Monday, September 17, 2012

Shirakiku Kurogoma Daifuku

Stupid glare.

My husband recently completed a class in which he had to write a paper about the effect of cultural images on him. It made me think about how our shared cultural imagery, like the white Coca-cola logo on a red background, Tony the Tiger telling us that Frosted Flakes are grrrrreat, or Chester Cheetah encouraging us to turn our fingers and tongues orange are things Americans can all understand. I also thought about how, through many years of living in Japan, I came to know and relate to the images of that cultural including Akagi's Gari character and Anpanman. The spread of various cultures worldwide has begun a unification of shared experience such that we can increasingly identify with one another's experiences and find a connection through which we can relate to one another. This is why establishments like McDonald's, which are generally viewed only through the perspective of their negative effects on health and cuisine, may not be entirely seen as harbinger's of a worldwide cultural apocalypse. Perhaps they herald a worldwide expansion of waistlines and narrowing of arteries, but they do provide us all with a common cultural reference. The iconography of the golden arches is one people around the world can identify.

To a lesser extent, the names of companies are part of a shared cultural heritage. Depending on when you grew up and what you watched on T.V., you might have heard of "the Chubb group" (no, it's not a bunch of overweight singers) even if you don't know what business it is in. For those who don't know, it's an insurance company that sponsored a lot of public broadcasting during the days of my youth. When I lived in Japan, I worked directly with corporations as part of my longest running job and came to know the names of plenty of businesses that the Japanese knew well, but Americans would never have heard of. Yes, Virginia, there are more companies out there than Sony, Nintendo, and Toyota.

Through this blog, I further developed a pretty good understanding of food manufacturers in Japan. I didn't watch much T.V., so I didn't see commercials (which has been the primary way that I came to know America food producers), but I have done enough research to recognize the big guns in the Japanese snack world, and there are more out there than Nestle Japan, Morinaga, and Glico. Since coming back to the U.S., I sometimes feel a little thrill when I find something made by one of the familiar names from my time in Japan. I think the bigger surprise though is how infrequently I come across them. There is a whole range of Japanese and Japanese-sounding companies that produce food for export, but either don't produce them for the domestic market or do so under another name. This is a whole new level of corporate identity education for me, and it feels really strange to find this other layer. The company that made this daifuku, Shirakiku, is one of the places that falls in this new strata.

The company that makes this is Nishimoto, which is, according to their web site, a "100%" Japanese company with a wholly owned subsidiary in the U.S. The company began in 1912, which means this year is its 100th anniversary. Omedetou gozaimasu, Nishimoto (that's "congratulations"). They started off doing food trading between China and Japan, but switched over to the U.S. After a brief hiccup during World War II (for reasons one can guess), they have had increasingly impressive sales in the U.S. dealing in rice, snacks, frozen food, prepared food, and some drinks. The weird thing is that I don't recall ever buying their products in Japan, even though they clearly are a pretty major company. Previously, I reviewed an anpan that they distribute in America.

I realize that my fascination with such things exceeds that of my readers, and I hope that those of you who are bored to tears skipped to the end of the review where I talk about the food instead of falling asleep on your keyboard. Don't sue me if you have keyboard imprints in your forehead or chipped a tooth on the edge of your desk. I make no guarantee when it comes to the entertainment value of any of my blogs. You could demand your money back, of course, and a court may require me to reimburse you for your investment, but I'm guessing it wouldn't be worth the cost of a lawyer.

At any rate, the value of buying goods produced by someone who does so especially for America is that you get them at a lower cost. Instead of them being made to optimize costs in Japan, they are made to be affordable right here. This is the reason I'm sure this only cost me 99 cents (77 yen) at Nijiya supermarket in San Jose's Japantown. It was cheaper that I'd pay for such a thing in Tokyo at that rate.

