Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Random Picture #151

When I was in Japan, I saw plenty of knock-off products which aped American brands. In particular, it seemed for awhile there that every new coffee shop had a round, green and white logo which was working overtime to remind us of the one with the mermaid that sells coffee that aficionados claim tastes burnt and Philistines like me actually enjoy. Actually, it's pretty rare that I go to a Starbucks at all, but I do buy bags of their espresso roast at Costco and make it at home. I guess I just like "burnt".

At any rate, the Japanese did their share of knocking, but they also get knocked off a lot as the picture above demonstrates. There's a tiny little Asian market about a half hour walk from where I'm currently residing and they had this packet of cookies on the shelf. It's clearly a rip-off of Koala's March by Lotte. I've reloaded the picture I used in a recent review to allow for a comparison. Unlike Meiji's "Hello Panda," they aren't even bothering to hide the fact that they're stealing. The graphic on the box is nearly identical, as are the cookie shapes. They can steal the general look, but the graphics on the cookies are decidedly low rent and give away the fact that these are cheaply made. Still, I'd like to pick some up some day and complete a comparison of the three types (Koala's March, Hello Panda, and Golden Bear). I'm betting that Koala's March would win, but you never know when the long shot will come from behind and take the trophy. Also, with a company name like "Ego" (which almost certainly doesn't refer to the English word, but let me pretend), how can you not be a winner... at least in your own mind.

Monday, February 25, 2013

D-Plus Hokkaido Cream Pastry Roll

Recently, I tried protein powder as a standalone product for the first time. I'm sure that I've consumed food which has had the equivalent of such supplements before, but this was my first experience with scooping it out and stirring it into a beverage in such a way that I could really taste it. Incidentally, I didn't buy it, but was given it free for review. I don't normally eat protein powder, but that's not the point I'm getting to anyway.

The protein powder had a particular familiar taste which I could not put my finger on for quite some time. I looked at the ingredients, the first of which related to peas, which I rarely eat and have an irrational dislike of because my mother tried to force-feed them to me when I was a kid, and there was nothing there to clue me in on why it should taste like some sense memory lodged deep in the memory banks of my aging brain. After giving up on pinpointing it, the answer came unbidden into my mind. It tasted like a much more intense version of the aftertaste from cheap vitamin fortified cereal, likely a Cheerios knock-off that I had in my impoverished upbringing. 

In a strange way, this made sense since I imagine one way in which cereal, which is really pretty bad for you, is "fortified" with nutrients is with vitamin powders. This protein powder had a similar taste profile. The weird thing was that the familiarity of it actually made it seem "better". It wasn't that it tasted good, nor that I had any sort of fond memory of that cereal, but just the fact that it was familiar made me like it more. Nostalgia is a potent modifier of experience.

That is a phrase that comes to mind because this Hokkaido Cream pastry roll, purchased at Daiso Japan for a modest $1.50, is all about nostalgia for me. No one, save my husband, whined more about the "bready" relatively shelf stable pastries in Japan more than me. They were not sweet enough, had too little flavor and were always composed of relatively bland white bread. However, that presentation is something which I'll always associate with living there. This roll tasted like life in Tokyo.

That is not to say that it tasted "great", but it was actually better than expected. I sampled a D-Plus Anpan previously, and found it disappointing. This was somewhat better for two reasons. First of all, the bread was fluffier and softer than the anpan version. It was suprisingly fresh in terms of the texture. That could be the nature of this sweet or I could have gotten the anpan at the end of its shelf life and the cream bread at the beginning. It's hard to say for sure, but it was actually pretty decent as far as being soft.

The "cream" part was where it really hit home as a carby slice of Japan. I thought that I'd cut it open and find a small anemic pocket of cream in the middle surrounded by a huge amount of bread. That wasn't the way it worked. If you look at the picture above, you can see dots of yellow that look like tiny bits of butter. You can also see that the cream bread is layered is sections. The cream is distributed in marginal amounts between each segment. This may account for how moist and soft the bread is since even a smattering of fatty cream filling may keep the bread from drying out.

