When I thought about coming home to the U.S., there were things I thought I'd never eat again and the Japanese-style custard/cream cakes were one of those things. It's not only that they weren't the most appealing of Japanese snacks (they're not), but rather that I expected not to have access to them. Surprisingly, they are quite easy to come by in Northern California. Even more surprisingly, they're often not particularly expensive. And far less surprisingly (3 surprises in one paragraph!), they're no better than I remembered.
Given my low expectations, one might wonder why I even bother to review such things. There are many reasons... nostalgia, hope springing eternal, the unusual flavor possibilities, stupidity... those are just a few of those reasons. Also, it is my "job" to do these posts for less than the wages paid to waiters and waitresses (which is to say, something around $2.30 an hour) and I have to review something. Beyond that, on the package, it says in English, "a first-class cook seasoned these dishes with advanced techniques and highest-class materials." That's some promise! How can I resist finding out just how advanced and high class they are?
Though these are covered with Japanese writing and look for all the world like they were made in Japan (no other language is on the package), they're actually made in Vietnam. Kinh Do Group mainly makes food, but has a few other businesses on the side. They sell a fruit candy which has a pretty cool name called "Crundy". It's not quite as awesome as Crunky (which sounds like a synthesis of "crunchy" and "funky"), but it's still pretty good. This sounds like the shotgun wedding between "cruddy" and "candy". If I ever find any "Crundy", I'm absolutely going to review it.
I found these on sale at Han Kook Korean market for the bargain price of $2.49 for a packet with 10 individually wrapped cakes about the size and appearance of a small hockey puck. They're about 3/4 of the size of my dainty lady palms. Each cake is 87 calories in Japanese, and apparently 90 calories in English (there are slightly different details in the nutrition information based on which you read). Based on the ingredients, most of those calories are coming from the "tiramisu cream" and the fat included in it. The major ingredient of it is "margarine", so there's some trans-fat goodness in there as well as palm oil and a host of chemicals. Yum, yum.
As you can see by the cutaway above, the cream is not exactly dominating the cake and the first one I ate actually had about half the cream you see in this one. I think it wasn't that it wasn't properly filled, but rather that some of it was absorbed into the cake through time. These were probably on the cheap side because they were closer to their expiration date than most customers might be comfortable with. One interesting aside about such dates in the U.S. for Asian products. In Japan, no one will touch such products and they aren't even sold in most shops. In the U.S., I regularly see expired or nearly expired products on sale. There's a whole section of Daiso Japan which always carries items past their sell-by dates. Instead of the usual $1.50 each, they're a dollar.
Getting back to this cake, however... This isn't a bad bit of shelf-stable cake at all. It's just not especially good either. If the filling were creamier and had more of a flavor profile, it might even be worth a semi-happy sumo rating despite the dry coffee-flavored cake. I'll finish the package very slowly over time, but it'll be the sort of thing that I eat when I have a craving for cake and there's nothing else in the house or when I have a feeling of wanting to eat some "bad" junk food. That means it'll probably take awhile to finish off 10 cakes.