Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yamazaki Lemonack

I've mentioned before that I took on a part-time job because of post-quake income loss. This has had many benefits for me and a few drawbacks. The main drawback is that blogging time has been dramatically slashed and I now struggle to keep up (and may yet have to reduce posting frequency, but I'm hoping not to). The benefits, beyond more cash, are that I'm meeting a whole new crop of people and learning ever more about Japan and the Japanese people and that I have regular access to areas I wouldn't normally go to. To that end, there's a convenience store (konbini) chain that is not in my area but is at one of my new workplaces. It's called "Daily Yamazaki". Note that going to a shop is infinitely better than hanging around one of my new workplaces since it is located in a huge old building in a very seedy area that houses a giant pachinko parlor, a karaoke bar, and several other establishments catering to less than elegant appetites. However, the job itself is great and the workplace very nice except for the air conditioning settings which are designed for reptilian metabolisms.

One might think that a "konbini" is a konbini is a konbini, but that is not so. The Daily Yamazaki chain is ran by the same people who make Yamazaki Pan products. That means they get to gobble up more shelf space in their own convenience stores. These are things which I'm not likely to find anywhere else and that's how I ran across this "Lemonack". I was killing time before work (as I'm compulsive and always arrive early) and checking out their stock. I picked this up purely based on name and the fact that it was made with lemon as I didn't have copious amounts of time and didn't investigate the ingredients list. The front of the package is utterly devoid of clues as to what is inside, but at a mere 68 yen (85 cents) for something about half the size of my palm, I wasn't really making a big investment anyway.

It turned out that this is a little lemon cake with lemon coating. This must be a seasonal thing right now because local bakeries have been offering very similar things as of late and this is not too dissimilar  from the Fujipan lemon cake that I reviewed previously. Well, it is a lot smaller, less sweet and less moist, but the general shape and concept are the same. The cake is slightly dry, which isn't surprising considering it has to sit around for about a week in the store. Most of the flavor is coming from the sweet lemony coating, as is a very nice aroma. While the yellow cake doesn't add much taste, it also doesn't really detract.

This is a hard one to rate because I definitely enjoyed eating it, but couldn't help but think that I'd only buy it again under specific circumstances. I'd have to have coffee or tea to have with it to offset the dryness, desire a baked good, and want a small portion to ensure that I wouldn't eat too much. Since I'm generally pretty good at limiting portions without external enforcement, the latter isn't a strong issue for me, but may be for others. I'd also probably have to be looking for something economical rather than a more expensive bakery option because there are bakeries in the vicinity as well. That being said, I think this warrants a favorable rating overall, but I wouldn't be jonesing for another... though I'd buy a whole case if Yamazaki Pan would explain the naming and why this is called a "nack".

Just a gentle reminder that there is a contest running for two weeks to win a few snack and snack-related goodies. If you'd like to enter, the details are in this post.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Random Picture 68

Due to the earthquake, energy conservation is much on Tokyo-ites minds and marketers are doing whatever they can to capitalize on this. Doutor coffee shop is selling liters of pre-made iced coffee with a fan tucked into the bags as a one-stop-shop for cooling yourself down. Fans have always been distributed for free during the summer in Japan, but I've seen them offered in far greater volume this year than ever before. What is more, I've seen them used more early and often by people because air conditioning is being set at around 80-82 degrees F. (26.6-28 degrees C.) these days, with the upper range being the most common. Everyone is sweating, and the marketers know it.

I think that pre-made ice coffee is supposed to carry more appeal this season as well because it doesn't require you to brew hot coffee first and cool it. This economically more attractive option used to be the one my former office pursued, but I'm betting everyone is finding this sort of convenience a lot more attractive under the current situation.

Just a gentle reminder that there is a contest running for two weeks to win a few snack and snack-related goodies. If you'd like to enter, the details are in this post.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Oreo Bits "Ice Flavor" (Lemon)

Ice is made of water and water tastes like pretty much nothing. If these cookies were actually "ice flavor(ed)", then they'd taste like nothing, right? We can thank this confusing naming convention on the energy conservation efforts which I have mentioned before. Marketers are going crazy trying to fool people into thinking eating, drinking, or fanning themselves with various products will produce coolness. Suffice it to say, you may have better luck cooling off with these Oreos if you fanned their tiny little selves than if you ate them. Eating does produce a thermic response, after all, and the very act of ingesting calories will warm you up.