In terms of the taste, I honestly liked it. It is ever so slightly sweet and had the barest hint of custard taste. Coupled with the fairly good texture, this was a serviceable breakfast bread or snack (and at 270 calories, it was a reasonable portion). The truth is that I'd buy this again. However, I think that this is not something I'd recommend for my readers unless they have the same nostalgia for Japan that I do. Objectively speaking, this is no great shakes and you'd be better off buying a nice bun or roll from a supermarket bakery. This was good, but only for what it is and for those who have a sense memory they'd like to relive. I'm sure that's how these D-Plus pastries remain in stock at Japanese markets. They cater to the desire of people who want the "Japanese taste" while they're not in Japan. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Coca-Cola's AR app vending machines (product information)

All images from Coca-Cola Japan's web site.

One of the clients which my company dealt with when I was working in Japan was a maker and distributor of vending machines. Prior to the March 11, 2011 earthquake, their main concerns were maintenance, distribution, and making the machines appealing to use relative to purchasing in shops. For example, they would build in little games that would reward people for buying a drink on rare occasions. They worked on the same principle as a slot machine, only with fewer wins.

After the big quake, setsuden, or energy conservation kicked in so that the nuclear reactors could be shut down and setsucden continues to this day so they can continue to keep them out of operation. When I spoke to employees of the client that made such machines later in 2011, their main focus shifted entirely to finding ways to keep drinks in the machines cold or hot while reducing the energy use. They were worried that the number of total machines would be reduced if they didn't lower energy consumption. If you make vending machines, the last thing you want is for fewer of them to be in use.

A man puts up a sign talking about Coke's power consumption efforts.

One of the ways in which they accomplished this was by using LED lights, using better insulation and by reducing refrigeration during certain times. They rotate turning off the machine for 3 minutes during peak hours. Apparently, their attempts to reduce the energy footprint were so successful that they have been awarded the energy conservation grand prize. This may not sound like a big deal, but there are a lot of vending machines in Japan and the aggregate savings not only helps cope with the diminished capacity to supply energy, but also lowers Japan's carbon footprint. Every little bit, especially on the corporate level, counts, and they've reduced the energy their machines use by 33%. (Let us all collectively pat, Coca-cola Japan on the back for a job well done.)

Though it may seem that they have done nothing but toil on energy reduction engineering, they're continuing to try to find ways to make using the machines more fun. To that end, Coca-Cola Japan has introduced an AR "apply" (app) that allows smart phone users to have an "augmented reality" (AR) experience with a vending machine. That would be a lot more scintillating if the vending machines were dispensing marital aids or adult materials, but what kind of AR would make using a Coke machine better?

This is a video showing some of the capability of the AR app for smartphones when used with a Coke machine. By the way, at the very end, I believe the guy holding up the hats is trying to say,  "coming soon" in English, but I could be wrong. It comes across as very garbled to me.

It turns out that the bonus is that you can interact with the cute little polar bear graphic on the machine using your smart phone. If you touch him in various spots (and I know what you're thinking you perverts), he'll sneeze, giggle, etc. You can also see commercials for a few of the products stocked in the machine because, you know, you would like more chances to view advertising.

Coke makes a big to-do about choosing the polar bear image because it is a symbol for the effects of global warming. However, the polar bear has been in Coke ads since long before anyone ever started talking about climate change. Though there is a connection to melting polar ice caps, I think the real reason is that they're just so darn adorable that they're hoping you'll want to install their app so you can rub his tummy and watch him laugh.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Random Picture #150

Cheese sweets in the U.S. are synonymous with pretty much only one type of cheese, cream cheese.  Most of us would not think of adding sugar to any type of pungent (savory) cheese. Oh, I guess in a pinch one might go nuts and sweeten up some tangy goat cheese, but you know how things are with goats. They'll do or eat just about anything.

In Japan, one of the things which was a challenge for me was accepting that they liked to offer cheese sweets with Gouda, Camembert and cheddar. Every single cheese pastry I ever bought was made with one of those cheeses. I tried hard through the years to expand my palate, but I never quite got into the idea of cheesecake made with traditionally savory cheeses. I'm sure that meant that I missed out on a lot of opportunities for unique snacking experiences, but I can't say I'm full of regret at those missed chances.

The sign above was in Tokyo station and the food on offer is cheesecake made with Camembert. I love Camembert cheese, either on its own or a cracker. I even love it as part of an open-faced sandwich. However, I was not prepared to eat it in a cake like this. This particular "treat" was on offer as a souvenir (to give to friends, family, or, most often, office mates) rather than as something a person might just buy for their own consumption, but I'm pretty sure that if I picked up one of these for the folks back home, they'd regard it as the equivalent of a cockroach lollipop or some other such weirdness.

