Friday, May 31, 2013

El Mexicano Marias Cookies

When I came back to the U.S., one of the things I thought I should do was diversify a bit so that I covered snacks from other countries. While I've done that a little, I've still mainly focused on Japanese snacks. I have forgotten that I wanted to shoehorn in some other things, and Mexican snacks in particular. I have ample access to them, and they're generally pretty cheap, and writing about them encourages me to keep sampling new things.

Unfortunately, after awhile, I stopped "seeing" things. This is what happens when you live in a place for awhile. Everything fades into the background noise and you just don't even think about it. One of the things I appreciated about living in Japan is that I tended not to do that, and I wish I could stop it from happening here, but I do have to make an effort.

One thing I noticed in Mexican markets is that they are generally well-stocked with a sort of cookie that looks very plain and resemble butter cookies or crackers. I didn't expect much of them, and I expected even less of them when I picked up this package for a mere 33 cents (33 yen) for 6 oz./170 grams. That's a lot of cookie for very little cash. Most of the time, I see these types of things in enormous packages and I wondered what the appeal was.

One thing I never noticed before is that "Maria" is not the product name, but rather the name of a type of Spanish cookie which is fairly simple. It was created in celebration of the union between a Russian Countess and the Duke of Edinburgh in the late 1800's. It's essentially the unofficial official cookie of Spain and Mexico and apparently a popular first treat for children. At a young age, they eat it dipped in milk. That's a lot for a simple cookie to live up to, especially one that looks more like a cracker and costs a pittance as mine does.

I like how snacks from other countries come with some sort of historical pedigree. It makes the way in which most American snacks developed seemed pretty boring by comparison. In fact, I think most American snacks were either accidents, or willful attempts to take advantage of the plethora of cheap high fructose corn syrup available. Twinkies were invented because the equipment used to make strawberry cream snack cakes were idle when the fruit was out of season so they figured out something else to use the machine on. That's a far cry from a cookie inspired by a royal wedding that won the hearts of no fewer than two countries.

Getting to this little cookie, I realize that this being so cheap means that it is unlikely to be the apex of Maria cookie goodness. That's okay though because I do factor price into my ratings. I have to say though that, off the top, I didn't like the smell of these. There is a weird, somewhat fruity, chemical smell which is mirrored in the taste. I believe that it is fake butter flavoring and it's not horrible, but takes some getting used to. That's not really an endorsement nor am I encouraging others to buy these and acclimate themselves to it. It's just a statement of fact. I liked these better after I could learn to overlook that weirdness.

I tried these two ways, both as a plain brittle cookie and dipped in tea. As a plain cookie, it's tolerable, but not particularly flavorful aside from the fake butter and a tiny bit of sweetness. It's much better when dipped in something that adds another dimension to the flavor. Dipping also almost instantly transforms it into something extremely soft and more cake-like so you get both a textural change and some more flavor depth. I think they'd be better with coffee as well.

These are a simple pleasure, and at only 17 calories per cookie and not being especially "more-ish", not much of a threat to the waistline. They're not bad at all and I am inspired enough to buy another brand with a higher price tag for comparison, but I wouldn't buy this brand again even with the super low price tag. I think these are best used as a light tea time snack or as the base for some type of cooking, like a cookie crumb crust for a pie or to make an icebox cake. In fact, the way they lap up moisture would seem to make them a stellar (and cheaper) substitute for the classic Nabisco Famous Wafer icebox cake.

Note that I found a person who reviews a ton of Maria biscuit types and these were rated as "3" on his scale of -5 to +5. That would mean that, among this type of biscuit, a seasoned reviewer thought they were pretty good. Interestingly, he also noted a fruity flavor, so I'm glad to hear that that wasn't just my imagination.

Incidentally, in Asia, and, of course, Japan is included, these are often sold as "Marie" biscuits and I used to see the Morinaga brand of them all of the time. Going by the box illustration, they certainly do look quite similar to the Mexican ones, though I'm guessing the taste would be somewhat different.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lawson Frozen Sweets (product info.)

I wonder how many times I've started a post with "since coming back to America..." Well, this is the first time that I can follow that with, "this is the only thing I've thought, damn, I wish I were still in Japan so I could try that!" It's not the concept of "Lawson Frozen Sweets", nor the fact that they come in such boring flavors as chocolate, mango, green tea, strawberry, coffee or even "soda" (that would be "ramune"). It's the fact that there is a yuzu* ginger flavor! How awesome would that be? Someone go buy one and enjoy it for me.

Lawson isn't going to stuff its shelves with these in so many varieties. They are staggering the release and the yuzu ginger one won't be around until July 9. Chocolate and mango have been available since April 9 and strawberry and green tea since May 14. Coffee comes out June 4 and soda on June 24. I guess they're saving the best for last.

