Monday, April 30, 2012

Taishyo Ame

As I grew increasingly bored by the sweets on offer in usual venues (convenience stores, supermarkets, snack shops) in Tokyo, I started to look further afield for interesting items. During my last year in Japan, I happened to work near not one, not two, but three shops specializing in regional sweets. One of them sold items from Hokkaido, including the Guarana soda I reviewed previously. It was at that very shop (in Shinjuku, near the Southern Terrace exit), I found this little bit of candy for 50 yen (about 60 cents).

I like old-fashioned packaging, and often was drawn to candy merely by such packaging. Unfortunately, what lured the foreign snack review blogger didn't necessarily draw in the jaded locals, who often saw such candy as something their parents or grandparents ate. Let's face it, this is not the sort of thing that people are going to be loudly shouting about in television commercials. It's far more likely to be welded to the bottom of your granny's pocketbook after being forgotten over a hot summer.

The company that makes this is called Kibidango and they make a relatively small range of traditional treats. I reviewed their "millet dumpling" awhile back with limited enthusiasm. They make the sort of stuff that most foreigners would shun based on the inability to determine what is inside. Even if you bought it based on the packaging, it might scare you away once you saw what was inside. Let's face it, this looks like it may have gone moldy with the little black specks embedded in the whiteness.

Inside the wrapper is a flat little block (18 grams or about half an ounce) covered in oblaat, an edible wrapper which is similar to the types of coatings on (medicinal) capsules. The ingredients list is very short and is only malt syrup, sugar, sesame, and oblaat. The little slab is rather tough and hard to bite into. It's like taffy or hard nougat that you have to fight free from the larger piece in order to take a bite of it. Think of yourself like a dog that is trying to wrest the rag free from your master's hands as you attempt to tear off a bit. After you manage to bite off a piece, it'll slowly become more pliable and taffy-like in your mouth. It'll stick to your teeth like nobody's business and threaten to rip out your fillings.

The question is, is it worth the chewing? The answer is a less than resounding, "yes". The reward is a very nicely flavored bit of black sesame taffy which is has a good, but not cloying or overbearing sweetness. Mind you, I recommend only eating about half of the small portion at once as the sweetness does build up as you eat more. However, I did like the flavor of this quite a lot, but I didn't care for the texture much at all, especially in terms of trying to tear a bit free of the entire smallish piece. I'd say this is worth a try if you like taffy and have good, strong teeth. This gets a "happy" rating, but only barely.

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