I haven't been to Europe, but I do wonder if this notion of using cheese that we regard as only having savory applications in the U.S. originated there and the Japanese picked up on it, or if this is a merging of the occidental and the "oriental".

Monday, February 18, 2013

Shirakiku Koban Sembei (Cheese)

I'd seen these rice crackers (sembei) hanging around the racks at Daiso Japan for awhile and ignored them because they had a fluorescent pink $1.00 sticker on them. I figured that, in a shop that usually sells things for $1.50, there had to be something wrong with them for the price to be marked down.

However, my desire for cheesy goodness coupled with what I saw as a funny name overrode any apprehension I had. And, yes, I realize how ridiculous it is to have any hesitation about spending a buck on a bag of snack crackers, but I've had far too many unfinished packages in my life from a lack of judiciousness in these situations. As someone who is borderline obsessed with not wasting things (I save broccoli stems and asparagus stalks to make soup because I can't stand to toss them out), I feel bad about just tossing things out. That's probably why there are so few of the "unhappy" and "very unhappy" ratings on this blog as they mean that I decided simply to throw something away. I always try to finish.

At any rate, the name of these reminds me of Japanese police boxes which are called koban. I imagined that these were the snack of choice for men who spent their days giving people directions and stopping people to ask if they'd stolen their bikes. In essence, I liked to imagine that these were to Japanese cops as donuts are to American ones.

However, my banal little fantasy is stopped in its tracks by the fact that the words are the same, but the kanji (Chinese characters) are different. This isn't this koban - 交番 it's that koban - 小判. If you can't read that and it shows up as gibberish for you, it doesn't matter because I'm just going to say that the latter refers to an oval coin used during the feudal Edo period in Japan. Bummer. It was funnier to imagine portly cops with salt-covered fingers talking about the latest results of the Yomiuri Giants while ordering a young compatriot to go chase down a foreigner and make him prove he's not a criminal.

My lazy cop fantasies dashed, I sat down and tried my super cheap sembei and was pleasantly surprised. These crackers are a flavor burst of pleasantly pungent cheesy goodness with a nice dose of what I can only call a meaty (umami) kick. The second bite starts in with some smoked cheese flavor. They are not too much of anything and that allows the flavor depth to come through.

The meaty flavor probably comes courtesy of MSG, but cheese is nowhere to be found in the ingredients list. It does include a handful of chemicals including "artificial flavor" and aspartame. Though they don't taste especially sweet, they do include sugar and glucose syrup in addition to the aforementioned artificial sweetener. All in all, these could put the "junk" in junk food.

Despite their nutritional shortcomings, I've already bought these twice and would buy them again. I love the cheesy flavor with savory undertones as well as the good portion control of the individual packages with two crackers each (25 calories). They're also very economical as a sembei option and the Daiso Japan is one of the easier haunts for me to reach if I'm in the mood for some rice cracker lovin'. While Amazon carries a lot of Shirakaku's Japanese food products, they, unfortunately, do not carry the cheese sembei.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lemon Lucky Thin Crackers

One of the things that I'm finding overwhelming about being in the U.S. is the enormous variety of products. There are dozens of flavors of some things, and several flavors of nearly everything. The selection is often so overwhelming that you spend most of the time trying to tune out what you don't want and zero in on what you do. While selection is great, research has shown that having more than three choices changes the experience from one that is interesting to one that is stressful. Do you hear that Nabisco? We don't need more than 30 Oreo products available at any given time!

Part of the problem with having so many choices, besides the fact that you can end up like Mr. Burns standing around trying to decide between "ketchup" and "catsup", is that you tend to be so overwhelmed by choice that you have to zero in on a small subset and ignore everything else. Sometimes, what is in "everything else" may be of interest either economically or in terms of flavor. That is where these crackers come in. The truth is that I would almost certainly never choose to buy these if I were perusing a store that carried them because there's so much other food and this would look like a weird or boring option. I'd likely eliminate the section they were in and zero in on the more glamorous-looking options.

