Friday, September 28, 2012

BK's Black Burger and McDonald's KitKat Strawberry Flurry (Product Info.)

There are two things to mention today. One is that, on Friday, September 28, Burger King is offering a limited edition burger with a black bun. This has been mentioned in a lot of other news outlets that are far bigger than my blog so I don't want that to be the only focus of this post. The burger is to bring attention to the fact that it is Burger King's 5th anniversary in Japan. The thing is, it's not really their 5th anniversary. Burger King was in Japan far earlier, but they failed and disappeared then returned. They opened their first business in 1982 and closed in 2001, so this celebrates the last 5 successful years from 2007-2012. It's a little like Liz Taylor's two marriages to Richard Burton and pretending the first time never happened.

Image taken from Burger King Japan's press release on their web site.

The burger's bun is black because it has been mixed with squid ink. I'm sure that'll get your mouths watering. There is also something about bamboo charcoal being used to bring out the flavor of the burger and the bun. Some outlets are mistakenly reporting that the buns are black because of the charcoal, but I think that's a mistake as they'd have to be burned to a crisp to be so black due to any sort of cooking. There's also paprika as part of the flavor profile.

If I were still in Japan, I wouldn't touch this with a 10-foot pole because I don't eat beef. My husband probably would have tried it, but I'm guessing even he might have been put off by the notion of squid ink in his food. I'm sure that it's far less disgusting than it sounds, but it sounds fairly gross. Anyway, by the time you read this, the burger will be finished since it'll only be available in limited quantities for one day.


Image taken from McDonald's web site.

On the side of BK's rival, McDonald's, there is a somewhat more compelling item. They're selling a "MacFlurry" which is blended with strawberry sauce and little bits of KitKat. I don't know if it is a coincidence, but this is being released on the same day as the black burger (September 28). It's available for 230 yen ($3.07) from 10:30 am and can't be had at all shops, but it will be around for longer than a single day.

The image makes it appear that the bits of KitKat are actually pretty tiny. This isn't surprising since too much candy in it would make the result too sweet for Japanese tastes. The big focus is on the strawberry sauce. If anyone in Japan gives this a try, I'd be curious about the sweetness level and the textural aspects. It seems like very little of the wafers would come through with such specks of KitKat as shown here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Random Picture #132

Click to see a larger version and read the heartfelt message on the package.

I never bought Sanritsu's "Genji Pie", but I was given plenty of snacks of the exact same type throughout my employment at a Japanese company. Such pies are not very sweet, very flaky and have varying degrees of margarine or butter flavoring. My husband is a fan of such treats, but they don't tend to do much for me. I think it's the fact that they're always shedding bits of pie off like errant dandruff with every bite. I should note, incidentally, that one of my strongest memories of my earliest visit to Japan relate to the blueberry pie that Sanritsu made. It was one of the few snacks that my husband trusted before he understood what he was buying.

The message on the package is of special interest to me because, though the English is correct, the message is the sort that you would only find in Japan. It's so genuine and inappropriately warm for a product, especially a shelf-stable mass produced flaky pie-crust cookie. It's not like it was lovingly crafted by teams of grandmas, or even Lucyesque wacky grandmas trying comically to quickly make these pies on the conveyor belt. No, it's the cold hand of technology that is attempting to warm me up, and it can't do it with a mere pie.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Taiko Brown Sugar Sticks

The translation of the word "bo" to English from Japanese is usually "stick", but a better translation of these would be "tube". In America, I can't think of any snack that is commonly sold in this format, to be honest. In Japan, there are both savory and sweet airy, crispy tubes to be had. The style allows you to present a large-sized snack without giving a heavy volume. It's easy to eat one or two and be satisfied and have the illusion that you've eaten a decent amount without putting away too many calories. I'm sure that really has nothing to do with why these are formed as tubes, but it is a little side benefit.

Thinking about this makes me wish I could have visited a factory at which this style of snack was made. The most popular "bo" snacks are made by Yaokin, a maker of oily, spicy corn-based tubes sold in foil packages with colorful cartoons on them. I'm guessing they would have been the most likely to allow for a factory tour, but I'm not sure they'd want my gaijin (foreigner) cooties nosing around their nice, clean corn snack facility. At the very least, they probably would require me to put on a hazmat suit and an industrial-sized hair net (I have a lot of hair).