Setting aside the dumb attempt to make you think these cookies are going to cool you off, they are actually pretty tasty. They are lemon cream-filled Oreos with a sweet, tart and bitterness combination that has depth as well as a good textural combo with the crunchy cookies and smooth, soft creamy center. The lemon is strong enough to compete favorably with the bitter chocolate cookie exterior, but not so much as to clash. The sweetness level is right about where it needs to be to balance everything out.

I found these cookies at a local convenience store for 103 yen (about $1.25 for a 60-gram (a little over 2 oz.) bag. This gets you 20 cookies at about 15 calories a cookie (296 calories for the entire bag). The pricing is rather peculiar since stores usually don't price such that you'll have to fish out one-yen coins. I'm not going to argue with it though as it is a little cheaper than expected for this portion size (at least in Japan).

I really enjoyed these, as did my husband, but a lot depends on how you feel about the lemon and chocolate combination. Some people love the mix of citrus and chocolate and others rather not so much. It also depends a lot on how you feel about the particular combination of Oreo bitter chocolate cookies with such flavors, but I found it very much to my liking. I'm also a great fan of this sort of portion size because sometimes after a meal, I just want a bite or two of a cookie and these somewhat larger than a dime/one-yen coin cookies really do the trick.

Just a gentle reminder that there is a contest running for two weeks to win a few snack and snack-related goodies. If you'd like to enter, the details are in this post.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Calbee Potato Farm Jaga Pokkuru

When I first came to Japan, I didn't have a phone or television. Telephones back them required a deposit on the order of $500, and my husband and I already had borrowed about $10,000 from his brother in order to set up shop here. That money, incidentally, was mainly sunk into the cost of our apartment (first and last month's rent, a month for real estate agency fees, and a month as a way of thanking the landlord for accepting about $1200 a month from us in exchange for living in a tiny apartment). We also used some of it as start-up scratch (furniture, food, living expenses until our first paycheck arrived). We wanted to pay that back before we indulged in luxuries like telecommunications or T.V.

When we finally got a T.V., it was a tiny one that only caught signals from local T.V. channels and had very little, if any bilingual programming at a time when we were novices to Japan and the Japanese language. We didn't watch much T.V. back then, but there was a bilingual travel program which talked about all sorts of resort areas in Japan like Hakodate. Since Hakodate is in Hokkaido, they kept playing this song which went something like, "oh, oh, Hokkaido, Hokkaido-oh, oh." I probably heard snippets of that song three or four times during that one viewing of that program and it has burned into my cortex and I cannot get it out. What is worse, now every time I see a product from Hokkaido, that hideous ditty pops back into my head. Needless to say, I've never been to Hokkaido, and probably never will go there for fear of going mad from the endless loop that would surely result.

Jaga Pokkuru cavorting in the blue waters before their lives are horribly ended in some drunk's mouth. 

So, now we come to the actual review portion of our program in which I tell you that this is a souvenir-only item from... oh, oh, Hokkaido. Supposedly, you can only buy them from kiosks or souvenir shops in Hokkaido-oh, oh, but Rakuten sells a box of ten 18-gram packets for 840 yen ($10.48). The box we were given has six 18-gram (.64 oz.) packets. The selling point of these over something like Jagabee (which is a similar product also made by Calbee) is that these are whole fried potatoes that are monitored by a human being rather than processed sticks which are created by a machine.

These look like petrified French fries. They also sort of smell like them. What they taste like, however, is potato chips in somewhat concentrated form. If you could make a chip that was as thick as a fry with all of the flavor and crispy texture of the chip intact, this is what it'd be. These have a nice potato flavor and are lightly salted. They are a fine enough salted snack but the thickness is, at least initially, a bit odd. I'm not used to eating something which looks and crunches like a thin chip but is so dense.

