Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Slim & Slim Mango and Grape "Jelly"

When I first came to Japan, diet foods were pretty much nonexistent. There were pleasantly chubby Japanese girls, but they were seen as "healthy", not "fat". In the past decade and a half, diet foods and focusing on weight loss has grown exponentially. You see more products with "Zero" on them every year.

Part of me is sad about this because I think that it reflects diet obsession, which is never a good thing. Part of me is glad because I am a willing consumer of such foods. Of course, I have an excuse, I arrived in this country "pre-corrupted" by Western obsessions with dieting. Sometimes I think that the more we focus on our eating, the fatter we get, and I worry that the Japanese may eventually fall victim to the same problems as Westerners as their culture learns to promote fear of weight gain to sell products which eventually end up causing weight gain and food obsession.

Sociological issues aside, and I'm sorry to get so serious, but sometimes things take on a life of their own, I decided to finally dive in and try one of the plethora of zero calorie "jellies" (actually, it's what we call "gelatin" in the U.S.). I've seen big, single-serving size tubs of them in convenience stores and snack shops for quite some time and had passed on them. When these two varieties of smaller size jellies showed up for 89 yen (97 cents) per bag at Okashi no Machioka, I decided to dive in.

Note that I have tried regular (that is to say, sugar-filled) Japanese single serving gelatin tubs before. I wasn't a fan of them because they seemed toothachingly sweet. I can compare these sugar-free versions directly to that version. The first ingredient is Erythritol on both flavors and their respective fruit purees are the second. I don't understand how each can be zero calories and contain fruit puree, but there it is. The mango version is colored with carotene and paprika.

The mango has a pleasantly fruity smell and a nice mango flavor. It's not too strong, but it is rather sweet. It mainly lacks the citrus tones that you get with a real mango, but the flavor isn't bad at all. The grape smells like a grape lollipop and pretty much tastes like one. I think both of these would have a bit more punch with some citric acid or the equivalent.

I tried these both refrigerated and at room temperature and they're more pleasant when cold. The texture is pretty much what you'd expect for gelatin, though this is less firm and rather soft set compared to American gelatin like that you make with Jell-O mixes. Both also have a bit of liquid which tastes like juice around the outside.

These are pleasant tasting and not painfully sweet (which is better than the sugar-based jellies I tried before). They're even a little bit of a refreshing mouthful (each tub is 22 grams/.77 oz.) in hot weather when you have them cold. The thing that did surprise me though is that they tended to suppress appetite. Perhaps the gelatin is designed to achieve this effect, or it was just psychology, but I really did find that eating two of them (I tended to eat one of each flavor each time) killed my hunger for awhile.

I'd recommend buying these and putting one in your refrigerator if you're on a diet or have a tendency to eat more than you'd like. I think the mango is better than the grape, but both are fine. These aren't healthy at all since they have a chemical cocktail (Acesulfame K, Sucralose), but they seemed to serve me well when hunger struck and I either couldn't eat or didn't want to.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bakauke Super Grilled Sweet Corn Sembei

Bakauke is rapidly becoming my favorite band for sembei. They have the most immensely bold and flavorful flavors on a consistent basis and that's pretty much what I want in a salted snack food. I have long been told that Japanese people prefer weak or subtle flavors, but I wonder if the emergence of these types of flavors on a more regular basis means that tastes are changing, or if the alcohol that people tend to drink with very spicy snacks is getting weaker and they want to offset the loss of quality of experience.

I found these alongside the previously reviewed sea salt wasabi sembei at Okashi no Machioka. They were also for about 180 yen ($1.97) for a bag of 9 2-packs of crackers. Each serving of two sembei is 40.5 calories. I'm always impressed by the way they offer calorie information out to a decimal place.

As soon as I tore open a packet, I could smell the sweet corn seasoning. The cracker is generously coated with what must be tiny granules of miniature sweet corn cobs. These have all of the flavor of the best corn without any of the part where you have to actually eat the corn and get its fibery bits caught in your teeth. The flavor profile has added depth because of the addition of various flavor powders including soy sauce.