Fortunately, I was given these as a hostess gift by a visiting friend. When we have her over, she always asks if she can bring anything. We always say she doesn't need to bring anything, but, if she insists, she can bring something for dessert. This has turned out to be a good deal because she's of Chinese descent and often brings us family favorites that we are unfamiliar with. Her previous treat was a roll cookie which I really enjoyed. This time, it was these lemon crackers.

These are distributed by a company called "President Global Corporation" and made in Indonesia. They make a variety of these types of crackers including honeydew melon, chocolate, coconut, and sesame flavors. In terms of snacks, they also sell rice crackers and various other cookies and wafers. Beverages, noodles, and other more mundane food offerings are also a part of their line-up. Though I do not know where my friend got these, after receiving them, I noted that they were available at 99 Ranch Market. What was even better is that they are only 99 cents (92 yen) a box, so they are an economical choice if you want to experiment.

The crackers smell pleasantly lemony and look like a thin version of a Ritz. The top is lightly sprinkled with sugar. The flavor is a very pleasant mixture of a basic cracker with light sweetness and real lemon flavor that is at just the right level to be present, but not strong enough to seem like you're eating something that furniture polish has been splashed onto. The texture is light and they are pleasantly crispy, though not as brittle as a saltine.

No one is more surprised than me that these are so good. They are quite addictive, in fact, and I think they'd pair well with a cup of tea as a light snack. Saying "light" is not to be confused with "low calorie" as the whole small box (100 grams/3.5 oz.) is 415 calories. They also are not "healthy" as the ingredients list starts with flour followed by sugar then vegetable oil (pal or coconut). The lion's share of what you are eating is a refined carb, sugar, and a hydrogenated fat. If you can exercise portion control, however, that should not be a problem.

I really liked these and will absolutely try another flavor in the near future. If you are a fan of more elaborate treats rather than something relatively simple and clean, these may not float your boat. These are nothing like the sugar, flavor-blasted stuff that tends to be more popular in the United States. They are subtle and delicate and not nearly as sweet as a cookie nor as salty as a cracker. However, I think they're well worth a sampling if you can pick up a box for cheap.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Random Picture #149

The Japanese are great at fusion, and I don't mean just cooking. They can take disparate elements and mix them up to create something uniquely Japanese. This might explain the propensity to create things like wasabi KitKats. Of course, a better explanation might be insanity, or taste buds that are completely confused. You have to tip your hat to them though for being so open to merging their culture with the cultures of others.

This bag of Disney rice crackers fuses three, and arguably four, cultural elements. The curry comes from India. Mickey Mouse is pure Americana, and the rice crackers are Chinese and/or Japanese. Three great tastes that taste great together. Who wouldn't want to have a cartoon rodent smiling at them with his tongue sticking out as they enjoy a salted snack food?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lotte Koala's March Chocolate Biscuits

One of the things I'm coming to realize after returning to the U.S. is that all of the ooohing and aaaahing over weird Japanese flavors accompanied by whining about how America's flavors are so boooooring was pretty badly misplaced. There are about a million different flavors of Pop-Tarts on the market, so many that I can't begin to track them all. Since I don't like Pop-Tarts, this isn't a big deal. Similarly, there appear to be special flavors of Oreos being released at regular intervals (and only at certain stores). America absolutely has its fair share of funky flavors, though the really obscure ones tend not to be embraced by mainstream producers. Nestle Japan used to really go out on a limb with KitKats (not so much these days). You can't say the same for Oreos or Pop-Tarts. Sure, you can get turkey-flavored soda pop, but it's not going to be made by Pepsi or Coke.

At any rate, one of the things I tended to do in Japan was review the odder or newer flavors of a product while passing on the tried and true version. This would be tantamount to reviewing gingerbread Oreos, but never covering the regular version. I thought of this because, while I've covered a few oddball versions of Koala's March, I never reviewed the more pedestrian chocolate version.

Part of the reason for this was that tried this product a long time ago, and it was not much to my liking. The main issue was that it was just too sweet for me. I decided to revisit it, however, when I read about a change in the recipe on some food forum or other. The claim was that the sweetness level had been dialed down. That gave me hope that I'd like them better. Also, I wanted to compare them directly to "Hello Panda", which I reviewed not too long ago. I wanted to test out whether they were essentially the same, but just focusing on different types of bears.