This is excellent to have around for a salty snack craving, especially with the individual packets discouraging you from eating more than108 calories at once. That being said, I would never buy these for myself simply because I can't see them as being superior to Calbee's already delicious line of regular chips. If I have a choice between this and a bag of any of their flavored or plain chips for a much lower price, I'd take the chips. That being said, this was a very welcome gift and a good souvenir. I'd definitely be happy if someone wanted to give me another box.

Just a gentle reminder that there is a contest running for two weeks to win a few snack and snack-related goodies. If you'd like to enter, the details are in this post.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Variety Friday: Debu Neko Sembei and a Summer Contest

Debu Neko is the "mascot" character of a company called SK Japan which provides prizes for claw games (called UFO Catcher here) in Japan. It is my favorite cute Japanese character and the inspiration for me to get my husband to try UFO Catcher games which neither of us would have touched prior to my passion for this "fatty cat". Recently, SK Japan issued a new prize in their line of debu neko items and it's called "sembei", though it is not real sembei. The overall color, texture, shape, and design of both the foamy cat head and the plastic packet it is offered in mimics sembei. There's also a hard plate of some sort embedded in the head which if you press it will make a sembei-like "snap" sound. Be forewarned that doing that too much will result in the rubber of the cat head starting to tear (as the sample at the game shop made clear). It comes on a loop so you can hook it onto your cell phone or backpack (or just hang it on the wall).

The poorly photographed small booty pile: The debu neko "sembei", Ginbis sesame biscuits and a "white soda" Hi-Chew. I'd love to send more, and frankly, it wouldn't cost much more to buy more items, but the cost of shipping by airmail quickly exceeds the cost of the snacks rather exponentially. 

My husband won a handful of them from one of the easier UFO Catcher games. These aren't the most expensive prizes to produce, so it's no shock that they make it easier to win a handful of them as compared to the larger, more elaborate stuffed toys. I'm going to offer one along with some heat-resistant snacks as a prize in a contest. To enter this contest, all you have to do is leave a comment on this particular blog post telling me how you discovered this blog (Google search, from a comment I left on another blog, through a link on another blog, etc.). If you found me through another blog, please let me know the name of it if you recall. Only comments on this post will be considered when I choose the winner. The winner will be chosen by a random number generator according to the order in which comments are made.

Anyone anywhere can enter (even those in Japan), but I can't guarantee delivery in Central or South America or Africa. My experiences in the past have shown that postal delivery is unreliable in those countries. While I'll surely send the package anywhere in the world, I can't guarantee it's arrival on the other end, especially to countries which I've had some bad experiences with.

This contest will run for two weeks. I'll be posting links back to it and reminders to enter on posts during that time period. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing your comments!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hyuga-natsu Chocolate Sand Cookies

One of my students grew up in Miyagi Miyazaki prefecture in Japan and introduced me to a fruit which is a specialty of that area. The fruit, which she gave me several months ago, is called hyuga-natsu and it looks like a yellowish orange. She told me that it was "very sour" and that I'd have to put sugar or honey on it to eat it. Give my experience with natsu mikan (summer tangerine), I was pretty skeptical about like hyuga-natsu. I'm really not a fan of loading my fruit up with sugar anyway, so I decided to try it as it was. It was delicious and tasted like a cross between a lemon and a grapefruit with only modest sour notes. I thoroughly enjoyed the fruit and told her so. As a result, she brought me this box of hyuga-natsu cookies the following week.

The generosity of my students often amazes me, and I've found that those who make lower incomes are often the most generous. She bought these cookies at the Sheraton Hotel, but I'm not sure which one. One thing I am certain of, however, is that they were not cheap. They have the look and feel of an expensive souvenir. The question was only if they had the taste.

Each cookie is a langue du chat type of cookie which is crispy and buttery. Sandwiched between the delicate crispy layers is firm white chocolate filling flavored with the citrus flavor of hyuga-natsu. Since I've had the actual fruit, I can make a comparison. These do not actually capture the true essence of the fruit, but they are delicious and carry tones of lemon and orange. They are excellent cookies of the finest quality and definitely worth every fattening bite. I say they are probably fattening based on their buttery nature rather than from really knowing the calorie count. Souvenirs in Japan rarely offer nutrition data and these were not an exception.