I'm pretty sure that this sembei is yet another step in the master plan for world domination by corn. It's irresistibly good, and I recommend it to any lovers of corn, and don't we all love corn?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dars Crea Strawberry

My husband picked this box of Dars Crea up at Okashi no Machioka sweets shop for a mere 69 yen (76 cents). I'm not sure why they were so cheap when this is a somewhat new version of the Crea line. In the past, I've reviewed hazelnut and chestnut and caramel Dars Crea quite favorably. I wouldn't have purchased this, however, because it's strawberry and no good can come of it. Strawberry chocolates let me down 80% of the time, and I wasn't keen on seeing my beloved Dars line's reputation as the perfect consumer chocolate besmirched by an implementation that was unlikely to make my taste buds happy.

There are 9 chocolates in the box and each is 33 calories. The ingredients include sugar, vegetable oil, cocoa powder, whey powder, strawberry powder, and butter oil. With two types of oil, it's no wonder that Dars are rich and creamy chocolates. That being said, I'm not overjoyed with the fact that these candies are made with vegetable oil.

The scent is of chocolate with a vague hint of strawberry, and the texture is all that I've come to know with Dars chocolates. That is, it's smooth, creamy and fatty. The problem is the taste. The strawberry tastes too strong and fake, even though there is 2.5% "strawberry powder" in it, which I believe is supposed to mean there is real berry flavor in it. I guess part of the problem is that even when you start with real strawberries, their essential qualities are lost when processed into powder.

My concern when my husband presented me with this was that this was going to be the only Dars chocolate that I would have to give an unhappy rating to (at least to date), and I was right. Even my husband, who very much likes strawberry-flavored sweets, didn't care for these. Perhaps the bar was set too high, or perhaps these just are too fake tasting. Either way, I have no choice but to say I wouldn't buy these again and probably won't be finishing the box. The only thing that saves them from getting a "very unhappy" rating is that I wasn't really disgusted by them so much as greatly disappointed. I could choke them down, but the calories wouldn't be worth what little enjoyment I'd get.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Random Weekend Picture 18

Click this image to load a bigger one, because, you know, you really want to see that face up closer and with more detail.

When I saw this sign on a vending machine, the only thing that I could think was, "they are using Tommy Lee Jones's corpse to promote coffee." Seriously, if there were a little pillow behind his head, I'd think he'd expired and been embalmed. I have to wonder what the people who chose this picture were thinking. Coffee is what we drink to feel more alert and alive, and poor Tommy looks anything but.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Kamu Kamu Hi-Chew

Taking picture of food isn't exactly an exciting endeavor, but taking pictures of Hi-Chew's lumps of goo is even more boring than usual. This blob of "kamu kamu" stuff looked like a small piece of fatty ham.

Kamu kamu is the Japanized version of camu camu, a bush that bears red fruit and grows in the area of the Amazon river. This is the second in the "world fruit" series of Hi-Chew. Previously, I reviewed the American cherry version. Morinaga's information on Hi-Chew lets us know that the fruit for their candy is from Peru.

Though Wikipedia identifies this as a "berry", the picture on the candy's label shows what looks like grapes. This does smell a bit like grape and tastes like the most intense grapes you have ever eaten. In my opinion, these are like a cross between a grape and a cherry with the sour notes of cherry and the sweetness of grapes.

At 19 calories per candy, these are a pretty nice little sugar-based pick-me-up. They're also cheap since you get 12 candies per pack at an average cost of 100 yen ($1.10). If I were a greater fan of Hi-Chew in general, I'd almost certainly give this a "very happy" rating. These are the tastiest Hi-Chew I've had to date according to my taste buds.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

7-11 Mikan Bar Ice Candy

Sometimes I wonder what inspires a particular business to consistently stock something. For instance, why do Natural Lawson's stock a lot of Fuwa Fuwa marshmallow treats? Why does Family Mart stock a ton of kid's candy? Well, okay, it is called "family" mart, but I'm not sure that anyone takes it literally. I see plenty of people in there who are too scary to have ever married, let alone produced any offspring. This question is on my mind because 7-11 seems to stock sherbet-based frozen confections and no other shop appears to do so (at least not in my area). Previously, I got the yummy yuzu sherbet (that sounds like a brand name, or the name of some cartoon fruit mascot, "Yummy Yuzu") and now they have these mikan "ice candy" bars.