Getting back to the point, I'm guessing these are tube-shaped because they are prepared on some sort of spindle. The hole in the center is likely whatever pole they're baked around. The fact that they're oblong means the batter droops off of the stick they're hanging on as they're prepared. It is likely an old-fashioned way of making things which America never adapted as it's a younger culture and most of what we have is shaped by the cold hand of technology and the assembly line rather than a process designed to be manipulated by human hands. It feels like a bit of cultural anthropology to over-think this, but it does seem that older cultures that build their cuisine on what was once a single portion size made by and sold by hand and sold to individuals that continue the same size even in the mechanical age have a leg up on portion control. History plays a part in such things, I believe.

This is my second go at Taiko's stick snacks and they earned my trust with the sweet potato cookies I sampled before. Just as I scored those at the Daiso Japan in Mountain View, I scored these. It was a toss up between a vanilla flavor and brown sugar and this won by virtue of being on sale for a dollar/78 yen (marked down from $1.50/117 yen). Also, I love brown sugar, though it's important to note that Japanese brown sugar is different from that in America. It's hard to quantify a flavor difference, but there is either less molasses in it or a different sort in the Japanese variety.

These sticks didn't taste as I expected. Mainly, I expected a more profound sweetness (though they are sweet, don't get me wrong) and stronger brown sugar flavor. The odd thing is that they were rather less sweet than the sweet potato ones despite being essentially sugar-flavored. I also felt that, while black sesame seeds (goma) paired extremely well with the sweet potato version, it wasn't quite so natural a complement to brown sugar. That is not to say that these are bad at all. They're perfectly serviceable and have the same satisfying crispiness and light airy quality as the other one I tried and less sweetness didn't necessarily mean they weren't good. The main drawback was that there was an odd taste which I would say was somewhat caramel-like or coffee-like which I could not pin down. I didn't care much for that flavor. I'm guessing it is something about how they are baked that creates it, not an actual additive since the ingredients list is brown sugar, sugar, wheat flour, bread crumbs, corn grits, vegetable oil, sesame, caramel color and soybeans.

I liked these pretty well, but not as much as the sweet potato variety. I love the texture and crunch of this line of snacks and will definitely try other varieties, but this isn't a flavor I'm likely to try again if I have other options. If I have no other choice, I would definitely get these again though rather than eschew them.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Temple of Heaven Gunpowder Green Tea

I've heard for years that the Chinese eat all sorts of weird things, and I've known for some of those years that things like 1,000 year old eggs aren't actually as nasty as they sound. Some other things, like bird's nest soup, are even worse than they may appear. FYI, 1,000 year-old eggs are preserved for a mere 100 days, which is somewhat less gross than those ten times older. Bird's nest soup, which sounds like some sort of crunchy Euell Gibbons bark-eating extravaganza that'll keep your bowels in working order, is made with a nest that is made with saliva, which is an incredibly disgusting notion.

Keeping in mind that oddly named Chinese food is an adventure, I found it hard to walk away from this box of "special gunpowder" green tea when I found it on the shelf of a middle eastern market for a mere $1.89. The market, if anyone is interested and in the area, is in Santa Clara, CA and is called "Zad Grocery". I mention it mainly because this is a very low price for this tea compared to what I found for it via online sellers. Amazon carries it for $5.69, but I'm guessing that ethnic groceries in various areas would offer a more competitive price just as Zad Grocery did for me.

When I bought this, I didn't really believe it was going to include gunpowder. Well, I sort of felt it might be. After all, bird's nest soup does include a spit-based bird's nest. Sometimes things are what they sound like. However, before I set the tea a steepin', I investigated it to see what the deal was and it is one of those things which has a name based on appearance rather than on ingredients. The tea leaves are rolled such that they resemble gunpowder. No actual gunpowder was to be ingested. Part of me was relieved. Part was disappointed. The latter part must be some sort of suicidal streak for which I should seek some sort of psychological intervention.