If you see these cookies, buy them. It's a no brainer that they will be enjoyable to anyone who loves a high quality buttery crispy cookie or citrus sweets. The tricky part is, of course, getting to a Sheraton that actually sells them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Random Picture 67

One lasting effect on me from my post-quake (March 11, 2011) experience is that I never allow my toilet paper supplies to run low. Now, the moment I open a new bag, I make sure to pick up a second one. The inexplicable TP hoarding that followed the quake has convinced me that I need to keep certain essentials on hand in abundance. For greater Japan, the focus appears to be on other types of essentials, as this vending machine with but one choice reveals.

My husband and I both have noticed that there are immense amounts of water for sale now as compared to the pre-quake stock. We don't know if people ordered a lot and now it isn't selling or if they stock a lot because it is still selling well with the ongoing nuclear issues at Fukushima. The only thing I can say is that I have not bought one bottle of water since the quake. I may one day glow in the dark, or disintegrate into a puddle of goo from drinking tap water, but I'll be damned if I'll give into what feels like (hopefully) unfounded fear.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nippon Ham Chilled Bakery Meat Pie

Since I started working part-time, my eating schedule has been forcibly changed two days a week. Usually, I have the luxury of eating dinner at 7:00 or 8:00 pm, but on the two days on which I work, I get home at 10:30 or so after eating lunch around 5:00. I don't want to eat a lot late at night, so I've been pursuing some different options. As a result, my readers will be "enjoying" some different food reviews than before. In fact, chances are that there will be more convenience foods which resemble "real food". Honestly, this is all the better for the continued life of this blog as I really am starting to see fewer and fewer attractive options in the snack aisles. That's not to say there aren't things I haven't sampled, but that variations on a theme get pretty boring after awhile.

This is more pie than "meat", but that's okay with me. I'm not a great fan of meat anyway and chose this for a light meal prospect. The pie is flaky and slightly buttery. It has a light crispiness which is very pleasing and a tender interior. The meat filling is more of a "paste" which has a touch of tomato paste flavor, but nothing really too strong. It reminds me of the sloppy joe mix we used to get in elementary school.

This is actually pretty good as long as you have exceptionally low expectations of the meat filling and reasonable hopes for a nice flaky pie. I enjoyed this quite a lot, much as I enjoyed its companion piece, the cheese pie. I'd pick up either as a filling snack or breakfast if the spirit moved me. Both have better than average bakery qualities for something you pick up in the refrigerator case at Seiyu. At 298 yen ($3.72) for 4 pies, they're cheaper than the local bakery's offerings as well. I kept this around in the fridge for about a week with no degradation in quality, which was a bonus. If you get home late, like a more filling snack, or just want a little breakfast variety, I'd recommend giving this a try.

Monday, June 20, 2011

KitKat Bitter Strawberry (Big Bar)

When I spied this newest KitKat, I said to myself: "Self, you promised me that you wouldn't buy anymore damn strawberry KitKats because they are, more often than not, cloying and fake... and they aren't really very different. Self, you know that strawberry KitKats are the lazy wankers at Nestle Japan just churning out a minor variation rather than taxing their grey matter." Then, I realize I shouldn't talk to myself so much and buy the damn KitKat anyway because it's only 120 yen ($1.50) and probably won't be in the convenience stores forever. Incidentally, this "conversation" occurred in 7-11, where I bought the bar from an utterly indifferent cashier. The experience nearly brought a tear to my eye. It's  the type of service that one gets back home from teenagers working late shifts.

The first thing I noticed about this big bar was that it has been divided into three sections for better portion control. This made me quite happy since I never eat a whole one at once, and actually tend to eat only one-fourth at a time. This made it easy to divide by snapping it along the pre-scored points. I thought it might break apart in a jagged fashion, but it broke clean. I give Nestle Japan points for good product design.

