Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Look Chocolat 18

As someone who reviews food in an ersatz "professional" way, I've found out a thing or two about tasting food. One thing is that you never want to eat all of your supply at once. In fact, if you can string out the tasting through two or three different experiences, it's all the better. This is because your ability to perceive flavors is not always the same, and something which is pretty so-so in the morning might be very tasty at tea time.

In addition to when you sample, it's also important to consider what you ate before hand. The cleanliness of your palate has a profound effect on how you perceive the taste of something. This is particularly true if you have consumed a Lawson VL pizza with yuzu koshoo sauce just before eating chocolate. It's bound to leave a less than favorable impression. So, remember kids, a clean palate is an accurate palate!

So, since first sampling of these chocolates was tainted by my occasional penchant for bad pizza, I decided that I needed to give them a second chance. Fortunately, with 18 very tiny chocolates in this 47 gram (1.6 oz.) box, I had plenty of opportunities. When I snapped this up at Okashi no Marche discount snacks, I didn't really pay attention to anything other than the "Look" brand and the reduced price of 79 yen (98 cents). Usually, these come in boxes of 12 for 100 yen ($1.24). I've had good experiences with the Look chocolates that have various flavors in their soft fillings and I figured that these had a chance of being rather tasty.

There are 6 each of three flavors, ganache cream, truffle cream, and chocolate mousse. This is a nice way of saying, "chocolate, chocolate, and chocolate" of varying intensities and bitterness. That's not a bad thing in theory though. Who doesn't love chocolate except for sugar-eschewing freaks and mutant monkey men? In practice, however, I was a little disappointed. The "ganache" flavor is a bittersweet chocolate while "truffle cream" is a milky one with the telltale Fujiya aftertaste. I've mentioned this in previous reviews, but there's a distinctive flavor that comes along with all Fujiya chocolates of all brand types that isn't necessarily bad, but it really doesn't belong there. The final flavor, "chocolate mousse", is halfway between the somewhat intense bittersweet of the other two.

I don't think these are bad chocolates, but I also don't think they are great ones. Keep in mind that all of my opinions about food in Japan are relative to other food in Japan, not in comparison to foreign candy. I think these are actually better than a lot of consumer-level chocolates in the U.S. They certainly aren't as good as the more flavorful and varied Look varieties I've sampled before and if I could buy a box of Dars (which are similar consumer-level chocolates with soft cream fillings) for 100 yen or these for 79 yen, I'd go for the Dars every time. On their own, these are fine, though I really can do without that Fujiya aftertaste, and the serving size at only 14 calories per bite is pretty appealing for portion control. However, compared to other options that are easily available, I'd go for something else.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pepsi Dry

Since I already posted a picture of the bottles here, I'll give you a picture of the ad for Pepsi Dry that is running on the subway at present. The stick thin model speaks to the idea that this is a low calorie beverage, but the marketing is very much focused on the "dry" and less sweet angle. I think they're playing both sides (body conscious women, and men who like less sweet things). 

Well, that was fast. I said I wasn't going to review it, but one of my commenters said this tastes nothing like regular Pepsi and I found it for 98 yen ($1.20) at Seiyu supermarket. With the gauntlet of oddness rightfully tossed before me, and the option to be the cheap ass I am, I decided to take the plunge and do a review. Incidentally, note that I got the calorie information wrong on this when I talked about it in the random picture previously. I recollected it was 11 calories per 100 ml, but it is actually 21 per 100 ml. That makes an entire bottle 105 calories.

After opening the bottle, I gave it a good sniff. It smells like cola, but somehow a bit weaker than usual. This could be my imagination, but that's the story and I'll stick with it until someone who pays better attention to the scent of colas points out that I am wrong... then I will humbly accept the correction and make use of the strikethrough option. That being said, when I took a sip, I had a sense of why it didn't smell as strong as regular cola. That's because it tastes like a weaker version of it as well.

When I lived in the U.S., I was a Pepsi drinker for many years before I switched to Diet Coke. I remember Pepsi's flavor quite well and that I liked it better than Coke. It was only when I swapped over to the carcinogenic (aka diet) version that I gave up Pepsi. This tastes like something else which I drank for many years, RC Cola. That is, it's a pale imitation of a bigger brand name cola. The flavor just falls flat on the tongue and if you hold it in your mouth for awhile, it seems to dissipate into the taste of club soda. It's not a bad taste really, but it is just not particularly good or refreshing.