As for this tea, one thing I was careful about was the steeping time. I know from experience that over-steeping green tea of any sort can render it undrinkable. While overdoing black tea (English tea) can make it bitter and involve large lashings of milk to off-set the tannin overload, it completely kills green tea if you let it soak too long. I used a timer and watched the color and it seemed that around a minute and a half worked well for my tastes. It was strong enough for some distinct flavor, but not at a funkified state. Note that I used a tea ball infuser and only about half a teaspoon of tea leaves so there was plenty of room for them to bloom as it steeped. I also swished the infuser around several times during the steeping. The water was a shade below boiling.

I usually don't make hot tea in this sort of glass, but I had to use something clear to show the color. I risked burning my hand for my dubious "art". 

Note that I read awful reviews of this on Amazon from people who claimed that there was "dirt" in the tea. My guess is that they expected it to be like Japanese green tea which is, well, green. I've had "golden" green tea from Hong Kong before and it is actually brown. This tea is also brown. That's not because it's dirty or has dirt in it, but because that's rather a natural color for certain types of tea including black teas. You'd think people would be a little less freaked out by brown tea after years of Tetley and Lipton in their cups, but I guess they took the "green tea" part literally (though I'm guessing they didn't get nearly so worked up that it wasn't a box full of gunpowder and that that was not something they took literally).

 The smell and taste of the tea reminded me strongly of oolong tea. It had just a hint of chlorophyll which moved it a notch closer to Japanese green tea, but it's such a vague whisper that I may even have imagined it. This is a very serviceable tea for those who like it straight and with a vague almost "roasted" flavor and earthy highlights. I've heard that oolong tea is made by allowing the leaves to wither on the vine a bit, and I think that is what separates it from Japanese green tea.

I wouldn't say this is the most incredible tea I have ever had, but it is tasty and suits one on a cool autumn evening or a cold winter night. I imagine it'd be just as good or possible better served cold in summer. If you can get it economically, as I did, it's absolutely worth a try. I'm not sure I'd pay more for it than oolong tea, but I wouldn't mind always having a box around for when the mood strikes me, and I'm guessing drinking it may have some health benefits as well. Besides, having a box of it on your shelf is sure to be a conversation starter for those evenings when you're entertaining boring guests or relatives.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Random Picture #131

Photo courtesy of BlogD. (used with permission)

Have you ever asked yourself what the next frontier in coffee should be? It already has had milk, sugar, and various flavors added to it. The beans are roasted to various shades and harvested from different areas of the world. You can eat the beans by themselves coated in various candies, you can steep them in water, and chill the result or consume it hot (but never, ever reheat it!). You can bake it into a muffin, add it to a brownie, even put it in sauces for savory dishes. There is one thing that I personally believe that you should not do to coffee, but clearly, Suntory begs to differ. I don't believe that you should ever carbonate it. This has to be one of the most disgusting concepts I've ever heard of. Now, I'll just wait for Suntory to perform the same evil on tea.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Shirakiku Kurogoma Daifuku

Stupid glare.

My husband recently completed a class in which he had to write a paper about the effect of cultural images on him. It made me think about how our shared cultural imagery, like the white Coca-cola logo on a red background, Tony the Tiger telling us that Frosted Flakes are grrrrreat, or Chester Cheetah encouraging us to turn our fingers and tongues orange are things Americans can all understand. I also thought about how, through many years of living in Japan, I came to know and relate to the images of that cultural including Akagi's Gari character and Anpanman. The spread of various cultures worldwide has begun a unification of shared experience such that we can increasingly identify with one another's experiences and find a connection through which we can relate to one another. This is why establishments like McDonald's, which are generally viewed only through the perspective of their negative effects on health and cuisine, may not be entirely seen as harbinger's of a worldwide cultural apocalypse. Perhaps they herald a worldwide expansion of waistlines and narrowing of arteries, but they do provide us all with a common cultural reference. The iconography of the golden arches is one people around the world can identify.

To a lesser extent, the names of companies are part of a shared cultural heritage. Depending on when you grew up and what you watched on T.V., you might have heard of "the Chubb group" (no, it's not a bunch of overweight singers) even if you don't know what business it is in. For those who don't know, it's an insurance company that sponsored a lot of public broadcasting during the days of my youth. When I lived in Japan, I worked directly with corporations as part of my longest running job and came to know the names of plenty of businesses that the Japanese knew well, but Americans would never have heard of. Yes, Virginia, there are more companies out there than Sony, Nintendo, and Toyota.