The description makes these sound like a frappucino-style beverage made with slushy ice and sauce. The green tea one has sweet beans on top of it and the fruit ones either come with tiny amounts of fruit or are garnished for the photos to make it appear that they are. My guess is that these are actually fairly icy and supposed to remind one of kakigori (shaved ice with syrup, similar to a sno cone).

*Yuzu is Japanese citron, a unique blend of citrus that tastes like a happy marriage between lemon, orange, and grapefruit, possibly with some kinky action from a tangerine.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Random Picture #164

In Japan, "soda" refers to "ramune", which is an odd chemical concoction which resembles bubblegum at times and club soda mixed with funky chemical sweeteners at others. I think that ramune is to Japan as root beer is to the U.S. While I didn't detest ramune or "soda" flavors the same way Japanese folks did root beer, it wasn't something I'd tend to seek out.

Therefore, I would never buy this "Gari Gari Kun" popsicle, at least not to eat it. I would consider buying it so that I could cut out the picture on the front of the box, punch two holes in each side and wear it like a mask on my face to frighten small children at Halloween. Gari Gari Kun remains the most unappealing mascot I have ever encountered in my life and his visage never does anything other than make me want to turn away in horror at his enormous maw and bizarrely positioned nostrils. Don't even get me started on his codpiece (as portrayed in the previously linked post).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tirol Black Coffee and Bear Chocolate (product info.)

Tirol is turning into the king (or queen, if we want to not be gender biases here) of cooperative endeavors with other manufacturers. For a company that sells chocolates for 40 yen (about 40 cents) each as their signature product, this feels weird. It's like the people who make RC Cola or Mallow Cups engaging in joint ventures with Starbucks or Pillsbury. And I realize that many of my readers aren't American, nearly 50 years old, and familiar with old-fashioned and regional products. Just think of whatever dinky small-time product you grew up with starting to penetrate multiple markets by making new and marginally related food-stuffs with bigger name businesses.

The concept of this coffee is rather cute, though not exactly unique. The coffee is just cold black coffee, but it's supposedly designed to be better when enjoyed with a Tirol chocolate. If you don't want to buy a separate chocolate, they have you covered because they put one under the lid (look carefully at the picture above and you'll see a square of "Milk" chocolate under it. The types of candy vary. I've seen some with almond chocolates under them, too. This is being sold at Family Mart for 165 yen ($1.65). My guess is that this is all novelty value over quality, but I can't deny it's a cute concept.

Speaking of cute, Tirol is also released a new chocolate called "Tirol Kuma" (bear). It's condensed milk chocolate with freeze-dried red beans, fruit-flavored jelly, and dried pineapple. It sounds dreadful, to be honest, but if I find one at an Asian market, I'll probably buy it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cafe Tirol Lemon Tea and Coffee Jelly assortment

My husband is not a very visually oriented person. In fact, I'll not infrequently point out something design or art-oriented and he'll say he did not notice. However, after I bought this, he picked the bag up and remarked that it was really designed well. We both thought it brought to mind two very famous coffee shops without going so far as to infringe on their copyrights. I thought of Starbucks because of the color scheme and he thought of Tully's because of the stripes. They did a good job of evoking the coffee shop experience while still avoiding being sued. 

In Japan, I imagine this sells for around 150 yen ($1.50) as it is the regular small chocolates rather than premium ones. It's still listed on Tirol's web site, but they don't offer prices for this. I paid $2.19 for it at Nijiya. The only way I could find to buy them online was via eBay for obscene prices ($7.49 and $4.00). Unfortunately, Candysan, which tends to offer some of the better prices on such things, doesn't carry Tirol chocolates of any kind. 

Even the little packages are nicely designed!

The lemon tea chocolate is an interesting blend of lemon and tea with a strong bitter finish. I'm not sure if the bitterness is supposed to represent the bitterness of strong tea or the pith of a lemon. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, but it comes on as a bit of a shock after the mellow tea and somewhat sweet lemons flavors. Inside is a bland little biscuit which adds a nice textural element and perhaps lightens up the sweetness of the candy in general. I like the cookie being put in the tea candy because it has shades of "afternoon tea" with tea and a biscuit.

The coffee jelly has a very strong coffee flavor coupled with some strong sweetness. The top is white chocolate, which is either supposed to represent whipped cream (likely) or milk (less likely). The thing is that, I had coffee jelly on occasion in Japan and this very much captures the taste of that treat. The jelly candy in the middle is soft and easy to cleave and, like the biscuit in the tea candy, adds some textural interest.