I've mentioned before that I experiment with sugar-free baking because of the way in which the use of sugar spikes blood glucose levels, so I know that one of the things which you lose when you give up sugar is the way in which it enhances flavor (and adds moisture, but this is plenty moist no matter how much sugar you remove). It seems clear to me after sampling this that taking out the sugar has removed the "bite" from Pepsi and no one has done anything to augment it's flavor (like adding tons of sodium like they do with diet sodas). It's like a watered down version of Pepsi and I'm not a fan.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Nippon Ham Chilled Bakery Cheese Pie

I once read a blog post on an aggregating site which offered information on more ecologically sound living which said that cheese is an addictive substance. The article talked about how cheese is engineered to act like cocaine and that the reason we enjoy it so much is that we are chemically bound to it in a manner which is equivalent to the crackhead and his pipe. Realizing that this was vegan propaganda, I closed the tab and never read anything on that site again.

Of course, assuming it is true that we're addicted to cheese, I can't say that I would care. Some addictions are worth the suffering  (though I do apologize to the cows). If I could eat just one food for the rest of my life in all of it glorious permutations, it wouldn't be chocolate that would win, but cheese. I'm guessing that I spent a past life in Wisconsin. The grim irony is that I live in one of the worst places in the world if you're a cheese lover. It's a wasteland studded with bizarre mixtures of cheese and other things that don't belong in the majesty of its dairy kingdom and processed dreck.

The thing is that I think I'm starting to become so used to the weird experiences with Japanese cheese that I'm starting to like what I have available. This troubles me slightly, but on the other hand, a crack monkey probably will smoke whatever he can get if the best isn't available so why should a cheese monkey be any different?

With the full knowledge that this was going to be odd, I picked up this package of 4 "cheese pies" at Inageya Supermarket  for 298 yen ($3.68). They are sweetened with honey and use Gouda cheese and I knew I was stepping through that looking glass of savory and pungent mixed with sweet that the Japanese do so often, but not so well.

These pies are sold as "premium", which is rather funny considering the fact that they're just slightly squished pre-baked dough with a little filling. In fact, the filling only covers about half of the total length of the hand-length pie. The size is pretty good though for a continental breakfast and at only 181 calories, they fit easily into a sensible diet.

The instructions say to bake at 1000W for 4 minutes, but I found that this browned the outside but left part of the cheese filling cold. A better method is to bake for 3-4 minutes then allow it to rest in the oven an additional two minutes to allow it to heat through, though this does make the pastry a tad darker. This leaves you with a really nicely crispy outer crust and a tender inside. The dough portion is slightly sweet and has an adequate texture and "baked" flavor. That is, a nice floury, margarine-y taste. I liked the dough quite a lot, but I am not comparing it to a fresh croissant. It's good for what it is, but doesn't compare to fresh and hand-baked.

The filling is lightly sweet, slightly pungent and not too terrible, but, again, I think I've adjusted to this odd mix. I'm not sure other foreign palates would find it so acceptable. My husband didn't care for it at all, though he prefers much sweeter things than I do anyway. The texture of the filling is similar to cream cheese offerings, but not similar in flavor. It's not gooey, but rather closer to creamy, though also a bit chunky.

I was surprised that I actually liked this, and would buy it again if I wanted to have a pastry on hand to toss in the toaster oven for a hot breakfast. Depending on how acclimated you are to the cheese in Japan, you might like this, but I'm not making any promises that it'll suit all Western taste buds.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kabaya Rispy Basil and Chicken Crackers (QR)

In the interest of making my "quick reviews" even quicker, I've decided to label them as "QR" rather than to write out "Quick Review" in the title. I'm also sure that it will add a layer of confusion for new readers and require me to put another FYI post on the sidebar. All of the explaining about quick reviews probably will initially take me longer than writing a full review, but that's all part of the fun of blogging.

I bought these crackers at the local Inageya supermarket because I liked the name. It reminded me of "raspy", though I know that this is just a play on the word "crispy" in English. It has also been awhile since I've seen anything resembling a new potential product line, especially in the salted snack realm, so I figured they'd make for a somewhat unique experience. Forty grams (1.4 oz.) cost me about 130 yen (~$1.50) and will set you back 200 calories. The back of the bag shows a glass of bear beer next to a plate with 5 little crackers. Since each is about the size of the tip of a particularly large thumb (though not quite as big as Sissy Hankshaw's), I imagine most people would eat more than a measly five of the approximately thirty pieces.

The flavor combination on these, basil and chicken, sounded like a winner, and I wasn't disappointed. They are very savory and have a nice blend of saltiness, chicken, onion, and garlic coupled with just enough basil to leave a faint impression on the tongue. Since basil is pretty easy to overdo, this is a very welcome turn of events.

The main selling point of these is how crunchy they are, and they live up on that front as well. Each is a slightly thick, but not in the least bit tough, pillow of crackery goodness. This is thanks to a high level of fat which manifests in ever so slight oiliness, but nice flakiness in the crackers.

