flavorful cheese.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Random Picture 38

Really, do I need to even comment on this? Doors. Swinging. You know how many ways.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Crane's Village Marshmallow Eggs

If you don't pay attention to what you're buying in Japan, you can often end up buying the wrong thing. When my husband and I came across this package of egg-style treats for the mere price of 228 yen ($2.53) for 6 of them, we assumed we'd found a variation on the kamome no tamago (seagull's eggs bean cakes) that we both love.

Kamome no tamago bean cakes look a lot like these in terms of packaging. They come in the same type of plastic tray and are similarly wrapped in a nice bit of paper with Japanese writing. The main difference is that 6 of those cost about 550 yen ($6.12) and are slightly bigger than these. If these turned out to be as good as kamome no tamago, they'd be a much lower-priced treat. It would seem that "crane's eggs" are cheaper than "seagull's eggs".

As it turned out, these were a variation on something else. They are very similar to the Fuwa Fuwa marshmallow cakes. Yes, instead of cakes with beans, we were getting marshmallows with beans. Oh the humanity! Still, the Fuwa cakes are about 50 yen (46 cents) each and these were 38 yen (42 yen) each. I don't know if I would have bought them had I realized I was getting another marshmallow egg candy since I've already sampled so many of the Fuwa cakes, but this was a happy mistake as they ended up being well worth it.

Like the basic Fuwa Fuwa marshmallows, these are filled with sweetened yellow bean jam. As soon as you open the bag, you can get the scent of fresh, sweet marshmallow. The marshmallows themselves are very high quality and nice soft pillows, but have a certain taste which I associate with Japanese-made marshmallows. It's difficult to put into words, but it is like perfume and a mild chemical flavor. It's slightly off-putting when you're not used to it (sort of like the flavor of Japanese milk), but it's not an issue when you're accustomed to it. The beans themselves are relatively bland, as is often the case with white beans, but still lend a nice bit of flavor and a good textural contrast.

The main difference between these and the Fuwa cakes is that these are noticeably sweeter. They are on the borderline of being too sweet for my tastes, but they are a great coffee or tea time accompaniment. They also have fewer calories at 61 per egg, but this is likely because they're slightly smaller.

I would definitely buy these again. They're good value, a great size, and a wonderful treat, particularly if you love marshmallows and fine textures. My only caveat to those considering buying them is that they may be too sweet for some. If you have them, make sure you drink something to cleanse your palate between bites, though they're only about two bites each.

Monday, November 15, 2010

KitKat Cheese (Petit)

One would think that I would be in an ideal position to acquire any non-regional Japanese snack food. I'm surrounded by convenience stores for starters. I mean that literally. The closest one is barely over a minute away and within a 10-minute radius of my apartment, there are at least 8 more. One would think Japan was utterly indifferent to energy waste given how many of these shops are running lights and refrigerator cases around the clock. I imagine that if my life were half as convenient, say if there were only 4 convenience stores in easy walking distance, Japan would make its energy conservation goals.

I've also got about 7 pretty decent supermarkets at my disposal (and a myriad of other little shops which sell snacks), and I have a major line's train station not too far from my home which has kiosks and NewDays (another convenience store). I've also got 2 discount snack shops available.
Despite the wealth of opportunities, I could not locate this new KitKat for quite some time. It was released on November 1, and I've been pounding the pavement waiting for one of the plethora of shops around me to stock it. Finally, I found one, just one, remaining box for 200 yen ($2.42) at one of the three 7-11's in my area.

Incidentally, I've given up on getting clear pictures of white KitKats. My camera will not focus on them, but, seriously. It's a white chocolate KitKat. There's nothing special about how it looks.

Mind you, I don't think this is some sort of gangbusters seller. In fact, I think it may simply not be overstocked because of the size and flavor. If you look at the box design, it's a bit on the elegant side and designed to open up like a "treasure chest". There's even a little lock and key graphic on the side. It's becoming clear that autumn and early winter are when Nestle Japan abandons their umpteen releases oriented toward encouraging students and concentrates on the adult market. This release along with the "adult sweetness" KitKat leads me to believe that is so.

Despite my hunting of this particular KitKat, I'm actually not too worked up about the flavor. The truth is that new releases are so few and far between  at the moment that I'm interested in this simply because there are fewer to sample at this time of year. Currently, there's a sweet potato "big bar" in shops, which is essentially a repeat release in a different size of the mini sweet potato KitKat I already reviewed. I've also been seeing banana big bars on sale for 59 yen (72 cents) each, which is about half the usual price. It has been slim pickings as of late, especially if I want to continue to turn my nose up at big bags of mini bars like the blueberry KitKats.

This box contains only 10 tiny little morsels that are individually wrapped. This increases my sense that these are for adults. This is the perfect thing for office ladies to open on the table during tea time for sharing and each bar is a figure saving 25 calories. Essentially, they are about half the size of one regular KitKat finger. It's an example of wasteful packaging and extreme portion control at its finest.