Through this blog, I further developed a pretty good understanding of food manufacturers in Japan. I didn't watch much T.V., so I didn't see commercials (which has been the primary way that I came to know America food producers), but I have done enough research to recognize the big guns in the Japanese snack world, and there are more out there than Nestle Japan, Morinaga, and Glico. Since coming back to the U.S., I sometimes feel a little thrill when I find something made by one of the familiar names from my time in Japan. I think the bigger surprise though is how infrequently I come across them. There is a whole range of Japanese and Japanese-sounding companies that produce food for export, but either don't produce them for the domestic market or do so under another name. This is a whole new level of corporate identity education for me, and it feels really strange to find this other layer. The company that made this daifuku, Shirakiku, is one of the places that falls in this new strata.

The company that makes this is Nishimoto, which is, according to their web site, a "100%" Japanese company with a wholly owned subsidiary in the U.S. The company began in 1912, which means this year is its 100th anniversary. Omedetou gozaimasu, Nishimoto (that's "congratulations"). They started off doing food trading between China and Japan, but switched over to the U.S. After a brief hiccup during World War II (for reasons one can guess), they have had increasingly impressive sales in the U.S. dealing in rice, snacks, frozen food, prepared food, and some drinks. The weird thing is that I don't recall ever buying their products in Japan, even though they clearly are a pretty major company. Previously, I reviewed an anpan that they distribute in America.

I realize that my fascination with such things exceeds that of my readers, and I hope that those of you who are bored to tears skipped to the end of the review where I talk about the food instead of falling asleep on your keyboard. Don't sue me if you have keyboard imprints in your forehead or chipped a tooth on the edge of your desk. I make no guarantee when it comes to the entertainment value of any of my blogs. You could demand your money back, of course, and a court may require me to reimburse you for your investment, but I'm guessing it wouldn't be worth the cost of a lawyer.

At any rate, the value of buying goods produced by someone who does so especially for America is that you get them at a lower cost. Instead of them being made to optimize costs in Japan, they are made to be affordable right here. This is the reason I'm sure this only cost me 99 cents (77 yen) at Nijiya supermarket in San Jose's Japantown. It was cheaper that I'd pay for such a thing in Tokyo at that rate.

For a daifuku, and a daifuku to those who don't know is a blob of glutinous rice cake filled with sweetened bean paste/jam (or some other filling), this is a bit small at 95 grams (3.35 oz.), but is certainly a hefty bit of Japanese sweet.The outside is beautifully studded with black sesame seeds and the weight of it is largely coming from a generous interior of relatively coarsely mashed red beans.

They're not really meant to be cut in half like this and it's not really a pretty sight with the smeared bean jam.

When you open the packet, you are greeted with the distinctive smell of the black sesame seeds. The mochi has a chewy exterior (think mozzarella cheese crossed with taffy in texture, but not taste) that pairs texturally well with the mashed-potato-like consistency of the anko filling. I was immediately struck by the fact that this is the least sweet daifuku I have ever had. The major flavor focus is on the sesame and anko. The anko is thick and "beany" rather than fine, smooth, and sweet. The mochi is sticky, but easy to chew and fresh. The depth of flavor and complexity of the textures is quite fulfilling, but it can seem a little bland at first since it takes awhile for the flavor to build up speed on your taste buds.

The ingredients list for this is rice flour, red beans, sugar, water, corn syrup, sesame seeds, and potato starch. The package says that this is a "product of U.S.A.", so I'm guessing this was made here for here, but that doesn't detract from the fact that this is very much like what I'd buy in Japan. In fact, given the low sweetness level, and modest 227 calories, this would fit in just fine in a selection of daifuku in Japan.

Sometimes, I strongly crave something with mochi and this really filled the bill. I had gone to Japantown originally to go to a famous sweets shop called Shuei-do, but they were closed and this was what I did to fill the hole. I can't say it is the best daifuku ever, and I absolutely can't say it would eclipse something fresh and hand-made from a sweets shop, but I can say this is pretty darn tasty, economical, and I'd buy it again.