These are quite a nice little treat and I'd recommend giving them a try if you come across a bag despite the goofy effete little fellow illustrating the bag. I'm not sure what someone who looks like one of the 3 musketeers has to do with crispy basil chicken crackers, but perhaps we're supposed to think that he's French and they're renowned for their crispy bread. It's a pretty tenuous connection, though the crackers are made to resemble loaves of bread.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Random Picture 64

Pepsi has introduced yet another in its small line of infinitesimally different Pepsi drinks. This is in contrast to its line of extremely odd and interesting drinks like Pepsi Baobab, Pepsi White, and the nadir of Pepsi weirdness, Pepsi Shiso. The main selling point of Pepsi Dry is that it is a less sweet version of Pepsi. Perhaps there is something wrong with my taste buds, but few colas strike me as overwhelmingly sweet. Of course, it could be that I just consume so many artificial sweeteners that my tongue has become deadened to the effects of real sugar. At any rate, this offering is 11 calories per 100 ml., which makes it a mere 55 calories per 500 ml. bottle. Clearly, less sweetness carries the benefit of also having less sugar and fewer calories. I haven't reviewed this, and I'm not sure that I will because I'm pretty sure it won't be significantly different from regular Pepsi. Also, I'm not quite ready to pay 147 yen ($1.80) for a bottle of soda. When it shows up for 100 yen in the cut-rate bins, I may give it a go.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

KitKat Zunda

The earliest charity items for victims of the Great Tohoku Earthquake were T-shirts. Other items are sluggishly following at their heels and these KitKats are Nestle Japan's entry. The sale of each bar will add 10 yen (12 cents) to the Japanese Red Cross's coffers. It's a pretty nice gesture, and I'm sure that if these sell well, a tidy sum could be donated.

These bars are unusual in their distribution because they are a non-standard flavor of KitKat, but on sale at supermarkets. Usually the "specialty" KitKats are mainly available for a limited time in convenience stores, but there was a huge display of them at my local Inageya supermarket. The odd thing was that they are 128 yen ($1.56) at the market, but only 108 yen ($1.32) at Family Mart convenience stores (click the picture above to load a large version which shows the respective displays with their price differences). I'm guessing that someone at Family Mart decided to go with the standard KitKat price rather than some sort of suggested retail price, but that is pure speculation. I'm rather at a loss to explain it, but clearly you're better off buying these from them.

Zunda is mashed green soy beans (or raw edamame) and this particular cuisine is a specialty of the northern Tohoku area. It makes sense that they'd choose something associated with the region the sales of the bar are meant to help. It's also an interesting choice for a KitKat. In fact, it's probably one of the more curious options that have come along in a long time.

In terms of flavor, this is a white-chocolate-based bar and very sweet. Since the flavor is "green" soybeans, it's no shock that the first bite carries a grassy flavor that gives you that telltale sense that you're munching on something with chlorophyll. The soy bean aspect is very mild and by the end of one finger, you pretty much are eating a sweet white chocolate KitKat with a mild soy and grassy aftertaste. Even my husband, who is not a fan of soy or edamame, didn't find this unpalatable because the taste of the main element was relatively mild.

This is an okay KitKat, and the flavor choice is a pretty enticing one. I wish I could say it was the bee's knees and that everyone should run out and stock up on a load of these before they go away. However, this just isn't that incredible. It's moderately interesting, but rather sweet and mild. If you can pick one up in Japan, I'd say do it to satisfy curiosity, but I wouldn't buy it more expensively from an importer. If you want to help the victims of the tsunami and quake, donate directly to the Japanese Red Cross because it'll probably mean more than 10 yen from the sale of this bar anyway.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Glico Pocky Mint

Not too long ago, I said in comments that the flavors that are exotic-sounding to foreigners like green tea, sweet potato, chestnut, sakura (cherry blossom), etc. aren't really a sign of Japan's adventurous nature with flavors, but a reflection of the fact that they have different flavor norms. Back home, we have cinnamon, mint, and peanut butter as our flavor norms. Note that I chose those three flavors because they are relatively rare finds in sweets in Japan. As if to make a liar out of me, Pocky came out with this mint flavor. I'd like to say very loudly for all Japanese snack makers to hear that they don't combine chocolate and peanut butter very often. Please make a liar out of me again.

I found these mint Pocky at 7-11 around at various other places including markets, snack shops, and other "konbini". I can't remember what they cost exactly, but for some reason the figure 127 ($1.56) sticks in my mind. There are two packs with eleven sticks in them each. Eating an entire pack (1/2 the box) will set you back 126 calories or 11.5 calories per pretzel stick.