The thing that really draws my attention to these sorts of things, besides the fact that they are sherbet and I can't get it in many places, is the low calorie count per bar. At 62 calories per 60 ml. (2 oz.) bar, they're a very modest treat. The price is also very reasonable at 198 yen ($2.14) per 5 bars. It's the sort of thing that is nice to have around as the temperatures start to do their usual May fluctuations between cold enough for a comforter and so hot you're sweating in the sun.

Orange treats often have a distinctive scent, even when they are fake, but these didn't smell like much of anything other than a generic ice pop (Popsicle) scent. The bars are similar to the "cream bars" that I reviewed previously in that they have a hard ice pop outer shell with a softer interior. At the top of the bar, the shell is very thick, but it is much thinner through most of the center and it's easier to concentrate on the sherbet as the shell easily shatters when you get to the middle. The sherbet center has the sort of texture you'd expect and is sweet and tangy with classic orange sherbet notes. Note that this uses 40% mikan (a Japanese orange that is sweet and flavorful) juice.

This bar is a little sweeter than I'd like, but really quite good. I can say wholeheartedly that I'd buy this again because this review is actually of the second box that I purchased. I hope 7-11 keeps these around for awhile because I'd like to be able to keep buying them throughout the summer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lotte Kagoshima Sweet Potato Cake

While stumbling around Okashi no Machioka snack shop, I noticed that there seems to be a new line of snacks featuring a graphic of a stern-looking Japanese gentleman in old-style garb. The man who is represented is Ryoma Sakamoto, a political revolutionary in the mid to late 1800's. Is it me, or is that sort of a weird thing to put on a box of cakes?  This particular line of Lotte snacks represent areas of Kagoshima prefecture associated with Mr. Sakamoto and were released on June 22.

There are 6 snacks in this campaign, and I'll be reviewing at least two of them. Besides these sweet potato cakes, I also bought a box of yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) cookies, but there are also purple potato Crunky chocolates, Toppo castella-flavored pretzel sticks (like an inverted Pocky), and some yuzu gum which I haven't located yet. In fact, I seriously considered doing a Ryoma Sakamoto snacks theme week, but most of these items are multi-packs and I could't finish them off for weeks if I bought that many of them. And frankly, doing a week of snacks themed around a guy who was assassinated at 33 and whose Smith and Wesson revolver is picture on his Wikipedia page is just too damn weird.

There are 6 cakes in the box and I paid 198 yen ($2.19). That price will probably go down as the product line rapidly ages. The back of the box shows a statue of a proud and tall Sakamoto with what looks to be a tiny Japanese woman slightly behind and off to his left looking on in admiration. I'm guessing this statue is in the area where the sweet potatoes used in this confection are from. Frankly, it looks a bit sexist in design to me as it brings to mind the idea of women walking 7 paces behind men in old feudal Japan.

When I unwrapped the foil packet and gave these a sniff, they smelled excellent. There was a definite good whiff of Japanese sweet potato. The first bite revealed what seemed to be brown sugar and buttery notes as well as sweet potato, though I will note that these use margarine (not butter). The second bite, however, actually wasn't quite as good as a strange flavor seemed to be revealed. The flavor seemed similar to coconut, but wasn't really quite the same. By the third and fourth bites, this flavor dominated and I couldn't detect the sweet potato much. I wonder if that weird flavor was a result of the use of "natural cheese" (probably Gouda if I know Japanese snack makers, and I do). Note that these are colored with anatto in order to bring them closer to a potato color. There is no real sweet potato in them, but rather a powder. Oddly, they also have cocoa powder in them.

