Showing posts with label yuzukoshoo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label yuzukoshoo. Show all posts

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sanko Seika Yuzu Koshoo Sembei

There's an episode of the Simpsons in which Ralph Wiggum says, "Sleep, that's where I'm a Viking!" In this spirit, Sanko Seika would like you to consider yourself a samurai at sembei (rice crackers). Both of these notions inflame my inner cynic. We seem to be gravitating toward a world that both rewards people for trying (but not necessarily succeeding) at difficult tasks and allows them to have a lofty sense of achievement for succeeding at extremely easy and mundane tasks like eating and sleeping.

If one could be a samurai at eating sembei and if samurai could be women (they can't), then I might actually qualify, though probably not by eating these crackers. For those who don't know or remember, yuzu is Japanese citron. It is tangy like lemon and sometimes slightly bitter like grapefruit. The flavor is fuller-bodied and less mouth-puckeringly sour than lemon and mixes very well with savory, chili flavors (though it works in sweets as well). These crackers are the Japanese equivalent of "lemon pepper", but they don't exactly taste the same as that flavor combo.

Yuzu koshoo is my favorite savory flavor combination for salty snacks. It's unique but approachable for Western palates. For this reason, I was very excited to see this in Marukai supermarket, especially for the very reasonable price of $2.20. That being said, this contains four individual serving packets (around 70 calories each, so not a lot in each one). It's a decent value for an import, but nothing like the volume most Americans are used to getting for their buck when they approach snack treats.

These are what the Japanese often translate as "hard" sembei. They are thin and brittle instead of puffy and airy. I prefer the puffy style, but these are okay as well. I always find the hard sembei to be a bit tough as rice doesn't seem to fry up in the same manner as potatoes. The shellac-like outer coating can also be a bit sticky or tacky to the touch, though these did not have that quality.

The first bite yielded the nice, zesty flavor of yuzu followed by a strong hit of the cooked rice flavor that I've come to know in all forms of sembei. I waited for the peppery chili flavors to hit, and then I waited some more. I thought that there may need to be a build-up of heat and flavor to find the "koshoo" part, but it never came along. The yuzu flavor was nice and quite present, but the pepper was missing in action.

This is the kind of food that I find it difficult to rate. While these are perfectly serviceable and even reasonably tasty, they are far from the best of this type of sembei I've had. The lack of a "bite" from the pepper in a product that is sold as having that flavor is disappointing. While I was perfectly happy to finish the bag and didn't regret buying these, I don't see myself having them again.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Calbee Yuzu Koshoo Potato Chips

My sister-in-law is currently in Madrid visiting family. She hasn't been able to upload many pictures because of her crummy internet there, but she was able to share a picture of a "cronut" being sold in a bakery there for one Euro. Cronuts, for those who have been asleep like Rip Van Winkle for the past year or however long it has been since these were invented, were invented in New York by Dominique Ansel and they are so hot and popular that people wait in line for a long time to buy one. They have spread around the world, though not necessarily in their true (labor-intensive) form. My sister-in-law said that she tried the Spanish cronut and it was essentially deep-fried croissant (laminated) dough cut into the shape of a donut and dipped in sugar.

The Japanese are also in on this whole cronut gig, as you can see by the screenshot I've put above this paragraph. The ad acknowledges, incidentally, that these were born in New York. The Mister Donut Croissant Donut is essentially the same thing that my sister-in-law tried only sliced in half with various types of cream sandwiched in the middle and some icing on the top. It is still not a proper cronut, but closer than what was available in that Madrid bakery.

This post is not about cronuts, but rather about chips, but, as is often the case when I start in one place and end in another, I have a point to make. My point is about what sort of food fads spread like wildfire around the world, like the cronut, and what sort somehow never get off the ground. In my opinion, yuzu koshoo is one of those flavors that, if people knew what it was, would take off if it got the same sort of exposure and press and exposure that Srircha sauce, cronuts, churros, and wasabi tend to get. It is one of my favorite spicy flavors from Japan and it is very hard to find in American.

It was with considerable delight that I bought this 58-gram/~ 2 oz.-bag of Calbee yuzu koshoo chips for $1.99 at San Jose's Nijiya market. I was looking forward to the bright citrus notes of the yuzu and the spicy heat of the chili pepper. Calbee makes one of the best basic potato chips in the world. They're thin, light, crispy, and have a fresh taste that I have not encountered with chips in America. The basic chip can't be beat in my opinion. The question was whether or not the flavoring lived up to its potential. The answer is a mixed one.

When I opened the bag, the first thing I smelled was vinegar. I have to say that, in my limited experience with yuzu koshoo snacks, that was not something I tended to find. The first bite yields a little bit of the citrus flavor of the yuzu and a more potent flavor of vinegar. The chili pepper is hardly there at all and the deeper, more savory flavors of the spice don't come out unless you eat more of them.

