Monday, June 11, 2012
Botan Rice Candy
One of my favorite candies in Japan was Bontan Ame. This candy, which resembles fruit jelly candies, is widely available in Japan and considered rather old-fashioned. One of the main features is that it comes with an edible wrapper to protect your fingers from getting too sticky off of the gummy/jelly-like candy. They are covered in a type of material which is frequently used on capsules used for medicine.
The first thing I noticed was that the edible wrapper on this is a much more pleasant experience than the one you get with bontan ame. Where bontan ame turns a bit glue-like and melts a little slowly, this dissolves fast and is hardly noticeable. I always was anxious for the wrapper to get out of my way with the Japanese candies, but I hardly noticed it here. The second point I noticed was that the flavor is much more orange-like than bontan ame. The outside is also slightly crispy, though not really hard. As it warms up, it gets softer and chewier. It's sweet, but not overwhelmingly so and has a pleasant flavor in general tinged with a bit of a floury aftertaste. I imagine this comes from the cornstarch. The flavorings include both lemon and orange.
I loved this and could see eating an entire box in one sitting without hesitation. One box is only 80 calories, but it is also only 6 small pieces. With the price being about $2 (240 yen) per box in American markets (I've seen it in several), this is a financial indulgence. Since a box with 14 pieces of a similar size can be bought in Japan for a mere 100 yen ($1.20), I can't help but feel that this is exorbitantly priced. Of course, you do get a children's sticker which says "printed in Japan" on it, but I hardly think that is worth the extra cost.
The interesting thing for me about experiencing this candy is that it is an import to America from Japan. That explains, at least in part, why it's so expensive since labor costs in Japan are hardly cheap. That being said, I don't understand why Japanese bontan ame has orderly little cubes stacked in the box such that you can get 14 in it and this has a helter skelter sampling of 6 bits with plastic wrapping. Do Americans demand the extra wrapping at the expense of volume? It seems hardly likely.
The company that imports these is called JFC International, and they are responsible for a wide variety of Asian food distribution world-wide. Their web site indicates that they handle over 15,000 products and some of the most popular ones are Japanese. This is no surprise since Japanese cuisine is positively regarded worldwide, and a lot of what might be seen as "exotic" flavors 20 years ago are available even in some remote areas. I was surprised to find tonkatsu sauce in the small rural area I lived on in the San Juan islands, for example. Personally, I'm hoping to get a line on the oil-less sesame dressing that is featured on their front page at present. I used to buy that in Japan all of the time and loved it.
I would definitely buy these again, but not at Safeway supermarket where I paid too much. I would, however, order a 12-pack for $9.51 at Amazon. It's still more expensive than Bontan Ame in Japan because it is a smaller portion, but at least it drops below a dollar a box. I would caution those who know the Japanese domestic product that this is a little sweeter and lacking in the hint of sourness. It's not overpoweringly sweet, but clearly these are not the same formula as Bontan Ame. They're still good though, and I recommend giving them a try.