Aren't they adorable? Don't you just want to eat them up? ;-)

To address the first point about flavor, they are not as sweet as they used to be and this is an incredibly welcome turn of events. Now, remember when I say, "as they used to be", that I am likely comparing them to an experience I had more than 10 years ago. If you've had them more recently than that, this may be the same old biscuit that you've known all along. 

The chocolate inside of the almost wafer thin cookie shell is slightly bittersweet and has a pretty serviceable flavor depth for a consumer grade product. It's got good cocoa notes as well as a bitter bottom flavor. It's mellowed out by the creamy texture of the filling as well as the bland cookie shell. It's not strong on milky flavors, but those who hate darker chocolate flavors will probably be placated by the way the fatty filling seems to add in some buttery notes.

In terms of how it compares to "Hello Panda", though they look rather similar, they are absolutely two different experiences. These have a much thinner cookie shell which serves mainly as a delivery mechanism for the thick creamy filling. There isn't much of a sense that these are cookies so much as the cookie equivalent of an M & M. That is, you're eating chocolate in a way which is not messy. "Hello Panda" cookies taste like chocolate chip cookies with a much thicker outer shell, sparser chocolate filling, and a stronger "biscuit" flavor. Also, "Hello Panda" has a creamier filling which isn't nearly as close to solid chocolate as Koala's March.

These were either a lot better than I remember them being or they really have changed the recipe. I'd even buy these again some time since they are rather nice to have around as a small, chocolatey morsel to pop in your mouth when you have the urge. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lotte Zeus Gum (product info.)

Gum has to be one of the hardest products to market. The utility of gum is that it freshens breath, cleans teeth, or gives various ways for those with unremitting oral fixations to exercise them without resorting to things like eating, smoking, or sucking their thumbs. It's not the least bit sexy to market gum as "adult pacifiers", though I guess you could try to hook them in with it being an incredibly disgusting art supply.

Lotte has an angle which caters to the need to feel that we have more power by virtue of emulating a cow in a field working its cud. They have re-released a line of gum (repackaged and enhanced flavors) named "Zeus" so you can believe yourself not only to be a god, but the big daddy of all of the gods. To further enhance your sense of empowerment, they have given them appropriate names that will make you feel like stuffing a stick in your mouth and masticating it will give you the power to smite your enemies. The names of them are "thunder spark", "aurora curtain", "snow storm" and "rain shower."

One has to wonder how each of the flavors was assigned. After all, what does an aurora taste like? Will the "thunder spark" shock your tongue? Frankly, "rain shower" sounds downright boring next to the other options. Part of what makes this gum unique is that they are layering it and putting an "accent" flavor in the middle. In "rain shower", for example, there is a green tea "accent" sandwiched between peppermint "base" flavors. When you explain it as "green tea and peppermint", it sounds a lot less exhilarating than calling it "rain shower". The "aurora" is essentially your basic juicy fruit rather than norther lights on your tongue. Lotte has gone to so much effort to make these sound like more than they are, and I've just gone and spoiled half of the party for everyone.

The spokesman for the gum is Dai Tamesue, who is apparently a well-known athlete in Japan. The fact that I had never heard of him befroe in no way reflects on his lack of international notoriety. The truth is that I don't know any famous American athletes either. Every time I play Trivial Pursuit with my husband, I answer any sports question, regardless of the involved sport, with the same reply because I only know one famous guy, Pete Rose. The question could be, what famous Japanese karate champion was caught spooning a Shetland pony and committed seppuku in disgrace and I'd still answer, "Pete Rose." I'm just not that into sports, though if that actually had happened, I might find myself more interested in the private lives of those who practice karate.

The commercial shows Dai running through the street as the elements for each flavor of gum flash over his head. He's a runner or hurdle jumper or some such so, you know, he has to be showing us his stuff in the commercial. Of course, the whole image of an athlete would work better if he wasn't wearing a suit and tie while he was fleeing the nightmarish changes in the meteorological circumstances. Also, he's not chewing gum while he runs despite cramming some into his mouth before he starts.

The advertising for this line promises that they will 'evoke new emotions'. I have to admit that, though I've had some gum in my time, I've never found it to be a particularly emotional experience. Honestly, I also believe that, if you're turning to gum to make you feel something, it might be time to have your medication changed.