I really liked both of these for their strong flavors and textural variety. Though they aren't the most incredible, mind-blowing chocolates I've ever had, they have both high novelty value and are pleasurable. What I tend to ask of such candy is that they have solid flavor strength without being disgusting or overbearing and decent depth of flavor. These score well on both fronts. If you like coffee and tea, I'd say they're worth a try. The only risk is that the packaging will have you craving a latte or frappucino.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fumido Kanoko (chestnuts in chestnut paste)

One of my students brought me a sample of the "kuri kinton" that her family had for the New Year's holiday as part of their traditional holiday "o-sechi". Those are more Japanese words than I usually put in a sentence, so I'll say that it's just chestnuts in a sweet puree made up of sweet potato and chestnut that is served as part of their traditional elaborate holiday meal(s). I loved what she gave me. In fact, I raved about how good it was because it had two great tastes that taste great together.

When I left Japan, I lamented to her that I'd never see the likes of kuri kinton again. I was wrong, sort of. I did see it again, but at a price that justified the "kin" (gold) in kinton. Fortunately, this student remembered my love of said dish and, as part of her goodbye gift to me, she gave me a box that contained two cans of "kanoko", which she said was like kuri kinton and would keep for up to a year. 

When I got to the U.S., in a fit of nostalgic craving, I had one can in the first month of my stay at Lopez Island. I stashed the other away and had it a little over a year later, but it was none the worse for wear. It kept well in it's stylish tin can, and tasted every bit as good as the first can consumed a little over a year earlier.

This is made by a company called Fumido which makes a variety of very Japanese types of sweets and sells them largely at department stores, but also offers them online. They are beautifully packaged and don't come cheap. One can is 1,260 yen or about $12.60. Two are 2,520 yen, which shows you that there are no economies of scale (as is so often the case in Japan). This means my student spent some pretty pennies, or yen, as the case may be, on this gift for me.

The contents of the can are large halved and whole chestnuts resting comfortably in a thick paste of chestnut and sugar. Fumido makes it a point to let you know that the chestnuts are domestic (from Japan) and that there are no chemicals whatsoever added to it. It is simply chestnuts and sugar, so, while it may not exactly be "health food", it's not full of artificial badness either.

What it is full of is chestnut goodness. Each can contains 260 grams of paste and nuts and 100 grams is 257 calories. That's a whopping amount of energy, especially when I had to restrain myself to eat the can in 3 sittings. It packs a caloric punch, but it is decadent and delicious with the mild chestnuts and the smooth paste having the right level of sweetness and nutty flavor. It's a simple, but warm and enriching experience.

If I could buy this again, I absolutely would. If you're going to Japan or are in Japan and want to buy someone and delicious gift, this is a great fit if you know they like chestnuts. Yes, it's expensive, but for something which is an elegantly presented slice of Japanese cuisine and culture that can safely stick around on a shelf for awhile, it's well worth it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Passionfruit Adult Sweetness KitKat (product information)

Nestle Japan has (finally) stepped up and released a new and somewhat interesting variety of KitKat. Just in time for summer, you can pick up a passion fruit KitKat and allow it to melt in your backpack. The web site for this candy says that it has some mild acidity and, because it is part of the "adult sweetness" line, there are finely crushed biscuits in it. The truth is that I've never eaten said fruit and I have no idea what it tastes like, so I guess that step 1 would be to try the fruit. Step 2 would be to try the candy bar. Step 3 would be to write my impressions of it. That being said, while I can say this sounds interesting, it doesn't sound "inspiring". If you've given this a try, let me know what you think.

If you'd like to give it a try, Candysan is offering it for a short time for 180 yen/$1.83. They will stop selling it because they won't ship chocolate throughout the summer due to the potential damage from heat. Personally, I'm going to have a peak at Japanese markets in my area and see if I can find some in their air conditioned shops for something less than the price of gold.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Random Picture #163

Every time I see something which says "straight" as an adjective for food or drink, I have to suppress the thought that this is somehow trying to clarify the fact that this product is not attracted to the adjacent bottles, but to bottles which are opposite of itself. If we're talking tea, I'm guessing "straight tea" is attracted to coffee?

OK, I'm just stupid. And I didn't take this picture because of the use of the word "straight". I took it because, though I'm not a Disney fan, I thought the designs on these bottles were simply adorable. I love repeating patterns with graphic images and the line clean line drawings of Disney characters repeated over the label was something I found aesthetically pleasing. They didn't please me enough to buy them, as I'm not spending nearly $3 for a bottle of tea when I can spend 3-7 cents and make my own with a teabag, but they were good enough for a little mention here on my silly little blog. Japanese manufacturers take something cute, like Disney, and somehow make it even cuter.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

McCafe Orange Latte and Babychino (product information)

Image from McDonald's Japan. 

In the past 6 months or so, I bought 6 bottles of Torani syrup because doing so reduced the price by a fair margin. I was excited at the prospect of sampling a bunch of flavors at once, but the problem was that some of them were not worthy of my emotional energies. In particular, the coconut, which I had hoped to mix with the mango flavor and add to water for a refreshing tropical beverage, was less than inspiring. In fact, it really sucked.