Friday, September 14, 2012

KitKat Senses Hazelnut

There are a lot of facts out there of little or no importance to the public at large. They're the sorts of things that may end up as a Trivial Pursuit question or only be asked when someone is a niche blogger who notices small things which aren't really worth noticing. Though others were already aware of this, I finally figured out that KitKats are made by two different companies and this may account for the way in which American ones differ from those around the world. Hershey's makes the U.S. version and Nestle makes the rest. A good comparison and explanation can be read here.

I worked all of this out because I was pondering why America generally has only boring KitKat flavors (white, milk, and dark) and thought perhaps that I should research whether or not there are some varieties that I didn't yet encounter. That's when I discovered that Hershey's runs the show in the U.S. and they make it the most boring show ever. I guess the fact that KitKats are the best selling candy bars in the world makes them complacent. Frankly, I feel taken for granted, Hershey's, and I refuse to buy any of your boring KitKats even though I am back in America again.

I tried to figure out or research why these are named "Senses", and it seems it is nothing more than implying this will delight your senses. The commercials seem to emphasize the lower calorie nature (165), lightness, and the added "surprise" of the hazelnut cream. There is another variety, which may or may not be on the market, which includes caramel cream instead of hazelnut. I can't understand why anyone would think that was a good idea.

Clearly, this is not an American bar since it is hazelnut, which is really not the most exotic flavor out there, but it is very attractive to those of us who can't buy a jar of Nutella for fear that we'll eat half of it at once with nothing more than a spoon. I found this at "Zad Grocery", a place that I saw while my husband and I were driving around near his former childhood home and decided to stop at because it had Arabic writing on it. It was, unsurprisingly, a(n awesome) Middle-Eastern/Indian/African food shop and this bar held appeal because it had Arabic writing on it. However, it was made in Poland. So, I guess that this is an international bar. If you want to get one of these, I'm guessing you can find one easily in Canada or Europe in most shops. In the U.S., I've seen them at Cost Plus World Market and you can find outlets to buy them online.

This bar has 5 little segments so that you can break off small portions. My picture doesn't do a very good job of showing this, but there are wafers on the bottom and a light whipped hazelnut cream on top. It's all covered with the milkiest of milk chocolate. It's very European in taste and smell and closer to Cadbury chocolate than a Hershey's Kiss. The flavor is rich and the texture is very light, but the hazelnut is less a flavor addition which is distinct from the chocolate and more of a modifier of the overall chocolate experience. It is quite sweet, even though it is not American. Frankly, it made my teeth ache a bit when I ate a square, but I loved the taste.

This is a very good bar if you like hazelnut cream, milk chocolate and the crispiness of wafers. If you're familiar with the Kinder Bueno bar, this is like a slightly heavier version of one of those. The Bueno has more hazelnut cream and wraps the wafer completely around the creamy center. This stacks the wafers and puts the cream on top and has a thicker amount of milk chocolate. The Bueno's chocolate coating is a bit inferior to this (and tends to flake off the wafer). In a contest between these two similar bars, I think that ones mood would dictate the winner (sweeter and heavier or lighter and less sweet). I'd definitely have this again though, and it means I have one more chance to tell Hershey that I'll keep patronizing Nestle if they can't justify my KitKat love.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Random Picture #130

Click to see a larger image on which you can read the writing on the can. 
Image courtesy of BlogD (used with permission). 

Long-time readers may recall my review of the beverage "Cola Shock", a drink surely designed for those who are looking for a mixer rather than something one is meant to simply drink down on its own. However, it does have a 5% alcohol content so you could just get loaded on it alone if you can't stomach the taste of beer. I can't stomach the taste of either this vile concoction or any sort of brew. Because of my poor response to it (and my husband's as well, and he does drink alcohol), I'm surprised that it is still on the market. This is a display of this beverage in the present in a redesigned can with a quaint bit of English on it. Perhaps the fact that this is a "crispy" liquid is what gives it lasting appeal. 

For those who can't read it, the can says, "Cola shock is pungent drink with sharp taste. Enjoy the crispy texture.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Look Green Tea Dessert Chocolate

Occasionally, I like to get off my lazy behind and act like I'm a journalist rather than a slacktacular blogger. To that end, I tried to track down why "LOOK" chocolate carries its particular moniker. Sometimes, there really isn't a reason for a product to have an English name. More often than not, I simply can't find it.