These chips are good, very good. I'd put them in the top 15% of chips I have ever eaten, but I wouldn't put them up in the top 50% of yuzu koshoo snacks that I've had. I think these are well worth a try, but I wouldn't say they're worth zeroing in on and seeking out with all of your Popeye-level might. If you see them and you like salt and vinegar chips, these are a refreshing change of pace and a damn fine chip (as long as you like thin and light ones and not thick, greasy, kettle-style ones). I liked these, but I wanted to love them.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bourbon Petit Mame Ring Snack

When I was a kid, I had the experience that so many children are familiar with in which my mother said I couldn't leave the table until I ate my vegetables. In my case, that vegetable was peas. I'm actually pretty open-minded about vegetables in general and will sample, if not eat and enjoy, nearly anything except peas. Oh sure, I'll eat a random pea in a dish full of other items, but I'd never seek out pea soup or buy peas and eat them straight up. My mother made sure that I would forever hate peas by making me sit there until I ate mushy, salty, disgusting canned peas. I don't remember if I gave in, but my distinct impression was that I won rather than my mother or the peas.

In light of that, it is odd that I'd look upon this sleeve of pea-driven salted snacks and decide that, "yes, I will buy this." Trust me when I say that this is in no way some valiant effort to overcome my vegetable traumas from childhood but rather my careless consideration of the Japanese and addled confusion. I read "mame", but my brain "heard" "edamame" (immature soybeans). It also doesn't hurt that this has a picture of a yuzu fruit and the characters for yuzu pepper written on it. I'm a bit nutty for yuzu, as future and past reviews will reveal. 

These smell very "beany", which is no surprise since they are pea-based and the first ingredient is "endo powder" or pea powder. The flavor is comes in layers, and that is always a good thing. The chips are quite tiny and feel very cool on the tongue and you experience the pea flavor first. That is followed by the almost vinegary sourness of the yuzu and finally a slightly peppery kick. I love it when a pedestrian snack has depth of flavor as this does. So often, cheap snacks such as this about 90-yen ($1.17) 39-gram (1.4 oz.) sleeve, rely mainly on crunchiness, greasiness, and salt to make the consumer happy. This has quite a bit more going for it.

I am very attracted in general to Bourbon's Petit line of snacks because of the size, portability and variety and this really is one of the better options for salted snacks that they have offered. The only issue I have with these is that they do have a distinct "Pringles" texture going for them as they are the sort of chip that is pressed together and then fried. It also is pretty fatty and packs 226 calories into this small amount. As long as you don't fool yourself into thinking that pea-based chips are more nutritious than potato ones though, you're going to be okay with that.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Yuzukoshō Gourmet Cheetos

Cross-cultural differences are usually recognized mainly when they are broad and obvious like the fact that Japanese people bow and Americans shake hands. One of the reasons I continue to be interested in Japan (or other cultures for that matter) is that I want to know and understand the subtle differences. I think that the aggregate of those types of differences paints a more detailed and vivid portrait of a different culture than the most obvious differences.

What does this have to do with something as pedestrian as Cheetos? Well, this bag of Yuzukoshō (a fermented spicy seasoning made with Japanese citrus fruit like a lemon and chili peppers) salted corn snack has as a selling point that it contains 100% dark meat pork extract. It fascinates me that this point is so appealing that it's put on the front of the bag in fairly prominent letters. The Japanese clearly value the origin of their pork extracts more than I do.

My husband quickly grabbed these Cheetos, a 70 gram (2.5 oz.) bag, at our local 99 yen store while snapping up other interesting-looking goodies. He didn't pay much attention to what it said. The skewers of grilled meat pictured on the package suckered him in. If he had known it was yuzu and chili, he wouldn't have bought it.

When you open the bag, the strongest scent is of the chili, but also black pepper. The Cheetos look to be liberally sprinkled with it. The flavor is very intense in four layers. There is the sourness of the yuzu, the heat of the pepper and chili, salt, and also sugar. The mix of sweet and salty with sour is actually quite nice, but the sweetness component (which is actually the sweetener Stevia) is amped up a bit too high for my tastes. In general, I like very strong flavors, but this tastes a bit too close to a spice bomb for me. My husband also felt the flavor was too "sharp". These would probably be better if the flavors were at about 70% of their current intensity.

In the end, we'll eat the whole bag (386 calories) because they're not bad at all. I'm guessing they'd be better with a drink of some sort close and hand or as an accompaniment to food so that you could give your taste buds a rest.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kameda Seika Yuzukoshoo Sembei

I sometimes wonder how my approach toward snacks would be different if I knew more about the finer points of Japanese cuisine. I'm certain that plenty of traditional spices and flavors are used in the foods I sample, but I don't even realize it because I lack the proper culinary context. In the case of these sembei, I discovered a new seasoning, yuzukoshoo. It's a fermented seasoning paste often used for things like soup and sashimi.

Because I've turned into quite the yuzu fan, I couldn't pass up this sembei, so I snapped this bag of 12 crackers up at Family Mart for about 150 yen ($1.65). For those who are new to this blog and don't know about yuzu, it's a sour Japanese citrus fruit which is similar to grapefruit in flavor. It's used in many sauces in Japan.

These smell of citrus, sembei, and something which is hard to pinpoint (possibly the chili aspects of the seasoning paste). They smell good in a way that an interesting savory meal might smell while it's cooking. The flavor is a perfect blending of savory elements including the yuzu's citrus, chili, baked rice, and other spices like onion and garlic. There's also something which is ever so vaguely fishy. The texture of the sembei is fresh, light and crispy. Each is 29 calories, and I ate far too many of them at once.

I found these to be a sublime joy and I would definitely have them again. They're one of Kameda Seika's convenience store-only offerings so you'll have to find them at one of the big name conbini. Their web site says that these will only be around for 4 months so run out and get them soon.