When you open the package, you are greeted with the familiar smell of mint mingled with chocolate. The first bite is stronger on the mint than the chocolate. The bittersweet chocolate flavor only starts to settle in around the third stick and the mint cools your tongue. The pretzels are a little on the soft side, but still add a nice textural element. They do nothing, however, for the flavor. Unlike Pucca, which add a nice rye flavor to whatever they are combined with, Pocky pretzels tend to be more of a bland vehicle for the coating.

I liked these quite well, though I really could have done with a little salt on the pretzel and a stronger chocolate component. If you're thinking Girl Scout "Thin Mints" or even "After Eight" mints, think again, but if you're looking for something mild with a nice crispy texture, these will nicely fill the bill. Pocky fanatics should be delighted. As someone who is all well and good with the Pocky concept, but not really on board with any sort of aggressive relationship with them, I was happy to sample these, but I'd probably go for something more intense to get my mint on in the future.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Market O Real Brownie

I've been seeing big boxes of these "Market O Real Brownies" at Costco for quite some time. One of my students even bought a case of them while she was there and only later realized that as a petite single woman, she might be eating them for the next two years. I wasn't going to gamble on a big box of an untested baked item, no matter how grandiose it's claim is about producing a "real" brownie. Brownies are very difficult to get right even when fresh, and it's that much harder when they're packaged to be shelf stable.

Because I have the chance to buy these slightly cheaply at Costco, I jumped at the chance to buy just one 35-gram (1.2 oz.) serving for 120 yen ($1.35) at 7-11. Note that though these are being heavily marketed in Japan, they are produced in Korea. The scribbly characters on the front of the package are Korean, not Japanese, but all of the information on the back of the package is in Japanese (not a sticker over a Korean label, but originally done in Japanese). So, we have a Korean brownie with Japanese packaging and clip art depicting a Western woman and her kid around 1950. These are cross-cultural brownies.

The brownie is nicely chocolatey, but quite sweet. It has a strange aftertaste that may be associated with preservatives. It tastes like a chalky version of actual chocolate as opposed to an actual brownie. It's lacking in that quintessential "baked" flavor of a brownie. The small brownie has 173 calories, which is pretty dense for such a relatively small morsel, but not out of line for something made with butter and sugar.

I can certainly make a much better brownie than this, but that's not really the question. The question is whether or not this would satisfy you if you wanted a brownie in Tokyo and couldn't or didn't want to make your own. The answer is that "it might". It really depends on where you place the bar for your brownies and how you like them. This is dense and somewhat rich without being very fudgey or moist. It's certainly better than most of the brownies you can buy in bakeries in Japan, which tend to be closer to dry cake than an actual brownie. In fact, compared to a standard bakery brownie, this is actually quite good. It just doesn't come close to a homemade brownie or one made from a Western-made mix, but if I was jonesing for a brownie to accompany a cup of coffee, I'd choose this over any of the other available convenient options. I wouldn't buy a case of them, but I'd pick up another single brownie if I was in the right mood.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Koikeya Sour Cream and Onion Stick Potato

One of my particularly angry stalkers once attacked me for "micromanaging" my calories whilst simultaneously criticizing my eating habits as ones that would turn me into a fat, bloated mess of an American. Apparently, the inherent contradiction (criticizing me for watching what I eat and asserting that I will become so fat that flesh will drip off my face like molten wax) is not obvious to unhappy people who find me repugnant yet can't seem to resist reading what I write. This comes to mind because I'm about to talk about how I'm not the sort of person who grabs a can of beer and a packet of salty, fried potato goodness and plonks down in front of the T.V. after work. I'm the sort of person who eats a few chips and is satisfied with a small amount.

For people who are happy with small portions, packets of salty snacks like this one from Koikeya are nearly ideal. Well, it's not exactly ideal for me as even this 50 gram bag (1.7 oz. at 271 calories for the whole thing) takes weeks to finish. However, if you are a portion-conscious lover of chips and beer, this 100-yen ($1.24) offering might be right up your alley. I picked this up at a 100 yen shop that sells food, but I've seen it at other places around Tokyo as well (convenience stores, drug stores, etc.).

There are only two ways in which these sorts of things can fail and one is rare and the other common. The rare failure is with the presentation of the fried potato sticks themselves. They might not be crispy enough, or may be too greasy or carry a funky taste from the type of oil they are fried in. Fortunately, that was not an issue. The other possible problem is that the flavoring is strange or too weak, particularly the latter. In Japan, a lot of flavored salted snacks are on the weak side for my crude American palate, but these did not let me down. The onion flavor is potent and the sour cream just about right.