At $4.00 a bottle, I was reluctant to simply dump it down the drain, so I tried to figure out other ways to consume it. The thing that worked was adding it to coffee. This didn't exactly make the coffee better, but it didn't really make it any worse. The coffee was strong enough that there was just a hint of coconut riding on the edge of the bitter waves. I'm down to about 1/6 of the bottle and wouldn't buy it again, but can't say that I hated using it as I have.

I think that coffee is a pretty forgiving beverage, but I would never really think about adding orange to it. In fact, citrus and coffee of any sort would seem to be a bad combination considering that one seems to alter the taste buds in a way that make the other taste funky in my experience. To each their own, but I wouldn't be trying to off-load my orange Torani in coffee (especially because the orange tasted fine mixed with water or my husband's drinks).

In addition to the orange latte, McCafe (which is the coffee arm of McDonald's) is offering something called a "babychino". As a way of introducing infants into coffee culture, they are selling steamed milk with sweet cocoa powder. The "babychino" is a mere 50 yen (about 50 cents), which is probably their way of pricing it as a "gateway drug". Later, they'll be able to hit the grown baby up for various coffee beverages in the $2.50-$3.50 (230-350 yen) range. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Furuta Torukeru White Chocolate Bar

"Torukeru" means "melty" or "melting" and is often used by Japanese candy makers to say that there is soft, ganache-like chocolate involved in their candy-making alchemy. Often, that means it's either oozing all over your fingers or soft, but solid. You can see by the illustration on the package above that they're trying to convey the idea that there is soft, creamy filling trying to escape the evil clutches of the brittle wafers in which they are trapped between. 

The problem with this concept is that you're putting something which is essentially absorbent between something absorb-able. Over time, the wafers are going to suck some of the moisture out of the cream and disable all of its capacity to be anything resembling "melty". That is what happened to my bar, if indeed it ever was full of soft, melting cream in the first place. Fortunately, this in now way detracted from the textural elements which included the easily cleaved exterior chocolate coating and several crispy wafers with a very thin layer of chocolate cream between them.

This was surprisingly good considering its white chocolate exterior and my general aversion to said substance. The not so sweet and slightly bitter interior wafers and chocolate filling balance out the fairly sweet white chocolate exterior. Surprisingly, at room temperature, the outside is quite firm. I've had problems with Sequoia chocolate bars being too soft, but this was good and reminded me of one of the better KitKat variations that I've experienced in the past.

One can pick up Sequoia bars for near a dollar at Japanese markets in California and they're quite cheap in Japan as well. The "specialty" bars like this one tend to be about 50 yen or about 50 cents at convenience stores. They are a cheap way to try something a little off the beaten path and I was not disappointed in this. At 141 calories for a single large finger-sized bar, it also offers good portion control.

Though I liked this quite fine, it wasn't exotic enough or "good" enough to make me want to have it again. As a one-off sampling, I have no regrets, but I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to try it. Though it's a nice enough wafer-chocolate combo, it's probably not worth choosing over more interesting options. Still, if you're in Japan and crave a KitKat, but don't want to have a whole bar around to tempt you, this is a really good alternative and better than the regular chocolate Sequoia bars (which are actually pretty good, too) by a small margin. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Glico Almond Crush Pocky

When I first returned to the U.S., I bought things which I had old memories of in order to see if they still tasted like I expected them to be. One of the first things I tried was a bag of Hershey's Kisses. I wanted to see if they were different than those sold in Japan. I came back to the place we were staying and put them in the refrigerator. My father-in-law, who had picked us up and the airport and was spending a week with us while we tried to get our "sea legs" for living in the U.S. (something we desperately needed his support with), said that he found that chocolate tastes better when it's not too cold. I believe that is true, but not for cheap chocolate.

When I tried Pocky Midi, I liked it a lot better while cold, but I expected that I'd feel differently about this Almond Crush version. I figured the softness of the former was caused by the white chocolate base used in the strawberry. Well, not so much... I think I figured out why I have never been a big fan of Pocky and that's because the coating is too soft for my tastes. As I mentioned before, I like chocolate with snap. What is more, I like nuts with crunch and this had neither, until I got it cold. Then, all was right with the world again.

I like the general concept of Pocky since I am a fan of chocolate and pretzels, though certainly one of my issues is that Pocky's pretzel sticks are not actually salted. I think the flavor profile would be better if the sticks were adding depth to the flavor profile rather than simply being a delivery mechanism for the coating. Nonetheless, this coating is one that did strike my fancy. I'm an enormous fan of almonds. They are second only to hazelnuts as my favored nut of choice to party with chocolate in a sweet, and that's only because I'm an incredible Nutella whore.

