Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Random Picture #77

The Simpsons rather famously made the idea that Japan has square watermelons common knowledge. The thing is, I've lived in Japan for 22 years and I had never seen them in the flesh before. There may be some marketplace in the posher areas of Tokyo which routinely offers these melons, which are normal melons grown into this shape by growing them into a particular vessel. However, the idea that vendors on the streets are offering them or that the Japanese routinely buy them (which one might conclude from the Simpsons clip... and isn't popular culture our great educator?) is very far from the truth. I saw my first square watermelon in Japan earlier this week. It was a tiny little thing, about the size of a big grapefruit and kept in a protective acrylic box. Needless to say, it was not for sale but merely there to gain attention. So, if you are planning a trip to Japan and hoping to buy yourself a novelty melon, you might want to think again. Most of them are the round pedestrian variety.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sudachi Pretz

One thing which I have come to understand as a food reviewer is that depth of flavor is very important when you're sampling a bunch of crap and want to find some way of distinguishing the run-of-the-mill snack food dreck from the beyond-the-mill snack food dreck. The thing that tends to separate the big boys like Glico from the small fries like Riska is that they layer flavors into their products instead of just heap tons of one particular flavor onto them. That being said, I'm pretty sure that most of the people who cram these things into their snack holes aren't paying nearly as much attention to the subtle flavors as the likes of me. Glico's efforts are wasted on most, but I have nothing but love for their devotion of offering a multiplicity of flavors in a lowly pretzel snack.

Because I'm not a food expert and just spend my time with junk food, I had never heard of sudachi before buying this for a mere 100 yen ($1.30) at Okashi no Marche super discount snack shop. Of course, I saw the words on the front, and the citrus fruit and bits of green onion, but I didn't know if that was the name of a particular dish that these were aping or a primary flavor. I assumed those green things on the front were limes, but they are actually a Japanese citrus fruit which is supposed to be "zestier" than lemons or limes according to Wikipedia.

Despite what Wikipedia says, these definitely taste very similar to limes though I will admit that they are very "zippy" in flavor. Though they smell rather funky, they taste very good and have a good savory mix of salt, citrus, and an almost warming finish of onion. I wasn't kidding when I talked about flavor depth and layering. These have it and you'll notice it if you aren't too busy snarfing them down to pay attention to what's dancing across your taste buds.

Each box has two packets of 27.5 grams (about an ounce) which provide you with 136 calories of carbohydrate and sodium fun. I strongly recommend picking these up if you're a pretzel fan and can find them. This is part of Glico's regional Pretz campaign (which appears to come about once a year) and this particular flavor is one that is available nationwide. This is in contrast to the "spicy chicken wing" variety that I reviewed previously that was an East Japan release. These would make a tasty accompaniment to your favorite beverage (provided it's not coffee or tea) or good movie snacking food in a portion controlled package.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tirol Raspberry Cheese Pie and Peach Pie Premium

When I was growing up, I remember going to local supermarkets with  my mother and seeing these boxes of pies with a clear plastic cover over the top. They'd have elaborate crusts with patterns on the top, perfectly crimped edges, and look nothing like the slapdash pies my mother put together. Hers had crumbling edges that were pressed down with a fork. I remember wanting to buy and try those pies, but we were too poor to pay whatever they cost. If I was having pie, it'd be her craptacular crust with some store brand canned pie filling plopped in the middle.

You can imagine that my pie experiences back home were far from stellar. In fact, because I was never really exposed to good pie (not that the supermarket pie would have been good, but there may have been a chance), I didn't really miss it when I came to Japan. Japan is a country that, by and large, doesn't "do" pie. There are some shops carrying something resembling pie, but a lot of the time it's not wedges cut from something round but rather flaky dough with fruit or custard heaped on it and given a shellacking with sugary glaze. So, I'm definitely not approaching these with the enthusiasm of a true pie aficionado. I'm guessing that is all for the best.

I picked these up at a local 7-11 for 32 yen (42 cents) each. This is the standard price at convenience stores for premium Tirol chocolates in my area. However, the availability of any particular flavor is not certain and I've been to 7-11 and other convenience stores that didn't have one, the other, or both. You may have to scout for them. The raspberry cheese pie one is 58 calories and the peach pie is 53, quite reasonable calorie "costs" for candy which is about 1 inch/2.54 cm square. Think of it as having a similar volume to 2.5 Hershey's kisses.