When I open the package, I smelled both pungent cheese and the sweetness of white chocolate. This is as I expected since these are 58% Gouda. The flavor at first was of sour dairy. It was a bit like powdered milk then the more cheesy elements hit you. It's not as bad as it sounds, and it certainly isn't as bad as the Tirol cheese chocolate that I reviewed previously. There is a better balance between the pungency of the cheese and the sweetness of the chocolate in play here. It's as if they went as far as they could with the cheesiness and then knew when to pull back so it didn't taste too rank.

This isn't a bad thing at all, but I wouldn't buy it again. It stands out as a unique experience, but it is neither an outstanding chocolate experience nor a great cheese one. It's just different without being gross. If you're curious, and have a few bucks to spare, you could do worse than sampling this, but you may want to make sure you have several friends around to help you with the sampling because you're probably not going to want to consume all 10 pieces yourself.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Luna Apple Pie Midnight Sweets Yogurt

A long time ago, someone once said that they believed with the release of new products in Japan, I'd never run out of things to review. At the time, I agreed, but now, I'm starting to think that that assertion is both a little right and a little wrong. Certainly if I want to try regular chocolate Pocky, chocolate Pocky for men, thin chocolate Pocky, and double chocolate Pocky types of releases, then I will never run out. However, if I'm not looking for minor variations on themes (or revisiting seasonal reissues of old products in new packaging), the market isn't quite the cornucopia of variety I once imagined it to be.

Fortunately, there are ways to branch out that don't include reviewing every minute variation on a theme, and that's to turn to other product types. This is why this yogurt is being reviewed. It's not because I'm focusing more on healthy snacks (perish the thought), but because this is a rich vein of largely untapped varieties for me. Of course, inevitably, I'll go through enough varieties that I'll have to find myself a new well to tap, but I'm not going to worry about that for now.

After perusing the wasteland of Seiyu's snack aisle, populated by Crunky "Nude" balls (sound more interesting than they look), imported Goldfish crackers, and rice crackers I've largely already reviewed, I wandered over to the dairy section to buy cream for my husband's coffee. Being a man and having a masculine metabolism, he can afford to dump pure molecules of fat into his morning brew without suffering dire fatty consequences. As I approached the check-out, I gave the yogurt section a quick scan and the wedge of apple pie on the cover of this small (110 gram/3.9 oz.) carton of yogurt caught my eye. Of course, I'm not stupid. I don't think it's going to contain actual chunks of apple pie crust since it's only 63 calories, but I am just dumb enough to be suckered in by the idea that it might taste like pie.

This is made by the company that makes the bestest vanilla yogurt in the universe, Luna. I like the fact that this is marketed as "Midnight Sweets" and has a design meant to elicit images of dark creepiness. The advertising blurb says that this is good for bed or bath time and has fiber to fill you up and no calories from fat. It also mentions that a portion of the money from sales goes toward a breast cancer awareness and screening charity. This is the first product in Japan I've seen with the ubiquitous (back home) pink ribbon. For the record, Japan has socialized medicine, but mammograms are not covered by it.

The carton size is a little deceptive because it's only about 2/3 full. The yogurt also is on the thinner side, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. After peeling back the foil, I gave it a sniff and it smelled of apples and cinnamon. This yogurt is quite sweet, but it has a good mixture of cinnamon, apple and yogurt. The yogurt is mellow and smooth and the little chunks of apple are firm but easy to bite into.

I wouldn't say this tastes like "apple pie", but I would say it is a pretty tasty yogurt that makes a good snack. The prominent cinnamon and apple flavors were satisfying and well-balanced. The yogurt wasn't too sour. I'd definitely go for this again, though likely not as a late night sort of thing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kameda Seika Cheese Rich Arare

Sometimes I wonder what companies believe the average I.Q. of customers is. On the back of this bag of cheese rice crackers with almonds, there is an illustration and instructions telling you how to manage to get the bag open. I wonder if they imagine we're all sitting around looking at our snack bags scratching our heads like confused chimps trying to workout how to access the salty goodness within.

In order to stop us from having a fatal aneurysm from the mental storm required to figure out how to open the bag, they give us a picture and tell us what to do. After all, you can't have your stupid customers dropping dead from the mental energy they have to expend trying to figure out how to get the bag open. No one would be around to buy more snacks!

I guess this could mean they are trying to expand their demographic. Maybe they're hoping monkeys will actually start buying snacks and that they will require illustrated information. It'd certainly help boost sales in light of Japan's rapidly shrinking population.

At any rate, I resisted these hard and crunchy sembei (arare) for awhile because I thought no one would be interested in reading yet another review of a cheesy salted snack. Then I caught a cold and figured that I was interested in eating another cheesy salty snack and I don't care if anyone wants to read about it or not. Harrumph. Sorry, colds make me grumpy.

Because I was still on the tail end of my cold when I sampled this, I couldn't really smell it, but I could taste it and it was very, very good. The little triangles are crunchy and a bit hard, but easy to bite into. They taste cheesy in an intense but not overbearing manner. If you think of a classic Cheez-it flavor without the fake elements, you'd come close to this. They taste like salty cheddar. I can't imagine a better accompaniment to an alcoholic or soft drink than these, provided that you like cheese (and who doesn't?).