Those who are so excited by the concept of this gum and it's packaging that they would like to plaster pictures of it on their desktop can find some wallpapers here. I know you'll all be rushing to download right this very moment.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Random Picture #148

We're still in the throes of winter, or what passes for it in northern California, but I thought I'd share an image  from a summer festival in Japan. If you're feeling good and chilly already, this should send a shiver down your spine. During a tanabata festival, we caught a shot of this young fellow plunging his arm deep into a bath of ice to plumb for just the right beverage for a customer. When we saw him do this, we had two thoughts. First, this couldn't be comfortable. Second, despite the discomfort, in the high heat and humidity of an August in Tokyo, it may be preferable to consistently standing in the crowd and sweating. I imagine he had an impulse more than once to just plunge his face into the bath. I'm guessing, however, that customers would strongly object to his sweaty brow coming into contact with water that touched a can or bottle that touched their lips. Of course, they didn't seem to care or notice that his sweaty forearm was swirling around in there.

The tanabata festivals were scattered all over Japan at different times of the year. Our local one was actually quite late compared to most of the ones in other parts of Japan. That didn't generally make it any different than the other ones, it was just a lot more uncomfortable due to the increased temperatures.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Yuki & Love Brown Sugar Mochi

Writing a blog sometimes causes you to face problems that most others don't have to think about. For instance, the name of the maker of this product is "Yuki & Love". When I tried to use the name of the company as a part of the title of the post, Blogger threw up a red flag and said that I could not pass "Go" and I would not be given my $200 (aka, it wouldn't save my post with that name).

As you can imagine, it's a bit perplexing to see how my title so offends the Blogger gods, but I actually did know what it was on about. This is one of those dumb things about computers that you don't think about until it steps up and smacks you in the face. Blogger's glove slap to my cheek was the result of using an ampersand (&) character in a title. What was worse than that was the fact that it had a digital hissy fit was that it did it on a post I'd written on a Mac, but not on a similarly named post that I'd written on a PC (yes, I'm "bi-platform", call me a pervert if you like... in fact, I'd like it if you did call me a pervert).

This is one of those "under the hood" issues that makes no sense unless you're someone who has lived on the deeper edge of the computer-using continuum, and while, I'm no geek, I have had to tussle with these problems before as part of my work in publishing textbooks. All of these letters that are showing up on your screen have various codes and such associated with them and, while it may look like an ampersand is an ampersand to our eyes, the computer begs to differ with our assessment of such things. What you're seeing isn't necessarily what is being gotten. (Yes, I solved the problem by choosing a different ampersand with a different code from the Mac's character palette. Even though they looked the same, one choked the system and the other went down nice and smooth.)

Such is the case with this "Japanese style brown sugar mochi". What I seem to be seeing is a super creamy center that is just barely failing to ooze out of it's pounded rice cake wrapping. It looks like a chocolately delight, though, of course it's actually brown sugar. What I saw on the front of the box though, was not precisely what I got. 

Opening the package and seeing the dusty little balls with a scuffed tops filled me with a sense of foreboding. Cutting one in half to reveal the dark innards further filled me with a notion that these were not going to be as good as my previous experience with the taro mochi. It resembles more closely what you'd scoop out of a cat's litter box than what is shown on the box with a sugary, creamy center.

One of the things I was extremely happy about when I tried the taro version was that the pounded-rice-cake  was soft and chewy as real Japanese mochi should be. I was very disappointed when I discovered that the brown sugar version has a fairly tough mochi casing. The thing that tends to make or break these types of treats is the texture as they are usually not incredibly sweet or intensely flavorful. Ideally, you get a multi-faceted experience in which you get the texture of the smooth, somewhat grainy center with the soft, chewy rice cake with subtle but pronounced flavors. This was slightly better after I gave it 5 seconds in the microwave, but I have to caution readers from repeating that procedure as these types of sweets get molten hot super fast and the center can burn your tongue pretty badly if you go just a few seconds too far in your irradiating.

Though the texture was disappointing, my main problem was with an odd flavor that came along with it. I think this funky taste may have came from the use of sulphered molasses (the sulphur acts as a preservative, but it does make the molasses taste different). However, I'm really not sure of the source of this taste. I only know that it greatly undermined the quality of the experience of eating this. It tasted generally fine and sufficiently "brown sugary", but that off flavor which seemed concentrated in the powdery coating on the outside was a real spoiler.