These were fine, but not quite what I expected. Certainly as a generic sweet they're fine, if a bit oddly seasoned. The texture is moist and they're a bit fatty. Each small (16.5 gram/.6 oz.) cake is 77 calories, which isn't bad even for a morsel like this. I just wish the sweet potato flavor weren't diluted by so many other tastes. I will slowly eat the remainder of the box when I am in the mood for cake, but I'm quite certain I wouldn't buy these again.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Meiji Very Hot Curry "Karl"

In Japan, you don't have to settle for a "hot Carl". You can get a "red hot Carl".

One of these days, I need to have a contest in which I post a food item and ask readers to enter their ideas about the ingredients in that item based on the sometime esoteric inclusions I've mentioned in former posts. It's easy to guess that something like curry, chicken, and onion flavors are in a baked corn snack like this one, but what are the chances of guessing that it includes "pineapple powder"? Ah, Meiji, you tricky devils!

"Karl", or as we might say in English, "curl", is a popular brand of salted snack from Meiji. In various flavors, sizes,  and packages, these can be found in most convenience stores and markets. When I was working, I often saw them sold in foil lined paper cups like Calbee's Jaga Rico. They were first introduced in 1968 in a cheese flavor and a curry version first came out in 1969. There's an interesting scrolling photo history of all of the flavors, designs, and packages since the product's inception here.

There are instructions on the back of the bag telling you how to tear it down the seam if you're offering these at a party.

When I saw this bag of corn snacks perched outside of Okashi no Machioka in a box labeled "69 yen" (75 cents), I jumped at the chance to try it. Not only was it marked down in price, but it was also new to may area and it has flames all over the bag. Little encourages me more than the chance of something red hot. It doesn't hurt that the entire 48 gram (1.7 oz.) bag weighs in at 246 calories. That's a bit on the low side for a salted snack food of this sort in Japan considering their penchant for high fat counts. The size is such that I felt quite full after eating just half of it.

When I first opened the bag, I caught a whiff of what I could colorfully refer to as "corrupted curry". There are definitely curry elements, but there's more. The curls themselves are puffy and satisfyingly crispy. They have a nice depth of flavor from all of the seasonings that are layered onto them, which include various seafood powders, pork, and soy sauce in addition to the aforementioned ingredients.

Sometimes the heat that is advertised on Japanese snacks is sub par, but these are gratifyingly hot. They also have a cumulative fiery effect that makes your tongue get a better burn as you eat more of them. They may not satisfy the most ardent hot pepper lovers, but they pleased me.

I enjoyed these and would definitely buy them again if I wanted something hot and salty to snack on. I was really happy with the flavor depth as that is something that some corn-based snacks are lacking in my experience. If you want something hot and spicy to have with a soda or alcoholic beverage, I'd recommend giving these a go. You won't be disappointed, and they aren't as fattening as such foods can get.

If you'd like to download some items that have the mascot's theme (the frog and farmer), you can find some message cards, a coloring page for kids, and some tickets here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tirol Hokkaido Milk Caramel

During one of the "famine" periods of new product releases, I snapped up this Tirol Premium chocolate. Within days, there was another "feast" cycle and a flurry of new items to review and sample came around and this got put on the back burner for several weeks. Normally, I would not be jumping on board with caramel chocolates because I'm not a big caramel fan and it was only the temporary dearth of new offerings. It's not that I hate them, but rather that they're not the sort of things that get my mojo worked up. Given a variety of options, I'll choose chestnut, sweet potato, milk chocolate, or nut-flavored candies over caramel.

At any rate, I let this candy sit on my desk for a day before eating it because I think the flavor of chocolate is better at room temperature. I had been keeping it in the refrigerator to keep it from melting, and I think it was a little worse for wear in terms of its appearance. The texture was super, super soft. It practically melted in my mouth the moment I put it on my tongue. It was like eating a super soft truffle from the texture angle. I liked that.