Unlike some white- and milk-chocolate-based KitKats which are strawberry-flavored, this smells good when you open the package. You get mainly a dark chocolate scent with just a whiff of strawberry as opposed to an overwhelming fake strawberry scent. The truth is that there were two reasons that I gave in on another strawberry version because of the promise of this being dark chocolate and feeling that would cut back on the often overly sweet strawberry flavors. The other reason was that my husband was interested in trying it to so I knew that I wouldn't be responsible for eating it all if it was nasty.

Fortunately, this was a pretty good variant on a KitKat. The Big Bar attributes, like a firm and generous chocolate coating with good snap and plentiful amounts of wafer, were intact and delightful as always. The blend of dark chocolate and strawberry was also well-balanced. So, score a "win" for Nestle in this regard. Note that the dark chocolate is not a high percentage and is more for those who are on the sissy side when it comes to such things. It's not in the least like milk chocolate, but lacks any deep bitterness.

While I can't say that this bar is the end-all and be-all of KitKats, I can say that it quite enjoyable. Dark chocolate lovers who prefer their bitterness on the milder side should give it a shot. I'm not sure that I'd recommend forking over a premium price for this, but I would say it's worth what I paid for it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mister Donut Orange Madeleine Donut

As of this post, I realize I've been talking a lot about donuts as of late. I assure you that I have not turned into a Homer-Simpsonesque donut-eating fiend. It is mere coincidence... or at least I think it is. Perhaps spring is a time when an older woman's fancy turns to donuts, or there have just been a lot of opportunities to sample new and interesting things. This post was motivated by the fact that Mister Donut has come out with a line of donuts which tout, among other things, the inclusion of vegetables and fruit.

Click to see a larger size. Image captured from Mister Donut's web site.  

This particular type of donut does not have any vegetables in it as I was too chicken to try those ones. In the U.S., I'd have some confidence that the veggies would be well-hidden under thick layers of sugar, flour, fat, and more palatable flavors. In Japan, where the cheese danishes are made with sweetened Gouda and cheddar, I fear that a donut made with chocolate and gobo (burdock) will actually taste like burdock. The same goes for the sweet potato and spinach one, which is incredibly green and probably appeals only to someone with Popeyesque levels of enthusiasm for spinach.

This donut is not actually a donut. Even on the Mister Donut web site, they liken it to a madeleine. It's really close to pound cake. It's sweet, heavy, and moist with subtle orange flavors except where there are little bits of sweetened orange embedded in it. It's a truly delicious bit of cake and well worth the 157 yen ($1.95) and 241 calories. Frankly, it does inspire me to try some of the "riskier" flavors, though I'm much more likely to go for the pumpkin one if I'm to try a vegetable-based one.

These were released at the end of May and I'm not sure how long they'll be on offer. These types tend to peter out in 2-3 months so strike while the iron is hot if they interest you. This particular variety is definitely worth your attention.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Warabi Mochi

When is mochi (pounded rice cake) not really mochi? It's when it's actually made from braken starch instead of rice. Warabi mochi is called "mochi" for the same reason that Pop Tarts get to be called "toaster pastries". There is a resemblance even if the components aren't exactly what they're supposed to be.

In the case of warabi mochi, it has similar textural qualites of mochi. It's soft and slightly stretchy, but not nearly as chewy. It's like a cross between gelatin and mochi,  not that that's a breeding pair anyone is really clamoring for. These little cubes or spheres which are clear or covered with soy powder (kinako) are sold in many shops in Japan, but are particularly easy to find in major supermarkets like Seiyu. I bought the package I'm reviewing today at that particular place for 198 yen ($2.46). It's 200 grams (7 oz.), which you can either eat all at once and become logey from the carb bomb you've ingested or split into a couple of snacks. I did the former and had to struggle to keep my eyes open and stop yawning during a private lesson.

I've had warabi mochi in various forms before including some beautifully packaged souvenir forms. There is a small quality difference between the market versions and regional versions, but it's not enough to shy away from the cheap versions like I had today. The "mochi" itself mainly lends a textural quality and has very little flavor. They are like soft little pillows and actually fun to pick up, at least that is so before you squeeze the thin, dark, sweet syrup (mitsu) that accompanies them onto them.