Usually, I rate Japanese treats by how they uniquely present their flavors, but for things like this, I'm really looking for an experience which parallels those that I had back home. For a potato stick, which is pretty much the same across cultures, the best I can hope for is that it tastes the way I want it to taste and doesn't have some bizarre variation meant to suit Japanese tastes. This didn't have any weirdness, and was very satisfying. It was like a taste of home.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Random Picture 63

Sometimes I find it nearly impossible to believe that certain funny English naming conventions are merely coincidental. In fact, I imagine that there is some foreign guy who is a native speaker of English working in the marketing department who has the most impeccable poker face in the world lobbing ideas at his Japanese compatriots that have sexual innuendo implanted into them. I can believe that "creaming powder" is just a Japanese English way of talking about non-dairy creamer, but the fact that the brand name is "Rising" stretches my sense that this is mere coincidence. I also wonder if this may be a subliminal message plant by the Japanese government in the hopes of boosting Japan's dismal birth rate.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shigezo Tofu Burgers

Frankly, I'm not a big fan of tofu, and this came to my attention via a student who shopped at Shigezo's little tofu-laden market before attending my lesson. She pulled a package of burgers identical to the one pictured above as well as a tray of tofu-stuffed pot stickers (gyoza). I told her that the gyoza sounded good, and then she offered the tray to me as a gift. I have to remember not to say things like that to students or they will literally give me the food they had planned to put in their mouths. I thanked her, but told her I could go to the shop and buy my own. I also promised to buy and try the burgers because they sounded interesting to me.

Shigezo is a famous chain of shops in Japan that sells a variety of soy-bean-based products. There are a lot of shops in Tokyo alone. A full list (in Japanese) can be seen here. In my area, there's a shop about 6 minutes from my home. In fact, it took the place of a second branch of Okashi no Machioka snack shops. It's a pretty small and unimpressive-looking place, and very low tech. When I bought my packet of 3 burgers for 198 yen ($2.45), the woman wrote down the cost on a piece of scrap paper along with a bunch of other prices paid for by previous customers. There were items as obscure as tofu melon scones and tofu donuts, and a great deal of little square packages of tofu.

All of you omnivores out there who think a tofu burger is for vegan and vegetarian hippies who can't bear to see an animal suffer so that humans can enjoy delicious meat might think that this "burger" would get PETA's seal of approval. Not so fast... The Japanese aren't big into vegetarianism and their tofu burgers aren't made for people who want to eschew animal products. They're made to taste good and offer people a different eating experience.

To that end, this tofu burger is made with chicken and pork fat in addition to, of course, soy beans, and onion, bread crumbs, sugar, MSG, and various other spices. For something that looks vegetarian and healthy, it's packed with awesome taste-enhancing badness. When you open the package, it doesn't even smell like tofu, but rather like one of those meatloaf-style burgers you get in frozen dinners or shelf-stable plastic packages for heating and eating.

The burgers are very pasty and wet. Moisture collects in the bottom of the plastic tray and handling them doesn't encourage faith that the experience of eating them will be rewarding. I wanted to get a good, possibly crispy, brown coating on the outside of the burger so I put the tiniest amount of butter (about 1/2 a pat) in my smallest non-stick frying pan and cooked it at medium-high heat. I figured the butter would brown and that would transfer to the burger if it wasn't going to brown on its own (which I had no reason to assume it would. It looked good while cooking, and it smelled like meat.

That's my homemade whole wheat bread, the smallest pieces from the end of the loaf.

I had already decided to eat it like any other kind of burger with a bit of cheese and mayo. I picked up some pretty pathetic Kraft "real" cheddar singles several days ago in desperation (thank you, Costco, for being closed for over a month since the quake so that I couldn't buy real cheese instead of processed cheese lying about being "real"). In the picture above, it looks like a lot of cheese, but it's actually a half ounce slice. The burgers are very small, 70 grams/2.5 oz., and probably would not satisfy a hearty eater. Most burgers that you eat tend to be closer to 3.5 oz., and many Americans typically will eat 5 or 6 ounce burgers. This was fine for me though as I don't tend to eat a great quantity for dinner. Each burger, incidentally, is about 170 calories.

The taste is good. In fact, it doesn't taste like tofu to me at all and resembles a mild meatloaf-style burger. That is, the type which has a lot of fillers and not quite so much meat. The texture is very similar to Japanese "hamburg steak" (like Salisbury steak). It's soft, but still meaty. It even breaks off much the same way as meatloaf when you bite into it.