In terms of scent and taste, this hit me mainly as sweet, burnt brown sugar caramel rather than as a buttery caramel. The fact that it doesn't have butter notes makes the flavor less well-rounded and lacking in richness. The strange thing is that butter is one of the ingredients, but it's rather low on the list. Items that are higher on the list are a plethora of "powders" including cocoa, cream, and caramel powders. 

This wasn't overly sweet, but it was sweeter than I might prefer in a "perfect" treat and the caramel flavor seemed a little fake. Like all Tirol Premium chocolates, this is a one-inch square (2.54 cm.), but unlike most, it's not around 50 calories. This has 64 calories. I'm guessing this is due to the extra fat used in the soft, creamy filling.

I liked this, but the way in which the caramel seemed fake (though I'm pretty sure it isn't) and the lack of profound buttery notes mean that I can't see buying another. That being said, this is a pretty nice chocolate. The texture is luxurious, and someone who is a greater fan of caramel than me may really love this. Don't take my indifferent rating too much to heart. I think this is a nice candy for people who love caramel. Unfortunately, I'm not sufficient enough a caramel fan to really appreciate this. These are available at most convenience stores in Tokyo for 32 yen (35 cents) per candy. This isn't the first time they have been on offer, and I'm guessing they'll disappear at some point and come back again as this seems to be part of the regular rotation of premium Tirol candies.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Random Weekend Picture 17

Posters for these McDonald's glasses are all over the place because of the World Cup. I have no idea if these are unique to Japan (I doubt they are), but glasses nearly identical to these have been given away in promotions in the past. These glasses have a Coke logo on one side and a soccer design on the other. Previous versions were available in similar colors, but with a Coke logo design on both sides. We had a green, pink and blue one at one point, but they were so crappy that they developed cracks from normal use within months.

I'm not a soccer fan, but a lot of my Japanese acquaintances and students are talking about it. Most of them have said that the Japanese team is woefully poor this year. I'll have to take their word for it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tirol Polar Bear Chocolates

Sometimes I have no idea what drives the naming of a product, and this one has me completely baffled. Is it supposed to be chocolate that a polar bear might enjoy? Is it supposed to taste like polar bear? Is it supposed to be consumed cold? Or, is it really just about the fact that polar bears are cute and naming a candy like this after them is going to get all of the office ladies to buy it? Of course, there is also the possibility that there is some play on words (related to the kanji or Chinese characters) that I'm missing as a myopic foreigner with substandard language skills.

One point about the packaging of this is that it is in the same sort of plastic cup that you can buy mass market kakigori wannabes (shaved ice sweetened with syrup, usually fruit-flavored). The plastic seal around the top is very similar to the striped seals around those icy treats. Perhaps the polar bear is part of a joint campaign between a maker of one of those ice cups and Tirol. I don't eat them, and I couldn't find any in my local shops to compare.

The thing that drew me to this, after passing up so many of these types of packs in the recent past, was the fact that part of this is "mikan chocolate". "Mikan" is a Japanese tangerine. I was concerned that the white chocoalte part might be too sweet, but hopeful that the bottom layer would mitigate that. In fact, this tiny bit of candy (about 2 cm square/.8 in.) has 5 parts to it, though you can't really taste each one distinctly.

As soon as I broke the seal on the cup and removed the lid, I smelled a strong fruity scent. It was reminiscent of orange, but also something else. The center is generic "fruit jelly" and "mikan chocolate". One of the ingredients is pineapple and I thought melon might also be a part of the mix. Between these two parts is something called "zarame" which I had never heard of, but some searches indicated that it is coarse sugar. When I bit into the chocolate, this was quite crispy and crunchy.