Raspberry Cheese Pie was a flavor I approached with some trepidation as my experience with Tirol cheese chocolates has not been a happy one. As I've said before, with cheese sweets in Japan, you have to think "Gouda", not "cream cheese". The mix of pungency with sugar can be quite off-putting, if not an obnoxious assault on the tongue, but hope springs eternal. Peeling off the wrapper and giving it a sniff, I was thinking "oh no", not "yummy". It smells like cheddar, which did not really play well with visions of raspberry cheesecake flavors dancing in my head. Fortunately, the cheesy nature was not overbearing and paired very nicely with the ever so slightly floral raspberry flavoring and sweet white chocolate. While I wasn't blown away by this, I did eat the entire thing and enjoy it. I wish, however, that the textural elements had been a bit clearer. The biscuit in mine wasn't crispy, but rather like a soft cookie and I'd have preferred a crunchy contrast to the soft white chocolate.

The Peach Pie was the flavor I had higher expectations of because I loved the Apple Pie premium candy. I was delighted to see that it had the same crispy bits packed into it and happy that it smelled amiably of peaches. Cutting it in half for a picture, I noticed little bits of dried peach in there and they gave this the same chewy fruit and crispy pie bits texture as the Apple Pie candy. This is quite sweet, however, but I "blame" that on the white chocolate. The peach flavor is a bit intense, but I didn't mind.

I would definitely recommend either of these as a small tea time treat when you are in the mood for just a few bites. They are both very tasty and have complex flavors and in the case of the Peach Pie one, varied textures as well. I wouldn't recommend these if you are looking to indulge in more than a bite or two though as the sweetness can get pretty cloying. I ate both of these at the same time and it got to be a bit much for me by the end of the second one, but I think I actually would buy them again if I wanted a sweeter than usual bite of fruity chocolate.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Random Picture #76

Click this smaller version to load a larger one with better detail.

Mister Donut is catering to traditional Japanese tastes in what they're calling a "flavor tour". Since the "tour" is made up of only three new products, it's not exactly a long one. The poster shows a donut version of takoyaki at the top. I haven't tried it, because octopus-flavored donuts aren't my idea of a good time, but the information on "Misdo's" web site seems to indicate this is not faux takoyaki with chocolate sauce and coconut imitating the look of the takoyaki sauce and bonito (fish flakes). It's supposed to be rice dough balls with fishy flavorings on them. I could be misunderstanding the Japanese (it wouldn't be the first time, and definitely won't be the last), but the only thing is says for sure is "octopus not included". The two donuts beneath the faux octopus balls are an old-fashioned covered with sweet potato paste and another filled with a red bean paste and coated with dried camphor bark (aka cinnamon) and sugar. I'm hoping to try the latter, but I'm saving my experience with octopus balls for sampling the real deal one of these days.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pure Gummy Apple Ginger Ale

This flavor of gummy is part of Pure's "wild pure" line. The thing that makes them "wild", apparently, is the kooky notion of including two different flavors rather than one. Apparently the people at Kanro (which makes the Pure gummy line) live a very sheltered existence.

I spied this out of the corner of my eye just as I was checking out at a Lawson 100. I didn't get a good look at the package before grabbing it and slapping it down on the counter and I thought it said "Apple Ginger". I missed the "Ale" part and probably wouldn't have opted to buy it had I known. It's not that I dislike ginger ale. In fact, I really like the drink but my experience with it in candy is that it tastes like flat, stale soda rather than a delightful bubbly concoction associated with dryness and our neighbors in the great white north. Still, I'd spent my 100 yen ($1.30) and now I was going to chew it up regardless of my mistake.

The picture above is the contents of the entire bag (46 grams/1.6 oz.). Each candy has collagen (good for your skin) and Vitamin C (good for what ails you) and provides 12.3 calories. This is a good candy to have around for a flavorful bite or two and, even for a gummy/gummi, doesn't stick too badly to your teeth.

When I opened the bag, it smelled rather intensely of fake apple flavoring. In fact, it reminded me of rotting apples sitting in a hot kitchen, a scent I can identify with after the long and oppressive Tokyo summer. The scent of the actual candy wasn't as strong as the air released when the bag's seal was broken, but it still smells like fermented applesauce. Pure gummy candies are covered in citric acid powder to give them a sour bite and that was present here, though it was masked to a great extent by the relatively strong apple flavor with liberal amounts of ginger. There's also an intense perfumey kick at the end of the bite which is elevated by the tangy powder.