The coating on these is very typically Japanese in that the chocolate isn't overly sweet, has just a few more bittersweet notes, and is super smooth and fatty (hence the softness). The nuts add more flavor than crunch, but they do add some textural interest as well. The flavor depth is pretty good with the chocolate hitting first, the basic mix of both coming second, and the almonds coming on strong at the end.

This is pretty much a no-brainer for anyone who likes Pocky, almonds, and chocolate. For me, I really did like them, and those lovely almonds that rough up the chocolate landscape are a siren song to me. These came to me courtesy of the fine folks at Candysan, who are carrying this for only a $1.73/170 yen a box. If I were making an order, I may not order this alone, but I'd surely toss a box into an order for more exotic things like the previously reviewed green tea Oreo chocolates.

Sadly, this completes my review of the box of goodies sent to me by Candysan, but there are always more things to be found and reviewed.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lawson Anko Cream Daifuku

Image from Lawson's web site.

There were certain things in Japan that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole when I first got there. This is one of those types of things. Now, if I had a 5,133-foot pole, I'd use it to get my hands on one of these babies. For a mere 150 yen and weighing in at only 191 calories, you can enjoy this "Uchi Cafe" treat at limited Lawson convenience stores. It was available from May 7, 2013, so it should be around for a wee bit, but don't count on seeing it for terribly long. These things tend to have a short lifespan as they are marketed at the fickle affections of young women who value novelty.

The outside is soft mochi and is filled with sweet bean paste that has a whipped cream center. The package comes with "black honey" sauce, or "kuromitsu" and it's sprinkled with kinako (toasted soybean flour). I'm sure that it doesn't come with an elegant little dish or wooden stick, but I'm sure you can transfer it from it's plastic package to a more fitting serving situation. This is part of the "premium sweets" line, which focuses on incorporating cream into the treats.

This is one of those treats that would hit every mark with me - mochi, whipped cream, kinako, and anko, though I would probably skip the kuromitsu.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Random Picture #162

It's much harder for me to write captions for pictures that show funky stuff in the name than for something boring. There is little that I can do which can enhance these types of pictures since they are much funnier standing on their own. The only thing I can say is that this is only truly funny if you're a bit of pervert who thinks that flora have genitalia. I'm the sort of pervert who can imagine that, and so very much more.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Baskin Robbins 40th Anniversary Sundaes and Mugs

Image from Baskin Robbins Japan. 

Baskin Robbins Japan has been churning out (no pun intended, really) ice cream in that island nation for 40 years. To celebrate this, they're selling a special "anniversary sundae" made up of one scoop of ice cream with a bit of whipped cream and some colorful candies. I guess the 40th isn't nearly as impressive as some others since that's a pretty puny sundae.

The mugs are actually rather nicely designed to have both a retro feel (the stripes bring about thoughts of old-timey ice cream parlors) and modern elegance. If I were in Japan, I wouldn't need another mug (as they appeared to reproduce when food touches them like porcelain tribbles) so I probably wouldn't buy the sundae to get the cup, but I'd surely get one if I hadn't had a cabinet overstuffed with dishes. Note how they kindly put the sundae in a paper cup inside of the mug so that you don't mess it up with the food. Also, the sundae being so anemic means that it'd languish down in the bottom and require some sort of deep sea camera to get a picture of it for promotional purposes.

They are available only at some Baskin Robbins shops and in limited quantities. No price is given because old "31" is a franchise and pricing is controlled to some extent by the owners. They will be available up until May 10 or the end of their supplies. You can choose your scoop, but I'm guessing you can't choose whether you get the pink or green mug.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Meiji Hokkaido Aragiri Choco Potato

The last time I tried consumer-level chocolate-covered potato chip snacks, it was a disaster, so I was concerned that these might be scary as well. What was more worrisome (can you see my brow knitting as I fret over candy-covered salted snacks?) was that the former disaster was also made by Meiji. If I get more wrinkles, I'm going to have to consider a suit against said company.

Fortunately, these lacked the ingredient which I think torpedoed my last attempt and that was "cheese powder". There as a horrible pungency to them which killed the love I feel toward chocolate-covered salty things. And, yes, I do love them. One of the great loves of my life are Royce chocolate-covered chips and Snyder's chocolate-covered pretzels. I don't love them often, no, no, for that would mean that I'd have to buy new pants, but I do love them all too well when I have infrequent encounters with them.

This treat comes my way via the kind folks at Candysan, that's the importer I mentioned last week that beats the prices of local Asian grocery stores. I'm continuing to make my way through the generous box of snacks they sent me. They're offering this for $2.01 or 198 yen or even 1,54 euros. I never considered offering prices in the final currency, but they're an international sort of business. I realize this every time I go to their site to link to the product and find that I have to click on the little American flag in the upper right hand corner because my browser is apparently too dumb to recall my preferred settings (or I'm too dumb to configure it to remember... I guess I lived in Japan long enough to "take responsibility" for things that are my fault).