This was very, very sweet and intensely orange-flavored. I liked the textural contrasts with the crispy sugar, soft chocolate, and chewy jelly center. The flavor was something that I think is a tough sell because it's overbearing both on the sweetness front and the fruit flavors. I think this could have been a real winner with some dark or bittersweet chocolate to balance out all of the white chocolate, but this is not a classic "orange chocolate" combination so much as a very sweet orange taste.

Since I've had such bad luck with the non-premium Tirol candies as of late, I wanted to like this, but all I can say is that it's got cute wrappers and clever presentation on the packaging front. It made me want to buy it, but tasting it didn't make me want to buy it again.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bourbon Petit Cake Choco Chip

I think there needs to be a diet blog which comes up with a formula for whether or not a food is worthwhile based on a "pleasure per calorie" index. For instance, something which isn't that good, but costs almost no calories could get a high rating and something which is very good for a lot of calories might get an equally good rating. The idea would be to rate how likely something is to make you fat for the pleasure you extract from eating it. Pickles are a "10" on such a scale, as they are almost zero calories to eat even though they aren't the most incredible thing since the invention of the Cheez-it.

When I consider how I regard various snacks, I factor such thinking into my reviews because, well, I'm female, and I have to worry about calories and such. For things that are chocolate, I use a Hershey's Kiss as the starting point of comparison. It's not fabulous, but it's good, and you can extract a certain amount of pleasure from eating just one or two (if you have the patience to let it melt in your mouth or eat slowly). Since each Kiss is 25 calories, you can gauge the pleasure per calorie ("PPC") pretty easily. If a Kiss is the point of comparison, it'd be a "5" on a 10-point scale. These Bourbon Petit Cakes, which are about the volume of 2 Kisses and also only 25 calories each, are a "10" on the PPC scale.

That is not to say that these are the most spectacular cakes in the known universe, but they are quite good. They smell good and chocolatey and have a nice textural balance between the somewhat moist, dense cake and tiny chocolate chips. Frankly, I was shocked at how good these were because I have come to expect two things from Bourbon cakes and Japanese packaged cakes in particular. First of all, I expected these to be bone dry, but they were like a cake brownie, well, maybe a day-old cake brownie. Second, I expected them to have some sort of strange flavor as a result of preservatives as I've had that experience with Bourbon's cakes before. These simply tasted like nice little semi-bittersweet brownie bites. The depth of flavor was particularly impressive and the sweetness balance was pretty much perfect.

Actual cake is quite a bit smaller than this picture. Let's just say only your Barbie doll (I know you boys out there are playing with them) would be the only one who would find this to be a generous portion, and even then she could eat it all and keep her genderless girlish plastic figure.

I picked this package of 8 little 5.5 gram (.2 oz.) cake wedges up at Lawson's 100 (a convenience store) near my home for 100 yen ($1.08) because I had a cake craving and didn't want to succumb to the allure of the 350-500 calorie carbohydrate bombs of cakes that are so common in the baked goods sections of conbini in Japan. It's not a lot of cake for the price, but a few pieces are enough to satisfy a craving for cake or chocolate. This makes a perfect tiny dessert with a cup of coffee or tea after dinner. Just make sure you savor the chocolate flavor while you have the small morsel in your mouth.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bakauke Sea Salt Wasabi Sembei

The company that makes "Bakauke" brand products is now called "Befco". Hearing that name reminds me of Back to the Future 2 and the "Biffco Enterprises" in that movie. I think the name change is the result of the brands growing market penetration and popularity. Their web site has also seen some improvements since I last looked in on it.

This is actually the second Bakauke wasabi sembei that I've reviewed. The other one was a limited edition that was sold only in convenience stores and is no longer available. This version is a combined effort with a company that produces a brand of salt called Shimamaasu. This one also differs compared to the former wasabi sembei in that it includes nori in the dough.

The addition of nori changes the taste profile of this cracker by adding a grassiness to the flavor. It mainly comes through on the first bite and settles in as an aftertaste on the tongue after that. I can't say if the sea salt is adding much, but these are pleasantly salty and savory. The addition of soy sauce flavoring is probably helping that along.