I found these at Inageya supermarket for 178 yen ($2.18), but you can find them almost anywhere at the moment. Each bag has 5 small packets of 17 grams each (.6 oz.) at 77 calories per packet (entire portion pictured in this post) so they're great for portion control as long as you can resist tearing through more than one bag at a time. There are only about 3 almonds in every little packet, but that's really not a problem because the crackers themselves are the shining beacon of this snack. Get them while you can. The product has a 4 month life cycle then will go away for awhile.

Note that the back of the individual packets have little recipe use recommendations. They suggest you sprinkle them over salads, onto pasta, doria (cheesy rice), scrambled eggs, or even use them in a chocolate fondue. Except for the last suggestion (but I'm conservative about chocolate and cheese), I think those are all actually pretty good ideas.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Random Picture 37

 Click this picture to see a bigger version with more detail.

My husband was given a plastic packet with two samples of grape Halls cough drops while walking on the street to his work in downtown Tokyo. The strange thing wasn't the cough drops themselves, as they were just your typical Halls flavored cough drops which are the same as those back home. The weird point was the advertising illustration that came with it.

You don't need to read Japanese to get the gist of it. I must say that I never associated Halls with kissing, and this ad did nothing to strengthen any such connection in my mind, especially if I'm expected to hold the throat drop with my pinky raised like some tea-drinking socialite.

As an aside, the creepy bird with a man's face is to advertise the company's presence on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lawson VL Marron Latte

There are always a lot of appealing looking coffee beverages on offer in Japanese convenience stores. Unfortunately, they're all also usually full of sugar. While I'm fine to eat a little sugar, I have a problem with drinking it since liquids spend a lot less time on the tongue that solids. Nonetheless, the idea of a marron (chestnut) latte drew me in and I decided that it was worth 158 calories to give this cold coffee drink a try.

This 300 ml. (10 oz.) cup cost 100 yen ($1.20) at a Lawson 100 shop. the ingredients include brandy, coffee, dextrin, sugar water, and sugar. The ingredients list didn't include "kuri" or "marron" (words for "chestnut") that I could find. I'm guessing that the chestnut part came under the catch-all umbrella of "flavoring". It did smell like both chestnut and coffee, but the chestnut had the same olfactory presence of the types of syrups that get squirted into your coffee at upscale coffee houses.

I tried to peel back the top to get a picture of the coffee, but the plastic inner seal thwarted me. Trust me when I say, it  just looks like regular coffee and nothing special.

This had a unique flavor blend. The strongest element at first was the sweet chestnut flavor followed the the brandy and then the coffee. The three flavors come together very well to create a unique beverage. All of them are strong, but not overbearing. This tasted nice, but really is a bit like liquid candy because it is so very sweet.

I liked this quite a bit, and felt that the way in which all of the elements were balanced "worked". That being said, this isn't for coffee fans so much as for people who want an aspect of Mont Blanc, a dessert which has a heaping pile of chestnut paste that includes sugar and brandy, flavoring mixed in with coffee. If that sounds appealing, by all means, give this a try. If you're big into coffee that tastes greatly like coffee, this probably won't work for you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fujiya Peko Wafers

There's a new blog which I started following a few months ago called "Food in Real Life". It takes pictures of the box illustration of a dish and the way the food actually looks and then rates both how closely the real food resembles the illustration and how it tastes. I must say that Japanese processed food as it appears on the package generally resembles the food as presented inside.

That being said, these Peko wafers as pictured don't look anything like the way they are portrayed on the bag. In fact, they look further from the illustration than most things I've reviewed. They look thick, airy, and have a clearly defined filling on the bag and are rather compressed and dense in real life. The looks don't really matter though. It's going to be the taste and texture.

There are 16 individually wrapped bars in the bag. I picked these up at a local supermarket for 198 yen ($2.22). Each is about 7 cm (2.7 in) long and slightly wider than a KitKat finger and is 42 calories. So, the bottom line is going to be whether or not I enjoy these enough to pay 12 yen (13 cents) apiece and view the calories ingested as worthwhile.

Both types of bars are light and crispy. The wafers are what I'd call "softly crispy" like sugar wafers rather than crispy in a brittle way. They yield more easily when you bite them. This isn't a bad thing, just different. The vanilla bar smells very much like nougat to me. It also has some caramel notes. It mainly tastes like nougat with very, very weak chocolate flavor. It's more of a sense of a chocolate "wash" than serious chocolate flavor. The chocolate bar smells weakly of chocolate and has a mild chocolate flavor, but is quite pleasant. Neither is overly sweet.

These are actually quite pleasant for someone who likes wafers, but doesn't want something as sugary or as heavy as a KitKat or Sequoia bar. These are lighter and I liked them a lot, but I adore wafers without too much smothering sugary coating. I'd definitely consider buying them again since I like lighter treats and things that are not so sweet. I prefer the chocolate ones over the vanilla though. The caramel/nougat notes don't do as much for me. I think someone with similar tastes would really enjoy these, but they may not be bold enough for some people.