This is a very good tofu burger. In fact, I would definitely consider buying it again in the future if I want to have something pre-made on hand. The price is good and it's easy to prepare and cook and it is tasty and a little on the unique side. Even tofu haters may find this enjoyable. If you're looking to consume more tofu, but find it hard to stomach, this is an excellent place to get started. It's tofu for meat lovers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tiramisu KitKat Mini (Quick Review)

Thanks to the earthquake, I'm going to start a new type of review. No, I'm not looking to dash off a quick review between tremors or before the bookshelf crashes down on me. The truth is that the earthquakes have lessened in frequency as of late, much to my great relief. However, economic circumstances as a result of the quake have reduced my husband's income and I have taken on a part-time job to make up for some of the shortfall.

Working two more days per week (which leaves me working 5 days a week like "normal" people) means I have less time to write reviews and other blog posts. I find myself faced with a choice and that is to either reduce the frequency of posting or to write some shorter reviews once or twice a week as necessary. Fortunately, I've also found that there are some snacks which require very little in the way of commentary anyway so it's all for the good. In fact, KitKats are ideally suited to short reviews since there is little to say about them beyond what they taste like. They're all the same format (wafer + chocolate of some ilk) and require no history or research. So, thanks to the Great Tohoku Earthquake, you will now receive "quick (aka brief) reviews". You may thank the shifting tectonic plates at your earliest convenience.

I saw these tiramisu KitKats for the first time a few days ago at New Days convenience store. They were being sold as part of a medium size bag with a "half and half" assortment. That is, half plain chocolate KitKats and half tiramisu flavor. I've still got plain mini KitKats on hand and didn't want to spend more for something which I didn't want half of so I cased the local 7-11's until I found one with a box of single minis on sale for 42 yen (52 cents). That allowed me to sample this without the delicious chocolate ballast. Note that the box I bought this from was pretty decimated, and only the second 7-11 had them for sale in this fashion. If you want to try a single bar, you may have to search around a bit for the right shop.

The advertising on the package says "cheese plus coffee harmony". I'm not so sure anyone feels coffee pairs well with "cheese", though this is supposed to be mascarpone, which is relatively bland. This is supposed to be .2% coffee, and 1.2% cheese, which I guess makes it 98.6% chocolate and wafer. It's the average body temperature of chocolate, I guess.

The white chocolate-based bar (the bar is white, I'm not taking pictures of KitKats anymore as they all look the same) smells strongly of coffee. There's also some weird artificial flavor that reminds me ever so slightly of rubber which I imagine is the cheese. On the second bite, this develops more into a somewhat gouda-like flavor. I wish I could say I was surprised that the Japanese version of a tiramisu would include a flavor which is too pungent, but it's actually what I expected. You learn a few things after a few too many experiences with "cheese" sweets flavored like cheddar instead of cream cheese.

This is a bizarre little bar. It has complex flavor which comes through with depth and intensity. The coffee flavor is bitter, strong, and well-balanced by the sweetness. The cheese flavoring tastes different with every bite and by the third bite vanishes into the coffee. The first bite was rather unpleasant, the second strange, and the the third pretty good. It's hard to render a verdict based on this experience but I'd recommend curiosity seekers who have access give it a try, especially if they like coffee. I wouldn't recommend, however, that you  buy the whole bag of minis nor that you pay an expensive import price. As a curiosity, this is okay, but I wouldn't buy it again.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Nanao Vanilla Golusia Gaufrette

I've never been to Europe and my first experience with European food is largely through living in Japan. As someone who grew up poor in the deep boonies of western Pennsylvania, I really didn't find much in the way of sophisticated imports, or unsophisticated ones, for that matter. American-made Cadbury chocolate was about as close to "European" as I ever got.

Gaufrette, which is a thin, lightly sweet cookie which is similar to a crispy waffle, is a French creation that is very popular in Japan. While a dictionary of cuisine says they are usually "fan-shaped", they're usually round here and sold most often as souvenirs in stations and department store basements (where food is usually sold). I used to be given these on a semi-regular basis when I worked in a Japanese office and when I saw this box of them on sale at the local 100-yen shop, it was my sense of nostalgia that motivated me to toss them in my basket.

 There's nothing like a cookie to make your life comfortable.

The cool thing about these Japanese-style gaufrette cookies is that there is almost no difference between the more expensive ones that you get in department stores and these cheap versions. The main reason for this is that the cream is very thin in the middle and lends very little to the flavor. Most of the taste comes from the crispy waffle cookie exterior, and it's pretty hard to mess up.

The exterior has a deeply baked waffle flavor. It's like a waffle cone, but less intense in flavor due to the thinness. It is lightly sweet and makes a good accompaniment to tea or coffee. It would also go very well with ice cream. If you want to actually taste the cream, which is very subtle in flavor but richly fatty, you need to slide the cookie apart and place the inside against your tongue. This is what I do, and fortunately the cookies slide apart as if they were stuck together with butter.