I had mixed feelings about this. I like the texture of the gummy, which is slightly chewy and firmer than European or American gummy candies. I also like the general flavor balance and the citric acid powder on the outside. The fact that these aren't incredibly sugary is a bonus, but ultimately the apple flavor itself was just too overpowering for my tastes. It's a good candy on the whole, but probably not for everyone.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kameda Seika Pizza Sembei

There was a period of time in my life when I was absolutely bonkers for pizza. I call that the time "when I was young and lived in the United States". Since coming to Japan, several factors have conspired to undermine my devotion to that fattening delight. First, there was the year or so when both my husband and I were working full-time and every Friday night we'd come home and be so exhausted that we'd just order a barely adequate pizza from Pizza Hut. It got to the point where I actually was so sick of pizza, any kind, that I didn't want to touch one.

The second factor, and anyone whose lived in Japan for any length of time will understand this, is that Japanese pizza blows like a gale-force wind. It's not only that they are skimpy with the cheese and meat toppings, but the crusts always fail to inspire. Unless you go to a top of the line pizza place with equally "top of the line" prices, you're going to get something between a pre-made crust and a frozen mass-produced dough. Even when you stumble across a nice-looking Italian place (of which there are approximately a gazillion in Tokyo), there's a very high chance that they're using frozen pies or bases. Trust me when I say there's a very small chance that there's some guy in the back tossing dough, even in a relatively authentic-looking place.

Despite my loss of enthusiasm for pizza, I still love it "in theory" and what better way to get your pizza on in the abstract than going for a cracker with pizza flavoring? I was compelled to buy these for a mere 120 yen ($1.56) by the illustration which shows a copious slathering of pizza seasoning on the top. It actually looks like it has more toppings than the average Japanese pizza on a relative scale.

Tearing open the foil packet, a task I always have trouble with because my puny girl muscles are fueled by years of anemic pizza, I caught a whiff of lovely Italian seasonings - Parmesan, oregano, tomato. The crackers are medium-sized (about 2/3 the size of my palm) and of the "soft" type in Japan, which is to say that they are crispy but airy instead of crispy and very thin. The seasoning was strong, but not too strong and had a nice zesty bite.

These were better than pizza, or at least better than the pizza I can get here. I loved them and gobbled down half the (decidedly small) bag in one sitting. These are a great companion to a soft drink and would also be excellent movie-watching fare. Honestly, if you want pizza and you're in Tokyo, you're probably better off with a bag of this sembei than with the real deal. You'll save money and calories and these taste better.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Random Picture #75

The Japanese KitKat scene has been a wasteland littered with tumbleweeds of uninspired options. The latest entry is just another cactus popping up out of the ground amongst a gaggle of nondescript cacti. These are "puff" big bars which take the standard milk chocolate big bar and stir some rice puffs into the coating. That's it. <yawn> Offering this unimaginative creation on top of a cookies and cream version and a strawberry hazelnut one that was 95% strawberry is going to seriously undercut the image of Japanese KitKats as wild and weird.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Crunky Ball Nude (Gianduja)

Despite the highly provocative naming of this particular line of confections, I have been resisting the allure of the Crunky balls. This is mainly because, while I love the malty crisped rice nature of the basic Crunky, I have been disappointed in at least half of the variations that have been on offer. Those that I did like tended to get by based on format alone. That is, a chocolate covered Crunky almond couldn't lose because it's an almond and a wafer bar won me over because it was a wafer and I love those. The addition of Crunky wasn't much of a merit.

The thing that "got" me to buy these balls was the fact that they are gianduja, or made with hazelnut paste. No, it wasn't the fact that I could make enough verbal hay out of the "nude balls" name that I could metaphorically line all of the stables at the Kentucky Derby, though that certainly would have been a reasonable motivation. Frankly, I would like to know why these are called "nude", but short of having a conversation with someone at Lotte, I'll probably never know for sure. Let's just assume that it's the filthiest possible explanation we can imagine and move on.

I found these for 100 yen ($1.30) at Lawson 100 convenience store, but you can find them pretty much anywhere these days. Note that with the yen growing oddly more powerful, the prices when translated into dollars continue to see inflated, but things are pretty much the same in Japan. One box is 57 grams (2 oz.) and has 27 balls about the size of a largish malted milk ball. Each morsel is about 11 calories and the entire box is 292 calories.