For a daifuku, and a daifuku to those who don't know is a blob of glutinous rice cake filled with sweetened bean paste/jam (or some other filling), this is a bit small at 95 grams (3.35 oz.), but is certainly a hefty bit of Japanese sweet.The outside is beautifully studded with black sesame seeds and the weight of it is largely coming from a generous interior of relatively coarsely mashed red beans.

They're not really meant to be cut in half like this and it's not really a pretty sight with the smeared bean jam.

When you open the packet, you are greeted with the distinctive smell of the black sesame seeds. The mochi has a chewy exterior (think mozzarella cheese crossed with taffy in texture, but not taste) that pairs texturally well with the mashed-potato-like consistency of the anko filling. I was immediately struck by the fact that this is the least sweet daifuku I have ever had. The major flavor focus is on the sesame and anko. The anko is thick and "beany" rather than fine, smooth, and sweet. The mochi is sticky, but easy to chew and fresh. The depth of flavor and complexity of the textures is quite fulfilling, but it can seem a little bland at first since it takes awhile for the flavor to build up speed on your taste buds.

The ingredients list for this is rice flour, red beans, sugar, water, corn syrup, sesame seeds, and potato starch. The package says that this is a "product of U.S.A.", so I'm guessing this was made here for here, but that doesn't detract from the fact that this is very much like what I'd buy in Japan. In fact, given the low sweetness level, and modest 227 calories, this would fit in just fine in a selection of daifuku in Japan.

Sometimes, I strongly crave something with mochi and this really filled the bill. I had gone to Japantown originally to go to a famous sweets shop called Shuei-do, but they were closed and this was what I did to fill the hole. I can't say it is the best daifuku ever, and I absolutely can't say it would eclipse something fresh and hand-made from a sweets shop, but I can say this is pretty darn tasty, economical, and I'd buy it again.


miyazaki said...

Hi. I shop at the Nijiya up here in SF and I see the Shirakiku name on a lot of products. I have had those daifuku and they are pretty good! I always have to make sure to bite off a smaller piece and chew it well, otherwise half is on it's way down before I'm done...gag, ha ha..

As an aside from your other post about buying up products you like before they're gone, I have had that experience with buying senbei. I find some great one and then go back to Nijiya to see it gone(or sometimes magically re appear months later) and wish I had bought more of that item.

SusieTron FiveThousand said...

Every once in a blue moon my local Asian market will carry these snacks. I really enjoy them and must like your other post, I am tempted to buy more than I can consume before they go bad. :( So I savor them when I can get them and when I can't I look forward to the times that I can. I like having them with a very weak green tea or chamomile.

brit_brat100 said...

I feel silly asking this in a comment, but I often want to ask. I also happen to be very close to the Mountain View Nijiya (I know you mentioned the SJ in this particular post) and when you post about something I'm interested in, I will often rush out to the store to find it, but I rarely do. I know things come and go all the time, but I'm wondering if I'm looking in the wrong place. KitKats are easy to find, but are other treats (like this one) in with the candy too, or are they somewhere else in the store?

Orchid64 said...

Thanks to all for the comments!

miyazaki: Always be careful with mochi and, if you can't resist taking a big bite, keep that vacuum cleaner handy! ;-) I'm sorry to hear that Nijiya doesn't always keep things in stock. I'll have to bear that in mind for my shopping here!

Susie: I guess they don't want to stock too many because they can't have the longest shelf life. One of the Nijiya's that I went to had frozen daifuku, which was actually very good (but a different brand). I wonder if they keep the frozen stuff around more regularly.

brit_brat100: The San Jose and Mountain View shops stock different things. I noticed this when I went to each! One of them (San Jose) didn't stock the banana chocolate Tirol and the other (Mountain View) didn't stock this daifuku. That's especially annoying since, at 99 cents, this is such a bargain for daifuku. I bought the frozen black sesame daifuku at the Mountain View store, but it was $1.50 and sweeter, bigger, and more calories than this one. It was still good, and I'd buy it again, but I prefer this one.