I really like warabi mochi because I like kinako and the distinctive mitsu syrup. They're actually quite sweet despite their "healthy Japanese sweet" appearance. This is no surprise since the ingredients are mainly sugar, water, and braken root flour. I've also read that they're supposed to be "low calorie", but I read calorie values of between 135-180 calories per 100 grams (3.5 oz.). It could be that they have a lot of sugar or that those values assume you'll use the entire syrup packet on what you eat. Since most old-fashioned Japanese sweets do not provide nutrition information, I can't confirm anything locally, except for the fact that these are delicious and have a nice texture.

If you like kinako and gelatin-like treats, I'd definitely recommend giving these a try. Whether or not they suit a particular person's palate is not something I can predict, but I find this particular treat quite enjoyable. If you have a chance to give it a try, I'd recommend sampling it regardless of the company that makes it. The only thing that is really important is that it be fresh because it isn't nearly as good after a few days, and in fact may change color and degrade.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Random Picture 67

The earthquake has had some interesting and unusual consequences, and I'm pretty sure that this particular bag of chips is one of them. You can't help but notice the fact that these are promoted as being from Australia. The day I took this picture, there were three types of plain (just salted) chips on display and each with a different price. These were the most expensive at 138 yen ($1.72) per bag, followed by chips made by potatoes grown in southern Japan at 128 yen ($1.59) and finally those for 118 yen ($1.47) which didn't promote where they came from on the front of the bag. Though I can't say for certain, I believe these varieties are on offer because of the Japanese mistrust of their food coming from areas in or near Fukushima where the radiation leaks have been a major concern. People may be willing to pay more for chips if they come from as far away from Fukushima as possible and from a country they trust food imports from (that is, not China).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Osaka Okonomiyaki Sembei

I have only been to Osaka once during my stay in Japan. In fact, a lot of people who ask me what cities I've been to here keep telling me I need to see more of them. I've been to Kobe, Osaka, Nikko, and of course all of the cities surrounding Tokyo and have investigated more nooks and crannies of Tokyo than the vast majority of Japanese folks. In fact, my husband and I went to Kappabashi several weeks ago and every Japanese person I told asked me why I went there. Kappabashi is known as "kitchen town" because it sells plastic food and restaurant supplies, but few Japanese people look into it.

My point is that I see no reason why one city or place has particular value over another, particularly when most people visit a city only to drop in at a particular shrine which resembles pretty much every other shrine and eat food at a restaurant which is the same general type of food that they eat in Tokyo and maybe go to a hot spring or walk around a park. I ask people why they think okonomiyaki, a sort of savory pancake which the kitchen sink is heaped onto, is different in Osaka as compared to Tokyo and the answers I get are pretty weak - the ingredients taste better because they are fresher. I'm pretty sure there is some variation, but I'm also pretty sure it's the type of thing only the most exquisitely refined palate can detect.

All of this is my roundabout way of saying I didn't buy these souvenir crackers because I haven't been to Osaka in ages, and I wouldn't choose these if I were to go again. Mind you, I liked Osaka when I visited, but I'm not going to pick up something which looks like someone barfed on a cracker and petrified it. In particular, I'm not going to go for something which smells incredibly fishy and talks about how it has mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is a friend of mine, mind you, and I enjoy it in moderation, but in Japan you never know if it's going to dominate whatever you are eating.

In the case of this cracker, it's the fishiness which offended my tongue. I don't have a problem with fish in general, but I don't like things which are fishy in flavor and that's where a lot of the taste of this dominates. The little colorful bits of what I presume may be vegetables appear to be largely ornamental and the mayo isn't an overbearing influence but is there.

I'm sure there are people with tastes that are suited to this cracker. I'm simply not one of them. I appreciate the gift, and the fact that these are made to resemble the food they're meant to taste like, but they're just not my type of thing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tirol Premium Shio Pine

Note: It has been pointed out to me that this is "shio" (salt) pine, not "shiro" (white) pine. You'd think that'd be clear from the big white letters written on it in English as well as the Japanese characters, but my addled upper-middle-aged brain missed that. That being said, there is nothing at all that is salty about this candy!