When you pop open the foil package and give it a whiff, it smells like regulation consumer chocolate. If they're cool, the outside is dull looking. Mine melted at room temperature in the Tokyo summer and then looked good and shiny, but also created a big mess all over my hands. I suggest storing them in the refrigerator if you're an anal retentive type and don't want them to melt and reform into a large mutant mass of malt puff and gianduja.

The first bite provides some potent hazelnut chocolate flavor. The bulk of the candy is made up by a giant malt puff inside which is light and crunchy and seems fairly flavorless at first. The second bite brings across a sense of coconut, though I think this was my taste buds fooling me about a mix of nutty and malt flavors. I enjoyed the first bite, but was less a fan of the second.

These are not bad at all, but I set the bar pretty high on gianduja. Nutella and anything made by Ferrero. In fact, I wonder if these are to some extent inspired by Ferrero Rocher, a ball-shaped candy which is made up of a thin wafer shell filled with hazelnut paste and coated in milk chocolate and nuts. This is like a low-rent version of that in which the delicious wad of hazelnut paste is replace with puff and used sparingly on the outside coating and malt puffs replace the more expensive nuts. Maybe they have nothing to do with each other, but I think there's more "crunk" and too little gianduja for my tastes. I'll finish this box, but I'll keep buying Crunky mini bars instead of this latest variation.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Finding a new footing

When I started this blog, I was working about 10 hours a week in my home and there were days when I had many hours of free time. That situation has since changed. As some of my readers may recall, I mentioned that I had to take on more work as a result of earthquake-related earnings changes. Two days a week, I now work full-time outside of my apartment and three days a week I have a consolidated home working schedule. That means that I'm now working closer to 25 hours and have commute time on two days of the week which I did not have when I started blogging.

I've been doing 10 posts a week between my two blogs for quite awhile and it has become clear to me as of late that this is a pace I cannot keep up with my increased workload. I don't have time to properly research some posts and I certainly don't have the time for creative composition, editing, or proof-reading. I've felt recently that my work is getting sloppier and I feel rushed.

Because of this, I've decided that I need to change my posting schedule. I'm very reluctant to scale back, but it's clear that I can't keep up this pace. I'm going to try and continue to do 5 posts a week at 1000 Things About Japan because those posts are shorter, but I need to reduce posts here down to 3 days. I'll be posting reviews on Monday and Friday and random pictures on Wednesday. This situation may or may not be permanent. My hope is that I'll find a new footing once I get a breather from the current hectic pace. I may find that I can do more than 3 posts a week or that I may find some other type of content that is appropriate on other days but less time-consuming.

I'm very sorry to reduce the posting frequency because I really do enjoy writing this blog and reviewing various foods. I also very, very much appreciate all of my readers and want to keep doing what I can to entertain them. I'm sure some folks will be disappointed, and I regret that.

Because I won't be posting as often, I'm going to throw the option open for guest posting. If you've got a Japanese snack you've sampled and would like to write about, I invite you to make your voice heard here. I can't offer you cash, because frankly you'd laugh at the 35 cents per post that I could pay (that's what ads pays me for my work). I can say that you can link to your own blog and possibly improve your readership by showing your stuff on this blog. Anyone who is interested can e-mail me at I'll e-mail guidelines if you contact me.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Yamazaki-pan Hitokuchi mochi bread

Sorry that there is no cutaway shot. I took one, but lost it in the huge number of photos I've taken lately. If I find it, I'll add it in later.

When we first moved into our neighborhood, there was a Mos Burger fast food joint not 3 minutes from our apartment. Mos Burger, for those who don't know, is the best Japanese rip-off of Western chains like McDonald's. Not only did they pilfer the big "M" logo, but they initially started out with a yellow letter on a red background. As time has gone by, Mos Burger has differentiated itself favorably (for the most part) from Mickey D's. They tailor their menu to suit the Japanese market and offer fresher food. This has the up-side of tasting better, but the down-side of taking a lot longer to serve your order.