I did discover that the box and logo were originally designed by a famous French-born industrial designer named Raymond Loewy. He emphasized simplicity, hence the "look" of "LOOK". I also learned that the first incarnation of LOOK included coffee, strawberry, banana, and caramel flavors. I guess that rules out each letter of the name representing a flavor in the box (or it'd be named CSBC). If any reader knows why these are called LOOK, please clue me in.

I found these near the check-out counter at Nijiya market. I think it cost around $2.00 (156 yen), which is actually a very reasonable price considering these tended to cost 100 yen in Japan ($1.27). You can get them for nearly the same price that I paid via the Asian Food Grocer. Though at the time that I wrote this post, they were out of stock, my guess is that they will get them back in or at least you can inquire about availability.

You may guess that the brown one on the right is the red bean version.

The matcha parfait smells only of chocolate, but when you slip it into your mouth and allow the softish chocolate to melt, it reveals both creamy notes and a nicely sweetened green tea flavor. I've said before that I'm relatively ambivalent about green tea. I've craved it more since leaving Japan, but it's not something I'm over the moon about. I believe that this is definitely an accessible green tea chocolate for those in my position and I really enjoyed the subtle but present matcha notes coupled with a rich, creamy sense.

The matcha adzuki is even more impressive in regards to the depth of flavor. It hits chocolate, red bean, and green tea notes with the tea coming in "last" in the flavor profile and the others holding their own on equal footing. It manages to insert an anko (red bean pastes) flavor without seeming a bit too earthy or gamey (as is sometimes the case with such sweets, like some of the red bean KitKats).

I liked both of these flavors a lot and was really happy to have bought this. LOOK is a chocolate I tended to, well, overlook (no pun intended, but it is duly noted) when I was in Japan. It wasn't as glamorous and often I just felt that the flavor combinations held too many options that didn't seem varied enough or had varieties that I did not like. If you're looking for something approachable to introduce people to green tea sweets, this might work. If you already like them, this might not be bitter enough for you. If you're like me, then you're going to enjoy this.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Halloween Happy Turn (Product Information)

All images were captured from Kameda Seika's Happy Turn web site.

Halloween candy started showing up in shops here shortly before Labor Day. I'm not sure what the official cut-off point is for starting sales of candy that ostensibly is to be distributed at the end of October, but it does seem that any time near start of September is deemed appropriate. Of course, most candy purchased so early sits around and tempts the purchaser and finds its way into happy bellies rather than into Halloween bags and lanterns. And, no, that is not to say that I have succumbed. While I view the enormous bags of tiny candies with curiosity in terms of cost, design, and content, I haven't been compelled to buy any. No, no. I will wait until the holiday is over and they sell them at a reduced price. I haven't been out of mainstream America long enough to forget that!

When I was in Japan, I noticed that the same holiday creep occurred there as does here. Halloween, despite not really being a Japanese holiday, is no exception as evidenced by the options for snacks. Of course, no one is going to be dropping packets of sembei (rice crackers) into the plastic pumpkins of Japanese children since they do not yet trick-or-treat, but packages with a Halloween motif are out there. 

For those who don't remember my review of Happy Turn rice crackers, they are a very popular brand of vinegar, salt, and slightly sweet sembei. I had them quite a few times while in Japan, both in the 200% version that I reviewed and the regular version. In the U.S., I can buy them at the Daiso Japan or Nijiya supermarkets or take your chances on eBay.

The Halloween version of Happy Turn is essentially the same as the regular version. It simply comes in some pretty adorable packaging with a unique Japanese style. Fortunately, you can get your cute mascot on without buying the rice crackers if you are so inclined. You can download two wallpapers in each of two sizes and even some "letter sets" (stationary) templates. The latter is an indication of the fact that Japan is still a culture which embraces a good hand-written letter. You can download them at the following links: orange letter and envelopepurple letter and envelope, orange wallpaper 1024 x 768, orange wallpaper 1280 x 1024, purple wallpaper 1024 x 768, purple wallpaper 1280 x 1024. You can also access them directly through the Happy Turn site, but you'd have to be able to follow the links in Japanese. I'm offering them here for those who can't read it. I don't believe these links will work forever though, so if you want them, I'd suggest downloading them now. I wouldn't be surprised if Kameda Seika removed them after Halloween.