The thing I can definitely say about these sembei is that they are for hardcore consumers of wasabi. Even one serving (2 crackers - 38.7 calories) provides a big wasabi punch. Unless I pause for a long time between crackers and drink between each bite, my nasal passages really burned from eating these. It was like someone sprayed the inside of my nose with lemon juice. It burns! It burns!

I found these at Okashi no Machioka snack shop for about 180 yen ($1.97). Each bag contains nine packets of two crackers. If you're a fan of wasabi, I can recommend these without reservation, but with the warning that they're not for the weak-tongued. These are a summer release, so I expect that they'll eventually disappear, so grab a bag while you can.

If you'd like to download a calendar for June featuring the bakauke cartoon mascots, you can get it here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kagome "Rice Menu Set": Chicken Doria and Spicy Tomato Curry

Kagome Chicken Doria (236 calories)

As part of my attempts to review instant or frozen food on occasion, I picked up these shelf stable "heat and eat" meals at Seiyu supermarket on sale for 198 yen ($2.16). There are several of these in a line by Kagome geared toward weight-conscious women. That's why the calorie information is displayed so prominently on the front of the boxes. These boast not only low calorie counts, but some added fiber through the use of a barley and rice mixture. I chose the "chicken doria" because I have a fond experience with that dish from a local restaurant, and the tomato curry because, well, it's curry.

Both of these dishes have a bowl with a bit under a cup of grain in the bottom and foil packets that contain sauces. The Doria has separate mixtures for white sauce and red sauce. In the end, you mix it all together anyway so I don't quite understand the point of the separation. I'm guessing it's for aesthetic reasons. The tomato curry had one large foil pack only.

Going into sampling these, I knew I would try them alone once, and then I would augment them with leftover chicken breast. These sorts of meals are not well-known for their high protein content. I started with the chicken doria which had microscopic bits of tomato, the odd rare crumb of carrot, and tiny little bits of chicken mince. The red sauce with chicken smells like tomato and not much else. the white sauce has a bit of a dog-food/canned food type of smell. It was not encouraging.

This didn't taste like not much of anything. There's some very mild tomato juice flavor and ever so vague hints of some sort of cheese. You have to strain to taste it though. In fact, I'd recommend invoking the power of imagination and hope that you can turn your desire for cheese taste into reality through the power of your mind. I couldn't taste chicken at all. It's also one of those prepared foods that has a lot of sodium, 350 mg., but you still need to add salt to it to taste anything.

The texture was rather gelatinous. You can tell the sauce is mainly made with cornstarch. While the rice is not bad at all and is relatively firm and decent, good pre-made rice is really not hard to come by in Japan.

This was palatable only because I added 90 grams of leftover chicken breast to it and the rice was fine with it. The sauce mainly added some moisture and texture. I was very disappointed in this and probably wouldn't have eaten it all if I hadn't already mixed the chicken in with it and had nothing else to really consume.

The Chicken Doria gets a well-deserved:

Spicy Tomato Curry (235 calories)

After my experience with the Chicken Doria, I had even lower expectations of this. I felt a bit more hopeful after I opened the sauce packet and smelled it. The aroma was about what one would expect of spicy curry and tomato. You can see how little I expect of these things when they end up smelling like they should and I'm pleasantly surprised.

The base component of this was similar to the chicken doria version. The plastic bowl has about three-quarters of a cup of rather dry rice and barley with a foil packet of sauce. After squeezing the sauce onto the rice mixture, I put it in the microwave with the lid on as instructed and the lid blew off about 1 minute and 15 seconds into the process. Curry bubbled up and splattered on the edges of the bowl before I could stop it.

I took it out and gave it a stir and noticed that it was very, very soupy. The rice seemed rather dry at first, but the texture improved after it sat for about 5 minutes. There are small blobs of soft tomato in the sauce, and no other detectable vegetables. I sampled it as is and it is not bad at all. It's nicely spicy in terms of warmth and intensity of tomato flavor. The curry flavors are rather muted, but it's really rather piquant. It's just a bit salty, but not in a too overbearing manner.