When I reviewed the "Yuki & Love" taro mochi, I lamented that I hadn't taken advantage of a sale at Ranch 99 Market to buy up other flavors while they were on sale. As luck would have it, all varieties were placed on sale for $1.50 a box and I scooped up a few more. Given how happy I was with the taro version, I had high hopes that the brown sugar version would make me as happy as brown sugar appears to have made the Rolling Stones in their song. Alas, it failed to meet my expectations.

This isn't really "bad" mochi, and it certainly was in line with the price point, but it also was  not especially "good" either. I'd call it a decidedly "meh" experience and I wouldn't buy it again. In fact, it's safe to say that I wouldn't really care to get a box for free, though I will likely slowly finish this box because it's still mochi.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Wasabi Pistachios

There's another blog out there called "The Japanese Snack Food Review" that predates my blog. I didn't know that it existed until after I had applied my unimaginative naming to my blog. The interesting thing about both blogs is that there is so little overlap in content. It's only on rather rare occasions that we have reviewed the same things. That just goes to show that there is an amazing wide world of junk food out there from Japan (and other parts of Asia) to go around such that a plethora of review blogs can't manage to educate you on the whole picture. Of course, I'm not saying that two blogs constitute a "plethora", but we're not the only two handling this vast and immensely important topic.

The reason I'm mentioning the other blog with a similar name is that this product made me think of it. "The Japanese Snack Food Review" hasn't updated in awhile, or I would have thought of it because of having read a review. While I have smiling, grimacing or frowning sumo faces as my review system, that blog uses wasabi peas. I've never actually consumed a wasabi pea, but these wasabi pistachios come close and they reminded me of that other blog. It makes me think that I should actually try a wasabi pea one of these days.

Regarding the matter at hand, these wasabi pistachios, they come to me courtesy of Madison Vigil, who is selling and distributing these at this web site. When you go on over and have a peak, don't look too closely at the mascot. Their karate kid with a pistachio head demonstrating that these are "The Nut With A Kick" looks like it came out of a David Lynch movie. In fact, now that I've said that, I wonder if Mr. Lynch will do some vanity searching, find this reference and contact the maker of this snack for permission to make a movie starring "pistachio head". It'll be the surreal tale of a sentient nut that meanders a Dali-esque landscape  searching for his parents, a pistachio tree and a vegan lesbian who somehow merged during an electrical storm on a night in which a harmonic convergence occurred while eating screaming brazil nuts. Or something.

Now that you have that image in your head, let's talk salty snack food. When that movie (inevitably) gets made, you'll need something appropriate to crunch on while you're watching the disturbing images play out before you. This is definitely the right choice when it comes to that. There are 25 single-serving packets in the tub, so do take a group of friends to the world premiere. The small portions are something you should be happy for two reasons. First of all, they are pretty calorific at 152 calories per 1 oz/28 g serving. Second, too much wasabi at once is going to punch a hole through the back of your sinuses and climb up into your brain and set it alight (I'm sure that'll be in the David Lynch movie as well).

The first thing I did was open the packet and give it a sniff and these smell great. The mixture of the scent of pistachios and wasabi is a lovely one. I placed one on my tongue and let it's heat play for a bit until it smacked my nasal passages so abusively that I had to give in and bite into one. That taste yielded the familiar chlorophyll notes of wasabi coupled with the warm and fatty nature of the pistachio. There is also some well-balanced saltiness and sweetness. The flavor profile is definitely complex if you give it time to unfold. If you just chow down on them like a crunchy addictive snack food, I'm guessing they'll just seem pretty hot, nutty and sweet at the same time. I do recommend, however, that you try to slow down and enjoy them properly.

While most of these did a proper wasabi punch on my senses (oh, my sinuses!), an occasional nut seemed not to have quite the same effect. I'm not sure if that was acclimation of my senses, or if the heat-producing elements aren't absolutely evenly distributed. The truth is that it is almost welcome if it's inconsistent because these are fairly potent in the best way, but also in the way that the heat can layer on and build up a bit. A little "rest" isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I really enjoyed these, and appreciated the sample sent to me to review. If you're a wasabi and pistachio fan, you can buy your own tub for $9.50 at their web site. My only reservation is that they are pretty fattening, and it's really easy to just lose track and eat several packets. There are certainly worse things for one to worry about in life than getting fat on wasabi pistachios.