Even if you can't get your hands on the adorable Japanese packaging version, I would recommend sampling Happy Turn if you have a chance (and if you like vinegar flavor). I wouldn't, however, recommend giving it out to trick or treaters. I'm pretty sure they'd egg your house into oblivion.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Random Picture #129

I cracked open his skull and feasted on the goo inside.

One of the last things I did before leaving Japan was make a trip to Takadanobaba, an area known for its college population, and have teppanyaki with some students of mine. Besides being a popular place for the kids who get into Waseda University to hang out, it is known for its association with cartoonist Osamu Tezuka. There is an enormous mural not too far from the Japan Railway station that features his various characters.

The most famous character is Astro Boy, and the streets have pictures of him hanging from various posts. Of course, you can also get yourself some bean cake on and one of my last treats was this white bean cake that I picked up on a long walk home after our teppanyaki meal. This cost 400 yen ($5.09) and was delicious. From where I sit in the U.S. now, where I can get 3 loaves of tasty, buttery pound cake at Costco for $7, this looks insanely expensive for a single serving. However, if I ever make it back to Japan, I'd buy this again.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Tirol Premium Choco Banana

I thought that my days of reviewing Tirol chocolates were over when my airplane left Narita airport on March 29, 2012. I figured that, of all of the things which might be imported, these tiny little squares of 20 yen (26 cents) chocolate would not make the cut. This is because they melt easily, have a low profit margin, and they are not famous among foreigners so people wouldn't know what to make of them when they saw them in stores, unlike KitKats.

The truth is that finding KitKats hasn't exactly been easy in America either, despite the relatively high level of interest in exotic Japanese KitKat flavors. Even places that carry a lot of imported Japanese items tend to focus on sembei (rice crackers), Pocky, and various cooking ingredients rather than on candy bars. I did, however, finally make my way to a major chain of Japanese markets and discovered not only overpriced Japanese KitKats ($7 for a bag of minis), but also this flavor of Tirol candy. Of course, these cost 49 cents and were nearly double their Japan price, but I wasn't going to quibble when I wasn't the one who had to fly over  to Japan and keep the box on my lap on the way home. Also, I'm good with making an investment of about 50 cents to sample something and not so happy about $7 (548 yen, not too different from the retail price of a bag of them in Japan, but no one pays the retail price) on a KitKat flavor that is just a small step removed from what I've tried before. Incidentally, the KitKat flavors on offer were green tea, vanilla ice cream and raspberry, all of which I've had in other iterations before.

This is quite a sophisticated little piece of candy for something you buy in a plastic and foil wrapper in a market. I was impressed that it had four different layers. The outside is a very thin shell of white chocolate. Under the top surface is chocolate syrup with a small amount of banana goop under it. The bottom is a semi-sweet chocolate and the center is a marshmallow. The flavor depth on this is quite surprising. You get banana, which tastes good and as close to "real" as I've had in a such a sweet and a deep semi-sweet chocolate (very reminiscent of Hershey's syrup) which is properly balanced. This actually tastes like a real chocolate banana, but it has the added pleasures of the texture and compactness of chocolate.

Each candy is 49 calories for about a 1" (2.54 cm.) square and is well worth the sugar investment if you're a fan of chocolate-covered bananas. I found these at Nijiya Market in Mountain View, CA. Nijiya has shops in many cities in California as well as one in New York and a few in Hawaii. The package design led me to believe that it was a summer release (the fans) and Tirol's web site lists this as a current variety that one can purchase in convenience stores in Japan. Unfortunately, I know of no mail order options for this or any other Tirol candy. Nijiya has an online shop, but snacks don't tend to be listed there.

This was much more tasty than I expected, particularly since I tend to be unimpressed by banana candy. I love bananas, but find that infusing it into candy tends to be nasty. This worked and I'd definitely buy it again.

Incidentally, if you are interested in some cute wallpapers, you can download them from Tirol's web site here.