At any rate, I was pretty skeptical about the appeal of this particular product to me personally because of my less than enthusiastic response to white chocolate. I was pleased that they are sufficiently salty for the salty sweet aspect to shine through. Sometimes the saltiness is so subdued that your tongue has to think extra hard to find it. This is not what I want. There is also a nice crunchy chip hidden beneath a fairly thick layer of white chocolate that feels pleasantly cool and rich on the tongue.

The white chocolate is "the rub" on this, at least for someone like me who can be rubbed the wrong way by it. It's good white chocolate, actually, in that it's not horribly cloyingly sweet as the white stuff can sometimes be. It is fairly sweet, but it also has a nice buttery flavor and the sweetness is cut to some extent by the salty chips. That buttery element explains the baked potato with butter illustrated on the front of the box at least. On the down side, the white chocolate is soft and that's not something I like, as my refrigerated strawberry Pocky Midi in my review mentioned.

I have mixed feelings about this that make me wish my ratings system were different and that there was something between "happy" (which means I'd buy it again) and "indifferent" (which means I wouldn't buy it again). I enjoyed this and am very glad that I had the chance to sample it. However, I'm not sure I'd have it again. It has the same quality that bad pizza holds for me. I don't love it, but I can see craving the experience again when the planets are aligned properly and the stars tell me it is time to do so. There's something weird about wanting something you're not wild about, but it holds a particular charm. If you love white chocolate and the salty sweet combination, this is a no brainer to try. If you don't, and I do not, then it's an iffy proposition.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Glico Strawberry Pocky Midi

This entry continues my sampling the treasure trove of snacks I received gratis from Candy-san. I must say that I didn't expect a chance to try Pocky Midi when I wrote about the product awhile back. That wasn't because I didn't think I'd be able to get my hands on it, but rather because I wasn't sure I'd choose to buy it if I had a chance due to my somewhat ambivalent feelings about Pocky.

I'll also be honest and say that I'm not the biggest fan of strawberry chocolate. Though the quality of it tends to be better in Japan (less artificial taste, more of a sense of the real deal), the fact that it usually has a white chocolate base does not help. Usually, white chocolate is too soft and sweet for my tastes.

So, with these considerations in mind, I tried to give this Pocky a fair shake. Eating one at room temperature didn't impress me as it is incredibly soft and melts on the tongue in a way that I didn't care for. The flavor felt like it turned to sweet mush in my mouth. While the box description says that it has three components, the biscuit, "whip" chocolate, and a fruity coating, I couldn't really distinguish them as separate components when it was around 75 degrees. 

I like my chocolate to have some snap, so I hit upon a "brilliant" idea and put the package in the refrigerator. I'm sure that no one in the history of mankind has ever put chocolate in the fridge, right?  This instantly upped the game as it made it gave the chocolate coating some heft and allowed the flavors to take some time to unfold on my tongue. It is sweet, no doubt about that, but the strawberry flavor has a little bit of a bite as an end note. There is also a richness to the "whip" portion that much more gradually blends in when you have it cold. The coating is thicker than strictly necessary and that makes it sweeter than I'd like. If I ate one stick, I was in pleasure-land (for adults only). Two and it was bordering on cloying. One can look at this as incentive for portion control, or an indication that this is a bit much.

It's hard to give this a proper rating because I conditionally enjoyed this. If it is cold and I eat one stick, I'm happy to have it again. If it is room temperature and I eat more than one, then I'm not really keen at all. If you're a fan of Pocky, strawberry white chocolate, and fairly sweet things, you're going to enjoy this. If you're not, then you'll want to give it a miss. Candy-san is offering this for 210 yen or $2.13 on their web site if you'd like to sample it. Each box has 3 packages of 4 sticks at 113 calories per package. 

I'm giving it a provisional happy rating, and suggesting you consider having it cold as well.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Glico Baton D'or

"Baton d'or" means "golden stick" in French. Naming any product in French instantly improves its cache. Instead of being a repackaged Pocky stick, with it's snappy name and Japanese pop cultural tones, it's a sophisticated pastry. The package designs make me think about diet foods with their attempts to emulate a slender, curvy feminine figure, but that is not what is on the minds of the folks at Glico. The thing that makes this stick "golden" is butter, lots and lots of butter. With that fact, it seems unlikely that this will do much to trim the waistline.