These cookies are easy to like, but not so easy to "love". They are mainly appealing for their texture. They are crispy in a way which is very gratifying and also have a pleasant flavor. For 100 yen ($1.24) for a box of 8 cookies slightly smaller than the size of your palm, they're a nice thing to have around for a light tea time treat. They're also only about 45 calories per cookie and that makes them light on the hips. If you're a fan of subtle, crispy cookies that work well with a beverage, I'd say they're worth your shelf space.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Lawson VL Chocolate Ice Milk Parfait

Every time I buy an ice cream or ice milk product, I review it on this blog. That should give you some idea of how infrequently I consume such products. I love them, but the caloric density is so high that I have to exercise caution. When I do want them though, I also find that many of the offerings in Japan don't quite do it for me. It's not that the quality isn't good, but rather that I have a particular craving for certain types of ice cream experiences when I'm ready to dive into some creamy, cold, fatty goodness.

One of the things I crave on a regular basis is a chocolate sundae like I occasionally had back home. I mean the sort of thing which comes with fudge sauce, whipped cream and nuts. Foolishly, at the times when I desire this, I'll try some Japanese concoction and feel incredibly disappointed. Part of the reason for this is that I'm not exactly seeking out the best quality sundaes at such times and will grab whatever has verisimilitude that is at hand. This is how I came to purchase this 100-yen (~$1.24) ice milk chocolate parfait.

I knew this wasn't going to be great, but I was at least hoping for something akin to soft serve ice cream with Hershey's syrup on it. I set the bar extremely low, but no matter how close to the ground I put it, this parfait was going to fail and trip over it. This tasted like frozen dairy nothingness. The chocolate sauce had very little in the way of chocolate taste and the ice milk was like sweetened reconstituted powdered milk mixed with flavorless gelatin to give it thickness. In my haze of sundae lust, I doused it with some Hershey's syrup we had on hand to try and give it something, but even that was not enough to make it worthwhile.

This was very disappointing, even to someone who didn't expect much at all. The only "good" thing is that the volume is fairly high (260 ml.) for only 176 calories and, of course, it's cheap, but the old axiom about getting what you pay for has never been truer. I've got to stop looking for sundae substitutes in Japan.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Random Picture 62

There are cans of "retro drops" for sale irregularly in Japan. This is a product which is not very popular for its actual taste, as they are simply fruit-flavored hard candies, but rather for the style of tin that they are sold in. Wikipedia says they have a lot of nostalgia value since they have been available since the Meiji period (early 1900's). However, the company that makes these was established in 1948, so I guess that before that it was one of those hand-rolling and making it out of a little building deals (shinise) that you see less and less frequently in Japan.

I've never bought these candies, and I can't see myself ever bothering to review them because I'm guessing they won't be appreciably different from whatever is offered in the West. These do have the virtue of being made with real fruit juice, but the only reason to buy them besides cultivating a cavity is for the tin they come in, and frankly, I've got enough junk lying around my apartment already.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Omai Oh!tsumami Pasta Snack

I'm probably one of two or three people in Asia right now who does not really care for noodles of any kind, which is rather a shame since I'm surrounded by ramen shops emanating the most delicious scents from pork bone broth. It could have something to do with the fact that I'm a world class food dropper and it's a struggle to get through a day's eating without dropping a portion of my meal onto my shirt. No matter how careful I am, it appears that I am incapable of keeping my food balanced on whatever utensil I am using to shove it into my mouth.

Considering the wet and unwieldy nature of pasta, my consumption of it is tempting fate to the very limit. If I can't manage to eat a forkful of rice without allowing it to plummet to my shirt, one can only imagine the stain patterns I could create when trying to eat noodles. It's not really the taste of noodles that is the issue, nor even really the texture, but perhaps my own lack of grace when eating it, or at least that's what I thought.

I purchased this "pasta" snack (168 yen/$2.06) with the firm belief that there is really nothing "pasta" about it. If you look at the pictures on the package, it looks like square crackers (true), almonds (true) and spiral crackers (not true). It appears that the maker, Denroku, wants to infuse the spiral crackers with something which resembles pasta and the spiral deals have a starchy uncooked pasta thing going on.

The main flavor of the mix is cheese and tomato sauce. The packaging calls this "pizza tomato" flavor, and it does remind me of the shakers full of "pizza spice" that used to be on offer at really bad pizza shops in the small town that I grew up in. We had to have those shakers of pizza flavoring to flavor the slabs of styrofoam-like pre-made crusts slathered with humdrum sauce and liberally topped with low quality mozzarella cheese. The badness of that pizza was awesome, and I find myself craving it on occasion even now.