When that Mos Burger was still in place, my husband and I used to occasionally go there for food when we were too tired to cook. My favorite was their spicy chili dog. Though I'm not much of a hot dog eater, it was the closest thing to a chili dog I could find in Japan and I grew up with access to very good knock-offs of the famous Skyline chili. As long as a dog had that sort of chili sauce on it, I was in love. I can't say Mos Burger's chili dogs come close at all, but there aren't many other options in Japan.

Before that branch of Mos Burger faded away due to a lack of business, they once offered something called a "cheese pon". This was one of those temporary deals that is on hand for several months then goes the way of the dodo bird. I mention this because those cheese pon were almost the same as this bread which I purchased at Lawson 100 (for 100 yen/$1.24). Eating these brought back memories of spicy chili dogs and greasy bits of chewy bread.

There are 8 little doughy balls in the package and each is a stretchy little dough ball. They are greasy feeling on the tongue, but not so oily on the fingers. The inside looks a lot like mochi (pounded rice cake) and is chewy like mochi, but less refined. The cheese flavor is so subdued as to be nearly absent. In fact, I wonder if the "cheese" aspect is mainly to get them to look orange. The ingredients list does include "cheese cream" and "natural cheese", but they are a bit far down on the list after the basic bread-making ingredients.

I ate these over a three-day period and I really liked them as a sort of wicked little bread snack. I don't know how bad they really are for you because Yamazaki-pan rarely gives nutrition information on its packaged bread products. In fact, on more than one occasion, I've had an interest in something they offer but passed on it because I had no idea what I was eating. This time, I just took the plunge anyway.

I wish these were cheesier, but they really hooked me with their texture and overall taste which I wish I could describe more effectively. The flavor is very subtle and probably would have been more pronounced with a bit more salt in the mix. At any rate, these pair well with soup or simply as a snack with some weight. If you come across them, they're well worth a sampling and are a unique experience.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mintia Summer Powerful Plum

Beavis and Butthead is coming back to MTV, and this may seem like a strange association, but I sampled this Mintia in honor of their return. If you weren't around during this particular era, the dynamic dimwits used to hawk Mintia in Japan. I'm not really much of a mint fan, which is odd since I've become such a gum fan and the two tend to go hand in hand and I never tried Mintia before this. However, I do like Beavis and Butthead, and you can reach whatever conclusions that you like about me as a consequence of that admission. I'm secure enough in my intellect not to feel that liking really dumb comedy reflects poorly on me. Really. I'm not insecure. Nope.

I chose this flavor because it's about as Japanese a flavor as one is going to get. There are little blobs of what look like umeboshi (pickled plum) dancing over a Hiroshige-style wave. The little banner on the right is reminiscent of those that hang outside of shops, particularly when they advertise Japanese shaved ice (kakigori). I found this at Family Mart convenience store for 120 yen ($1.54) and snapped it up in a rush before heading back to work.

Plum can be a bit of a risky flavor in Japan, as I learned when a student once gave me a hard candy flavored with "ume". It was a horrendous mix of sour vinegar flavors and sweet sugary flavor with harsh plum. When I popped the top on this, it smelled funky, but also familiar. I recognized it as a scent reminiscent, but far from identical to umeboshi. This was worrying, but I gamely tried them anyway. Each mint is extremely tiny. In fact, I'd wager they are 1/3 to 1/2 the size of a Tic Tac. I had to eat about 3 at once to get a sense of the taste.

As for the flavor, it has the slight tang and sour flavor of pickled plum with a decent level of sweetness. It's an odd combo, but it works. In fact, it worked so well that I rubbed a sore spot on my tongue sucking on these things repeatedly. They're pressed powder and a bit abrasive so if you stupidly overdo it, like I did, then you're going to regret it. I was surprised at how much I loved these, but they may not "work" for everyone.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Random Picture #74

My husband and I sometimes enjoy just picking a station which has little fame associated with it and just wander around the area to see what pops up of interest. Sometimes, we find something delightful and, at others, we find that the lack of a reputation is well-deserved. One of the places we went to was Tachikawa, a relatively big place with relatively little to recommend itself to us personally. It was mainly populated by various soft gambling establishments (pachinko and slots). It did have this burger joint, which had a name which caught my fancy. It's not especially strange, except for the fact that it implies there is only one burger and you have finally located it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sunkus/Circle K White Sour Cream Daifuku

If you live in a linguistically odd environment long enough, you stop seeing strange things as strange. This is a fact that I was reminded of when I mentioned to my friend Shawn (noted wombat-stuffer and center of the known universe... at least as he knows it) that I was about to partake of some "white sour cream daifuku." He said, "is there any other kind of sour cream (other than white)?" He may have delusions of his own grandeur and a predilection for certain marsupials, but he did have a point.