This brand has actually been around since around the middle of last year, but is being beefed up with new flavors and stripped of its chocolate coating. The pedestrian flavors (milk, white, strawberry, green tea, coffee) above are being supplanted at a grand release at Hankyu department store with butter sugar, cinnamon sugar, maple sugar, strawberry sugar, and green tea sugar. Though it may seem that sugar is the big deal with these high class pretzel sticks, the real selling point is that they are dipped in clarified butter after they're baked (and then dipped in sugar). If I were still in Japan, I would totally want to buy one of these, especially the cinnamon one since cinnamon snacks are relatively rare there, but Hankyu department store is in Osaka and that's a long way to go for a designer pretzel. It would take a magic stick made of real gold to get me to fork over the price of a Shinkansen ticket (over $100).

These will be available from June 12, 2013. I'm guessing that distribution will expand beyond Osaka eventually, but that information isn't clearly provided at this time.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Random Picture #161

I've heard that the consumption of energy drinks like Red Bull in the U.S. is creating serious problems for young people. The risk of caffeine intoxication is not small when people who don't have enough sense to pull up their pants because their underwear is showing are imbibing. Until I returned to the U.S., I didn't know that these types of things were so popular.

In Japan, energy drinks had been around pretty much for the entire 23 years I was there. Tiny little brown bottles of instant spunkiness kept tired businessmen alert as they toiled away into the wee hours. What I didn't realize until I read the English on the side of this box of Ukon Power was that they are probably also often utilized as hangover cures. You'd think this would be an obvious conclusion to reach, but, being a teetotaler myself, it just never occurred to me that much of this industry may be built around boozehounds who are looking to find their "get up and go" in a bottle after too many "nomikai" (drinking parties).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pizza Hut Offers the Cutest Pizza Accessories in the World

Images from Pizza Hut Japan

Have you ever wondered why pizza is so expensive in Japan? It's because the pizza-making companies have to keep paying licensing fees to various pop culture icon creators so they can use their images on whatever bits of junk they offer in their campaigns. If you pay 2,180 yen ($22), you can get a pizza, "Original 4", with 4 different topping sets (tuna mild, idaho special, bacon asparagus, and meat trio) and the items pictured above.

Most of what is given as part of campaigns is of limited utility. In fact, cups and bowls tend to be the biggest "gifts" that come with overpriced food. This time, they're offering a wooden "tray" and a cutter which could conceivably be useful. That being said, if you buy a pizza from Pizza Hut, there's a pretty good chance that they're going to cut the pizza for you and you'll eat it out of the box rather than grease up the adorable little Rilakkuma tray.

Personally, I think that the wooden tray would be put to better use as part of some sort of S & M furry activity... not that I think about that sort of thing or anything.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Nabisco Oreo Green Tea Chocolate

Since returning to the U.S., I've learned that Oreo cookies are to the American market what KitKats once were to the Japanese one. If there's a crazy flavor variation to be found in a sweet, you can generally count on Nabisco to come up with something. I'm shocked at how many versions of Oreo-brand treats there are available on a regular basis, and surprised by the limited edition flavors like birthday cake, candy cane, and gingerbread. That being said, Oreos are sold in enormous packages. My husband bought a gingerbread one around the beginning of December and it still has between 1/3 and 1/4 left. It's a good thing they have a long shelf life because it takes us forever to eat through a package and we don't have a pet pig to feed things to.

Such issues are not a problem with Oreos in Japan. Not only are they limited in the scope of their releases, but the size of any given offering is quite small. This green tea chocolate Oreo snack has only eight 5.9 gram (.2 oz.) pieces. They are two small bites and only 32 calories each. This makes them close to the Oreo equivalent of a Hershey's Kiss in terms of overall size. So, this stuff isn't likely to be lying around for 5 months. Well, it might if it really sucks.

The beauty of mixing green tea with something like an Oreo cookie is that it is where sweet meets bitter. The odd thing is that most of the sweetness is coming from the green tea chocolate that is binding fractured bits of bitter chocolate Oreo cookies together. While I have not been the greatest fan of green tea sweets in the past, they have really started to grow on me and this one hit all of the right spots.

The smell when you open the package comes mostly from the green tea. The flavor is a very good mix of both the chocolate and the tea with the tea dominating at first and the cocoa flavor coming second. It's nice that such a tiny bite has a couple of flavor notes rather than lacking depth. The other thing which really hits me the right way is the textural contrast between the soft green tea chocolate and the crispy cookies. It's satisfyingly crunchy without being brittle or too hard.

If you hate green tea, you probably will not be a fan of this. It's definitely strong enough on the tea meter to put off anyone who isn't a fan. If you are a fan though, this is really good and worth a try. I got this courtesy of the fine folks at Candy-san. They are currently selling it for 210 yen, which is probably only about 50 yen more than it retails for in Japan and less than I'd have to pay for it in a Japanese market here. If you don't like them, at least your pet pig won't get fat if you feed him the leftovers. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Meiji Horohorone Chocola Almond and Candy-san

When I was growing up, it wasn't especially uncommon for girls to be named "Candy". Of course, this was usually short for names like "Candace", but some people just liked to name their kids after confectionery. I guess they wanted a reminder to eat something that would ruin their teeth at regular intervals or were on the cutting edge of naming your kids after food long before Gwyneth Paltrow called her kid "Apple."