Each little packet is only 18 grams (.63 oz.) and 92 calories. It's a tiny amount (as you can see by the picture of the bowl higher up), but should satisfy the need for a small salty snack. My response to this is mixed. I found it quite tasty except for that starchy flavor on the spirals. I love almonds and I enjoyed the flavor, but I think I might go for something else rather than this in the future. That being said, if this stays on the market, I could see picking it up on occasion when I had a hankering for that pizza seasoning that I knew in my youth.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tirol Soy Green Tea Latte Chocolate

I've been avoiding the little squares of Tirol chocolates for awhile now. Part of the reason for this is that the flavors have been in re-runs for some time, and unappealing ones at that. Another reason is that what has been on offer hasn't really sparked a fire under my ass. That being said, I'm not sure why I don't blithely just buy every single flavor and review it because each little 1-inch (2.5 cm.) candy is only 20 yen (about 24 cents). I have little to lose except the time it takes to whine about the sub-par ones.

It's that sort of reckless spending that brings this green tea chocolate to my dear readers today. I'm not a huge fan of green tea, but, hey, 20 yen. I found this at 7-11, but you can get them at any convenience store at the moment. This has 60 calories, which is a little higher than usual for these chocolates. I'm guessing that has something to do with how much sugar is packed into its white chocolate base. The initial hit of flavor is intensely sweet, but is chased by green tea bitterness.

The "latte" part of this is supposed to be the white chocolate center. I'm guessing that is where most of the intense sweetness comes from. The bitterness comes from the green part that serves as a bread to this little candy sandwich. The center is a chewy little gummi which lends texture rather than flavor. Perhaps it's supposed to be the "soy" portion, but honestly, I detect no soy flavor at all. It doesn't do anything at all for this besides stop it from being even sweeter and fattier.

If you're a green tea fan, I think you might really enjoy this. The green tea flavor comes across quite well and is well balanced by the sweet white chocolate. If you're sensitive to white chocolate, this still may be a bit much for you. All in all, I want to give this a happy rating because I thought it was good for a green tea chocolate, but I know I'll never buy another one again. So, this is a conditional "indifferent" rating. I thought this was enjoyable, but just not my kind of thing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Kan-etsu Mikan Gelatin Dessert

When I first searched for this company as part of my research, I came across a company with exactly the same name and a Japanese domain name which did construction. For a moment, I wondered if this was some mutant food product created from industrial chemicals that usually go into building houses. Perhaps the construction company wanted to diversify their business model by branching out into calorie-free desserts. Fortunately, I came across the food making Kan-etsu, which has a non-Japanese domain name (.com, not .co.jp)

I found this at Peacock supermarket while I was searching for cheese for my husband's sandwiches for lunch. I had been driven to Japanese cheese because it seems all or most of the Costcos in Japan have been shut down since the quake. More than a month after the quake, the Tamasakai branch that we usually go to was barred and denying us access to the Colby Jack cheese and cheap Starbucks espresso beans that we so desperately need. In desperation, I bought 8 small (18 gram/.63 oz.) plastic-wrapped slices for a whopping 278 yen ($3.42), and this 100-gram pack of gelatin for a mere 98 yen ($1.21). There were 4 flavors on offer - coffee, grape, mikan (Japanese tangerine), and grapefruit. The retail price is 148 yen ($1.82), so this was a "bargain".

The first bite has a nice hit of orange (mikan) flavor followed by unpleasant bitterness. I assume this is related to the aspartame and Sucralose that sweetens it. After two or three bites, the bitterness goes away and the sweetness amplifies. Unfortunately, the orange flavor also mellows with future bites. The gelatin, which is made with Japanese agar agar rather than animal products, is shelf stable (doesn't require refrigeration), but quite soft at any temperature.

This is a fairly large serving of gelatin, and though it claims it is zero calories, it's actually 5 calories for the whole 100 grams (3.5 oz.). That probably comes form the orange flavoring which is from fruit juice concentrate. It also has added antioxidants. The whole point of this is to fill a craving for dessert or to fill a grumbling belly when you don't want to eat something more fattening. To that end, it does work, though I believe the sugar-free Jell-O gelatin, which I haven't had for about 4 years but can still recall, tastes a bit better. Both this gelatin and Jell-O brand (sugar-free) have an aftertaste from the artificial sweeteners, but the latter has a more citric acid zest to it which makes it taste more like orange.

If you're trying to reduce your calories, and desperate to quiet a grumbling belly, this will do you. I wouldn't expect too much from it though and I don't think I'd buy it again. There are better calorie-free gelatin/jelly options out there that will fill the bill as well or better.