There's something peculiarly interesting about the use of sour cream in daifuku. Since dairy culture isn't something I associate with traditional Japanese cuisine (I hang that on Europeans), mixing it with this type of sweet intrigued me. I found this at Sunkus (which apparently means "thanks" in Japan, though I know why, don't ask me to explain as it's boring), a convenience store I rarely frequent because it's off my beaten path. There are eight somewhat bigger than 100-yen/quarter coin-size blobs of mochi-covered filling in the bag and it costs 160 yen ($2).

They smell somewhat glue-like, but that's the mochi (pounded rice cake) exterior. The blobs are soft and the exterior is slightly chewy. Inside, there is a slightly jelly-like filling surrounded by a thin layer of marshmallow. They are not too sweet, but also not too bland and there is a definite bite of sour cream which resembles yogurt. The flavors have good depth and even the marshmallow comes through as a separate taste experience.

This is a delicious combination of tastes and textures which I will definitely revisit in the future and highly recommend to anyone who enjoys yogurt-like flavors and the texture of mochi. Each is big enough for two satisfying bites and only 42 calories. It's well worth the cost and the caloric density.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Spicy Chicken Wings Pretz

Once a year, usually around the summer in my experience, Glico issues regional flavors of Pretz. For East Japan, the flavors are these spicy chicken wing pretzels and gyoza (pot sticker). West Japan gets yuzu koshoo (boy, do I envy that!) and a peppered fish flavor (which I envy a good deal less). This King Solomon approach, split the country in half and divide the Pretz between them, is ameliorated to some extent by the inclusion of two nation-wide varieties, one of which I will review at a later date.

You can buy these nearly anywhere right now, but I got them for a mere 50 yen (64 cents) at a discount snack shop in Koenji called Okashi no Marche. I've mentioned this place before. They are absolutely the cheapest game in town when it comes to snacks, though they also carry some pretty expensive imports (especially from the U.K. and Russia). They had four varieties of Pretz available. I'm not sure why they were so cheap, but I wasn't going to turn down the chance to sample them for that price. One box has two packages of about 1 oz. (28 grams) each and provides 137 calories. It's a good portion size for serious salty snacking.

These have a nice savory flavor which hits the hardest on the first few sticks. There's a peppery flavor and savory chicken and garlic in the mix. The saltiness level is just about right, but a little more might not have hurt. My main "issue" with these is that the flavor seems to be something one acclimates to rather rapidly. After about 6 sticks, you mainly just taste pretzel. It could be my tongue, or it could be there's something about these spices. Regardless, these are good pretzels and, if nothing else, the flavor acclimation issue may encourage lighter consumption. I'd definitely buy them again.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Glico Bisco Banana and Strawberry

Bisco is one of those things I've seen for decades but never expected to sample. This is because the front of the package depicts a baby and I assume these are biscuits for teething children. My view on this matter did not change, but was rather changed for me when I bought a small package of Collon for review. I didn't heed the signs very well and when I got to the check-out counter, I was told that I needed to buy three of the small packaged snacks for 100 yen ($1.24) so I rushed over to the rack and grabbed two of the first things in the general vicinity of the Collon. They were these two packages of baby biscuits.

So, now that I've spent all of 66 yen on these, I'm going to review them no matter how silly I feel eating food marketed for little kids. Based on the image on the package, these are pretty darn close to being teething biscuits... not that I'm embarrassed or anything to be gnawing on something designed for people who have no teeth. I probably will, one day, also have no teeth, though with no hope of new ones coming in.

Each little cookie is about half the size of an Oreo with a smidge of cream filling inside. The machines that make these aren't particularly careful about how they assemble them. The bottom of the cookie is sometimes the top (as you can see by the one on the right above). Each smells a bit of the fruit it is supposed to be. Both are comprised of the same fairly bland, cracker-like cookies sandwiching a modestly sweet filling with good, but not overpowering banana and strawberry flavors.