When I first saw this, I briefly entertained notions that it was going to be some sort of white pine flavor, like a pine nut, cone, or tree. I forgot all too quickly that "pine" in this case was "pineapple" and missed the fact that there were a bunch of yellow rings illustrating the package indicating the fruit this was supposed to taste like. This is surely an indication that I do not think in Japanese language, which is no surprise considering the fact that I spend most of my life speaking English despite where I live. Aside from asking, "how much is it", and "where is it," I rarely need to say much in Japanese. Yes, that may sound odd, but such is the life of an English teacher with an American husband. We don't all need to spend our nights trying to pick up natives in Roppongi and therefore have ample opportunity to speak the native tongue.

The fact that this is pineapple in no way disappointed me. I love pineapple, and it's one of those flavors that is harder to get wrong than others even if it is "shiro choco" (white chocolate). The combination of something with an acidic edge to it often cuts through the sweetness. The only way that Tirol was going to mess this up was to make the flavor too weak or the chocolate too sweet.

The chocolate is soft and cleaves rather easily with a knife, something which I value because it makes it easier to get a detailed shot of the interior. Inside, there is a little gummi candy topped with a few bits of crisped rice. Most of the pineapple flavor is in the gummi and lends a good bite and a fairy realistic pineapple flavor. The rice crispy bits add a nice textural contrast to the soft, sweet white chocolate exterior.

This is a tasty little candy that you can pick up at convenience stores now for about 20 yen (24 cents). It's a small morsel, about an inch (2.54 cm.) in diameter, and makes an enjoyable bite or two with a cup of tea. At only 54 calories, it also offers good portion control. If you're a fan of pineapple sweets, this is one that you don't want to miss.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fujipan Lemon Cake

 "Born from an exhausting research of fine tastes. We provide a first-class taste brought directly from the earth." This is what Fujipan has written in elegant script on the front of the package of the lemon cake I'm about to review. I think that means these are baked by Morlocks, or the mole people. Either way, I'm inspecting it carefully before I take a bite to make sure there aren't any Eloi baked inside.

I found this cake in Seiyu supermarket's giant ass pile of baked goods. It looks like a yard sale of consumer-grade pastries after it has been liberally picked over and fondled by retirees and housewives who would rather fondle the baked goods than attend to their irate children. It was next to a lemon melon pan, and this won the contest for which one I'd buy because I knew my husband would split this large cake (about the size of two Hostess cupcakes) with me but not the melon pan. It cost a mere 100 yen ($1.21).

The cake has a lemon glaze on the outside and is split open ostensibly to pipe lemon cream into the center. While the glaze covers all of the top, the lemon cream is extremely sparse. In fact, there was probably a smidge (that's a technical term equivalent to about half a teaspoon) in my half. This is unfortunate because the cream is delicious with a strong zesty lemon flavor and a creamy richness. The rest of the cake is mainly skating by on two things, the texture and glaze.The cake iss moist, tender and slightly dense. The glaze is very lightly sweet and only cares a hint of lemon.

At about 340 calories, the whole cake is a bit of a calorie bomb, but if you can manage to muster up the self-control to only eat half, it makes a very nice treat for tea time or dessert. The texture is exceptional for a packaged cake and, while I could have done with more lemon in the glaze and definitely more of the lemon cream filling, I'm satisfied with the taste and sweetness level as well. I could definitely see buying this again.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dars Mint

I wasn't aware of these Dars mint chocolates until they were mentioned to me in comments. Given my love of (almost) all things Dars, I headed off to a local convenience store to see if I could find them. They are new enough that not every place is stocking them, but I located a box at a Lawson's for 128 yen ($1.60).