If you go to Japan and are, unfortunately, named "Candy", then there's a good chance that someone somewhere along the line will call you "Candy-san". I know that I was called "Shari-san" all of the time, even though they should have been adding "san" to my last name rather than my first one. As an aside, I should mention that those who called me "Ms." would call me "Ms. Shari" rather than by my last name and it always made me feel like I was a character in "Gone With the Wind" (a la "Miss Scarlet or "Miss Melanie").

The reason I'm mentioning Candy-san is that I was contacted by a mail order company by that name and their representative (who is not actually named "Candy") asked if I'd like to sample some of their snacks. Why, yes, I said, I'd love to, and I received a nice package of 4 tasty snacks for review. Before I get to the snack I'm going to review today, I would encourage my readers to check out Candy-san's web site. If you've been looking for a place to locate Japanese snacks at a reasonable price, they've got you covered. I can say this because I've been shopping for such snacks at Japanese markets in Northern California and their prices are competitive with those I've been paying. For example, I bought the Ujimatcha KitKat for $2.19 at Nijiya. Candy-san carries it for $2.03. Most, if not all, of their prices are lower than what I'm paying in shops and their selection is broader, so I hope you'll give them a look. Of course, my treats come gratis so I'm bound to be sweet on them anyway, but that doesn't negate the fact that their prices are lower than what I'm paying at various shops (and believe me, I'm buying the cheapest stuff I can find). 

Getting to the matter at hand, the "horohorone chocola almond" thingy, it was not what I expected from a cursory inspection of the box. I thought it was going to be some sort of crispy shell with a nutty chocolate center. it turns out that it is a tender, floury biscuit which is soft as a cloud hiding a delectable soft almond chocolate interior. The center has just the barest hint of crunchy almonds, but that doesn't matter because its the super soft and rich center which makes it great. It's like gianduja, only with almonds instead of hazelnuts. It is reminiscent of Nutella (and hazelnut paste is an ingredient) but with an almond twist and no pesky need to spread it on something or guiltily lick it straight off the spoon as is the case with Nutella. The flavor of the filling is rich and deep and will leave a lingering taste of nutty chocolate on the back of your tongue.

These are a rare treat in that they are old things that are put together in a new way. I've had soft cookies. I've had this type of filling. I've had almonds. However, I've never quite had anything like these soft little balls of biscuit with a creamy filling. They feel like they melt in your mouth, but also have some enough heft to have a textural hit which satisfies. They're unique, but still quite approachable for foreign palates. 

There are 8 of these to a box, and each is about 40 calories. As far as I know, you can only get these via importers like Candy-san as I have not seen them in local Asian markets. If you're a fan of Nutella or gianduja, I'd absolutely recommend giving these a try.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

McDonald's Really Wants to Hold Your Potatoes, or other stuff

All images are from McDonald's Japan.

McDonald's Japan is running a Twitter campaign in which they'd like you to tell/show them all of the ways or situations in which one might use their plastic french fry holder. If you can't think of enough uses for it, they've got models to get your creative juices flowing:

You can use it for plastic utensils as you sit outside having a cup of tea.

You can use it as a pencil holder, because it doesn't look so incredibly unstable on its narrow base that it may tip over or anything.

Or you can use it for your cell phone, but I'd recommend not having used it to hold your fries first. Notice how incredibly happy they all are to be adding this decorative object to their tasteful surroundings. 

A bunch of folks on Twitter are tweeting how they would like to use it to get a chance to win. Most of them echo what you're seeing in the pictures with these models. I'm not sure though if this is a chicken or the egg thing where McDonald's put up the pictures after they got the ideas or the tweets are the result of the pictures. Either way, I'm not sure that a plastic container that looks like a carton of fries is worth the brain power to imagine what one might do with it. Of course, being the horribly demented individual that I am, I can think of a lot of perverse uses for it. The most family friendly of which would be a pooper scooper for a small canine, a soap dish, or a planter. I'm pretty sure that I'd only actually entertain the first option if I had one because I'm not really much of a McDonald's fan. I don't want one of those things in my home.

If you want to see the tweets (they're in Japanese though), you can check under this hashtag: #ポテトホルダー

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Random Picture #160

Sometimes, a picture speaks for itself. 

If you can't hear, then I'll have it speak a little louder:

Of course, it's hard for us to know exactly what it is trying to say when it says things like this.

However, if you listen very carefully, I think that this is what it is saying: "We need a better translator."