I liked these, to be perfectly honest. They're certainly not an Oreo or Nutter Butter or super sweet sandwich cookie, but I really liked the flavor of the outer biscuit. It has a real sense of being an old-fashioned baked cookie which wasn't formulated to get people addicted to eating tons of them. They're made with wheat germ which brings in a somewhat earthier flavor than usual for a cookie. Each packet has only five cookies (approximately 20 calories each, about half the total size of an Oreo) stacked on top of each other. They pair well with tea.

Would I buy these again? Absolutely. I might not buy them a lot, but if I was at work and wanted a little packet of cookies to have as a snack, these would suit me better than some sugary alternatives. That being said, I'm not sure they're going to be that appealing to people who aren't very keen on whole grains and less sweet biscuits.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cherie Dolce Oishii Soy Latte

I know my readers sit around believing I live the glamorous and fast-paced life of a small-time snack food reviewer. While you may believe that I'm showered with freebies from companies who are grateful to have their products displayed on my puny blog and that I'm sitting around in an evening dress and heels delicately ingesting delicious tidbits, the reality is quite different.* I am constantly torn between my desire to just eat what I buy and the need to take pictures of things and write a review as I enjoy something. Because of this, I often take a few crappy pictures (ample evidence of that on this blog), enjoy my food or drink and then place my garbage in a discreet location until I'm actually ready to write something. I have to keep the packaging until the review is done in such cases because I may need to refer to it. Also, it reminds me that if I want to stop attracting flies and roaches, I'd better get a review written before too much time passes.**

I found this for 160 yen ($2.02) at Sunkus convenience store. Cherie Dolce is their line of fresh snacks and drinks. It's something which I have little experience with because I tried some cheesecake type sweet from that line a long time ago and there were tiny little stale croutons at the bottom of it. I'm not exaggerating.*** This caught my eye on one of the many sweltering days we've been experiencing. I thought a cold coffee sounded good and was won over by the fact that a 190 ml. cup has only 106 calories. That makes it similar to what I'd make at home on the calorie front, though quite a bit more expensive.

This was quite sweet with a good strong, but not overbearing coffee flavor. The soy flavor seems fairly indistinguishable from milk-based lattes offered by other companies. Only at the end of a sip could I detect it rather slightly. All of these coffee drinks in Japan (and there are a lot of them) are either unsweetened or very sweet. This one was made with both maltodextrin and sugar as well as "creaming powder", soy milk, and coffee (of course).

I'd buy this again, though not often. This isn't because I didn't like it, but mainly because I tend not to buy cold coffee or tea beverages much and this wasn't spectacular. The packaging on these really makes me feel guilty, though you'd think that anyone in my line of low-paid work (snack reviewing) would be better at quelling her cognitive dissonance about the waste created by consuming processed foods. This is a decent enough cold coffee, but I wouldn't recommend anyone go out of their way to choose it over any other.

*That's all a lie. I know no one thinks that.

**That's also a lie. I have to wash trash before I can throw it away so it's actually clean.

***Really, I'm not. They were actually regular croutons like you get in a salad and they were stale.

Random Picture #73

Click to see a larger picture with more detail.

There's a game center near one of our local stations which seems to be stocking increasingly  high numbers of food prizes. Instead of cuddly little furry numbers, it seems that their gamers would prefer salty or sweet treats and figures of girls with their panties exposed or famous anime character-related items. We ran across one prize that was doing its best to cater to all sorts. These are cans of "miracle fruit" with a "One Piece" theme. If you've never heard of it, this "miracle fruit" is a little dried thing which changes the way your taste buds perceive sour food. A lemon becomes sweet (as the can tells us). In fact, I think the deal is everything becomes sweeter.

One Piece has been wildly popular for quite some time, but the commercialization of it seems to continuously rev up. I see more and more crap with its characters and logo everyday. I once attempted to watch an episode and found it unbearable (the first episode of the animated series). I think there's a good chance the manga may be less maddening, or it could just be my upper middle-aged brain's incapacity to grasp what the kids are into these days.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Monteur Custard and Whip Waffle

There was a Belgian waffle craze in Japan sometime in the late 80's or early 90's when I first arrived. I don't know if that set off placing waffle-based snacks as permanent fixtures in markets and convenience stores or if they were there greatly prior to that time. However, if you ever hanker for a cold, pre-cooked waffle, nearly any store has your back in Tokyo. These types of things are everywhere, and this brand can be had at nearly any major supermarket.