I snapped up a box from the display case as well as a new Tirol chocolate for review later on and went to one of the two registers. One was occupied with a single customer and the other apparently free but the minute I stepped up to the register, the clerk bolted down to the other end of the counter and fussed around behind the other clerk. I patiently waited for her to return after doing whatever needed to be done. When she came back after about a full minute, the first thing she did was look at me and say, "just a minute please" and went to run off in the other direction. At this point, I figured it wasn't worth the time and I'd put the candy back and try another store. After I picked up my chocolates and went to put them back, she suddenly decided she could actually manage to do her job and accept my money for the goods on offer at the store. How gracious of her... Yeah, service in Japan is universally wonderful, except when it blows chunks as it occasionally does.

That's not a minty filling oozing out. It's water from the knife I used to cut this with so don't get your hopes up.

Getting to the Dars, the thing I love most about Dars is that it is creamy and fatty and unfortunately, that aspect is strangely missing from this. It is much firmer than usual and the chocolate is bittersweet with a good hint of mint which is neither overpowering nor too sweet. I have to wonder if the chocolate used in this is simply not milky enough for the rich, creamy feeling in the mouth that I associate with this particular brand name. Each candy, incidentally, is 22 calories so there isn't much of a calorie reduction coming along with a less creamy experience.

These are certainly nice enough. The flavor balance is good, but, as one of my commenters said, these are not my favorite mint chocolates. For a better quality experience with a similar flavor profile, I'd recommend After Eight mints. That being said, these are cheaper than those particular candies and at the moment easier to locate. The only thing I don't like about these is that they do have the aftertaste that I sometimes experience with Japanese chocolates which are on the bittersweet side. These are not the sort of thing you want to clear your palate after a meal, but rather just to satisfy a craving for mint and chocolate together. Soon after though, I need a cup of tea or to brush my teeth to wash away that aftertaste. I'm giving these a slightly grudging "happy" rating. I like them and will finish the whole box, but I'm not sure I'd buy them again.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Random Picture 66

Pirates of the Caribbean 4 has opened in Japan, and one of my students has gone to see it. She said that she thinks the movies are popular because people seem to like pirates. I think it's because we enjoy seeing Johnny Depp lurch about in eyeliner. The movie's release has spawned more than banal chitchat between my students and me. It has also compelled Yamazaki bakery to release sandwiches that use the movie for promotion. This specimen is a crust-less white bread tuna curry number. I was afraid to try it, lest I find myself wanting to cake on copious amounts of eyeliner and stumble around drunkenly.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Oreo Soft Cookie

Note that the bag was open before I took the picture. I couldn't wait to try them until I had a camera.

I blame the purchase of this mundane review fodder and the expansion of any fat cells firmly on Marvo at The Impulsive Buy. I've gone a very long time ignoring this offering from Nabisco because I figured any Oreo product which was not an original cookie was bound to be sub-par. I've tried a few things here that have been offered as members of the extended Oreo family, but I have not been impressed with the original product's offspring. Marvo mentioned that Oreo Cakesters, which I'd hoped these would resemble, were like Hostess Ding Dongs or cupcakes and I wanted that blast from the past.

The cookies are tiny at 4 cm (1.6 in.) in diameter and you get 8 of them per bag. I paid 168 yen for them at the discount snack shop Okashi no Machioka. Even with the discount, that's pretty expensive for a small number of tiny cookies. Each cookie is about 80 calories, despite being such a tiny morsel.

The soft, dense cookie exterior has a slight bit of the bitter chocolate essence of an original Oreo cookie, but it's more muted. It's lightly sweet and the filling is mostly about texture. It adds a creamy, fatty contrast to the soft, yet slightly dry cookie exterior. Frankly, the outside of the cookie is like a dry Oreo-flavored brownie. This is not a bad thing, but it would be the sort of brownie that is created to have a long shelf life with all that tends to mean - a slight chemical aftertaste, dryness, and moistness that comes mainly from transfats.

I liked these, despite how the aforementioned paragraph may come across. I've read that Japanese Oreos are less sweet than American ones and I'll have to take everyone's word for it because I never ate Oreos in the U.S. and can only recall how they taste here. This truly is a soft cookie version of an Oreo with a slightly less bitter cookie and slightly less dense and sweet filling. It's good for what it is, and not a bad snack to have on hand for a specific kind of craving. They're no Ding Dong or Hostess cupcake, but they're still pretty good.