Sunday, March 1, 2009
Hard Stick Vanilla Pretzel Snack
There are so many rip-offs of the Pocky concept on Japanese shop shelves that it would be impossible to try them all unless one were to go on an all pretzel-based diet. Usually, I give the "stick" aisle a passing glance and waltz on by, but this box caught my eye mainly because of the inelegant name. How can I resist biting into a "hard stick"?
These are made by a company called Kabaya which started doing business in 1946. They make a variety of candy and cookies, but they also sell small toys with incidental bits of candy. Most of the toys are cute trinkets in the 200-300 yen ($2.13-$3.20) range and are keychain-size items made of plastic or cloth. The name of the company, oddly enough, relates to hippos (which is "kaba" in Japanese). It's a little like a confectioner naming his business "pig shop" in English and expecting the customers not to draw any conclusions about the effects of consuming their treats on their bodies. Some things work in Japan that would never work in Western cultures.
Kabaya has released three varieties of this "hard stick". My local shop had strawberry and vanilla in stock, but there is also a chocolate version. I chose the vanilla in part because of the promise of German alps rock salt in the mix. Salty and sweet can often be mixed to yield pleasing results.
There are two packets of about 15 sticks in the box, which is really too many in one packet. The entire box has 328 calories, so each stick is around 11 calories. The packets, once opened, are hard to re-seal and I'm guessing they won't be great if they're stale. The sticks are fairly slender. They are not as thick as the average Pocky so the coating to pretzel ratio is bigger.
When you open the packet, it smells of vanilla and sweetness. The first bite is immensely sweet and strongly vanilla. In fact, the vanilla is so overwhelming that it's easy to conclude it's artificial, but there are real vanilla beans in it. If you took a salt-less pretzel and dipped it in vanilla powdered sugar, it'd taste like these. Around the third stick (which is where I stopped eating), your tongue gets used to the sweetness and it seems less overbearing.
These are not bad at all, but they are so cloyingly sweet that I find it hard to enjoy them. They reminded me a lot of canned Betty Crocker vanilla frosting that is sold in the U.S. I was most disappointed in the fact that the salt element appears to be so subdued as to be essentially absent. Still, if you're a fan of strong, sweet vanilla, these might float your boat.