After a taste of the curry "as is", I added 85 grams (3 oz.) of leftover chopped, cooked chicken breast and stirred it in. Because there is a lot more sauce than necessary, this worked quite well. There was more than enough sauce to coat the chicken and the combination was very good. I didn't need to add salt to the bland chicken because the sauce is spicy enough to cover.

I actually liked this. If I were inclined to pick up a prepared meal to avoid preparing all of the components, I'd definitely buy this again. For this sort of food, this was pretty good and the low calorie count (235 calories alone, 372 with the added chicken) is appealing. It's not stellar, but it is tasty enough to be worthwhile, especially if you have no time to cook.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Green Tea Cherry KitKat

After sampling this KitKat, I started thinking about what the essential elements of the brand are. Wafer-based sweets have been around for a very long time, and there are many of them to be had. In fact, one of my favorites is the less-sweet European-made bar, "Toggi" and if I was offered an assortment of wafer snacks, it'd be my first choice. For the record, the Toggi wins with me because of the inclusion of hazelnut paste. If I were a goddess, my followers would have to make offerings of Nutella to me in order to avoid incurring my wrath.

How is it that Nestlé formulated, packaged, or promoted a combination of very common elements and made a hugely successful brand name while many other similar variations seem like also-rans (even when they existed before the KitKat)? What separates a KitKat from any other confection with a wafer base and at what point does a creation cease being what we'd consider a KitKat? No, that's not an existential question. How far from its basic formula can Nestlé Japan drift in flavor, size, color and texture before what we're consuming isn't a "KitKat" anymore?

The reason this question came to mind is that this KitKat in many ways came across to me as the least distinctive KitKat I have ever had. In fact, it ended up tasting about 80% like nothing more than a very sweet sugar wafer. There was a light roasted green tea flavor but I mainly tasted it in the first bite or two, and no cherry that I could even detect. Note that this lists only .5% as the portion of green tea extract powder. That's just not much at all. The filling was sweet, as was the white chocolate, and it had a sense of "creaminess" to it that I associate with sugar wafers. It didn't even smell like anything other white chocolate.

I'm not sure how Nestlé Japan managed to formulate a KitKat so far divorced from its roots that it tastes pretty much like a sugar wafer, but, perhaps surprisingly, I liked it. I liked it because I like said wafers and have no access to decent ones in Japan such that this felt like a bit of a blast from the past for me.

Because this was "yet another green tea (and/or cherry)" KitKat, I wasn't keen on sampling it when it first came out on March 1. I saw it on sale in many convenience stores and a few drug stores and strolled on by. I was only convinced to try it when it showed up for 69 yen at Okashi no Machioka. I was a little surprised that it was in the discount bin so quickly. I picked this up on March 27 so it was reduced in price (original price: 120 yen) within a month. This could mean it was over-produced, wasn't popular enough, or that the market for KitKats is a little over-saturated. It is definitely uncommon for new flavors to make such a rapid journey to the discount bin.

This was also reviewed on Jen's KitKat blog, though she seemed to have a much greater sense of the cherry flavor than I did. I simply couldn't distinguish it at all, but I have noticed that one of the issues with food reviews is that all of our taste buds work differently so it's helpful to look at more than one review to get an idea of various experiences. Note that if you hate green tea, this probably won't put you off. Yes, there is a mild green tea flavor, but the bitter notes that come along with it are snuffed out of existence by so much sweet white chocolate and creamy sweet filling. Like the green tea big bar KitKat, this is a good "starter bar" for those who aren't fans of green tea because it is so weak and inoffensive for those who dislike the tea's inherent bitterness.

I liked this, and am giving it a  happy rating because these ratings reflect my feelings about such things, but I'm not sure if I could recommend this bar to people who like green tea or cherry necessarily. If you like very sweet, wafer-based treats with a slight Japanese flair (from the green tea), then go for it.