Since I've seen these packages of 4 waffles (usually for around 300 yen) for quite some time, I finally decided to take the plunge. The main appeal is that they are full of two of my favorite substances in the world - cream and custard - and are only about 100 calories each. Occasionally, I get an angel cream of custard cream donut for breakfast, but that requires a 10-minute walk each way and having something like this on hand means I can have the fatty goodness without the groggy semi-conscious trek. Of course, this is no donut.

The company that makes these, Monteur, manufactures quite a few similar types of sweets sold in the refrigerator sections of markets and konbini.Their range is not broad and focuses on cream-filled things like Swiss rolls, crepes, and chou creams. They do make a limited range of puddings and Japanese-style sweets as well. However, I rarely see those offerings in shops in my area.

It's growling at me.

The waffles are soft and fluffy and dominate the flavor profile. The custard comes in second, but doesn't have much flavor. Both the cream and custard lend texture for the most part, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. The waffle itself has a good "baked good" thing going on for it. It's not too sweet, which might not work for some people, but was good with me.

As a small, portion-controlled sweet for tea time, this makes for a pretty nice snack. It would probably also work as a component of breakfast in a pinch, particularly if it is served with fruit to round it out. Though I only picture one option here, I tried two varieties. Besides this mix of whipped cream and custard, there is also a blended version which has a light yellow version of custard and whipped cream together. I got that version on sale for a mere 125 yen ($1.63) because its expiration date was 3 days away. I actually liked it even better than this, but I'd go for either if I was in the mood and stumbled across them.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fujiya Big Milky Balls (QR)

My New Year's fukubukuro continues to be a snack review albatross around my neck. Yes, it's past the middle of the year and I'm still working my way through those surprise bags of processed food. As time goes by, the less thrilling stuff gets just that much older, and though the name "big balls" sounds impressive, these are really just large gumball-size wads of white taffy candy. The big selling point for them is that they are 1.7 times their previous size. Woohoo?

These are standard taffy balls in many ways. When warm, they are soft and easy to chew. When cold, they are hard a chore for the jaw. I first sampled these in February and remember having them stick to my teeth and tax my muscles quite a bit more. In July, they're not nearly such a hassle. The main difference is in the flavor which is rather buttery and fatty compared to similar things I've sampled back home. There isn't a strong flavor, which probably isn't a bad thing since "milk" flavor in Japan often means actual "milk" and not "vanilla". That often means "powdered milk" taste, not good farm fresh delight.

These aren't bad at all, but any sort of taffy candy is essentially grandma's territory and hard to get too excited about At only 23 calories per ball, it's not a bad way to get something sweet in your mouth for awhile, but eating just one makes my teeth ache and this isn't my sort of candy. I figure that it'll probably take me the rest of the year to get around to finishing the remainder of this small bag.

Glico Ta Pasta Pepperoncino

 Ta Pasta is one of those things that has been on my mind for quite some time. This is because the concept sounds interesting, but it's also because it has such a shiny silver package. Those of us with short attention spans are lured to such trivial details.

Rather more seriously, the flavors of the Ta Pasta line have always intrigued me, but not quite enough to get me to buy it until I found it on sale for about 130 yen. Usually, I see these for closer to 160 yen.The bag is 40 grams and has 176 calories.

My feeling every time I see these is that they are pretzels with an odd name. IN fact, if you look at them, they have the same marks on them as pretzel sticks. This is a land of things which are named in foreign languages which don't necessarily contain what the name might indicate. I once bought saw a box of condoms named "Passion Mint Jelly". There was no jelly in the box.This was before I realized that Japanese condoms are not exactly suitable for foreign males.

So, thinking these were probably pretzels, I purchased them only to discover that there is truth in advertising. This is pasta which is hard and crispy and seasoned strongly with garlic and less so with chicken and Italian pepper. They're fairly strong in terms of flavor and rather tasty and savory when it comes to their seasoning. However, the basic flavor of pasta as a background to the salty, powdery goodness on the outside isn't one that really lights my fire. If you've ever gnawed on an uncooked bit of pasta, it has a bit of that going for it. It's a carby, starchy flavor without the yeasty, light overtones of a bread-based snack (like a pretzel) or the potato crispiness of a chip based one (or the absolute awesomeness of corn).

These are fine. Really. There's nothing wrong with them but they're just not for me. I'm just not a big fan of that raw pasta flavor which whispers in the background. If you dig that sort of thing, and like garlic, I'd recommend giving this a go.