Friday, August 30, 2013

Bourbon Puchi Cake Kurogoma Milk

One of my enduring disappointments since returning to the U.S. is that, though Asian markets often stock Bourbon products, but they never have the kinako wafers that were my favorite of their line in Japan. Most of the time, they sell pretty boring stuff like little langue du chat (cat's tongue) sugar cookies, tiny chocolate chip cookies, mini pretzels, or potato chips.

I never understand why they sell Japanese versions of the same type of things you can get in the American market rather than more unique and novel snacks. It's like they expect you to buy tinier chocolate chip cookies for a higher price just because they're Japanese. Yes, it is true that they aren't quite the same, but they're also not different enough to really light any fires.

Fortunately, occasionally, a more unique item will sneak through whatever trade barriers keep out more Japanese snacks and this cake sneaked through. I found this at Nijiya Japanese market for $1.49. It has 6 of the most "petit" bits of cake you could ever imagine. Each is about as big as the tip of your thumb. There are 6 tiny little pieces and each is 29 calories.

The part of this which holds the most potential is the "kurogoma" or "black sesame" component. The "milk" portion is just the cream center, which is pretty average stuff. It's fatty and adds a good textural component, but not much taste. Most of that comes from the sesame topping which mixes well with the mild flavor of the cake and cream. The cake is very moist, almost too moist and a little mushy. That could be because the cream leeches into the surrounding cake over time and this probably spent some time on a boat making its way to the New World.

I liked this. I can't say that I "loved" it. The sesame is a nice addition which adds some flavor depth and I like the cream, but ultimately, the cake itself, which makes up the lion's share of the snack, is below average. I have to say that they are superior to Lotte's "choco pie" snacks and similar knock-offs, as those are greasy and dry at the same time, but it's not great. I'm not unhappy that I bought it, but I wouldn't buy it again.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Random Picture #177

I saw things in Japan which were clearly or arguably racist depictions. I see them far more rarely in the U.S. In fact, more often than not, I see a lot of contrived politically correct advertising with contains a formulaic mix of one black person, one Asian and or/one other person with what appears to be Hispanic or Indian features and one or two white people. It's supposed to mean we're diverse, but often simply says that we're self-conscious and politically correct. 

At any rate, the above is a picture of an item which clearly has a racist depiction of a Chinese person. Though I found this in an American market and it has English instructions, it's a product of Portugal that was being sold in an Asian market (with a focus on Korean products, but with a mix of options). 

The strangest thing to me isn't that there is a politically incorrect drawing on it, but that this is marketed as Chinese flan. I investigated the history of flan and, as far as I could tell, it has nothing to do with China. Sure, I've had delicious Chinese egg tarts, but flan originated in Rome. The Roman version was savory and the Spanish and English modified it so it was sweet. The Chinese, as far as I know, just got their egg tarts from Portugal and/or England. Nonetheless, some Portuguese manufacturer must have believed it all sounded yummier if it appeared to be Chinese. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Family Mart Banana Chocolate Double Roll Cake (product information)

Image courtesy of Family Mart.

This is a new sweet being offered by Family Mart that is made up of a combination of chocolate cake, vanilla cake and banana cream. It can be yours if you live within traveling distance of a Family Mart in the Okinawa or Hokkaido area and have 157 yen (about $1.60) burning a whole in your pocket and a yen (no pun intended) for a carb and sugar bomb.

It may seem rather unassuming, but, when I saw this picture, I thought, "you're getting very sleepy". Either this is meant to be a delicious Swiss-cake-roll-type treat from Family Mart or an implement of potential evil with which you can hypnotize people and convince them to do your bidding. Perhaps the people at Family Mart would say, "why can't it be both?" Indeed.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tohato All Lemon Salty Biscuits/Cookies

If you look at the design of the "All" on the "All (fruit)" line of cookies, you'll see that the "A" is pretty darn happy. The two "l's" seem to be distant cousins of "Hello Kitty" as they are mouth-less. One has to wonder why the designer came up with this style. Was drawing too little mouths on the "l's" going to make the top set of letters seem like too happy a family next to the expressionless words beneath? Did the designer not have enough ink to draw just a little more? Was he or she suddenly struck down with sadness after drawing the little curve on the "A"?

Personally, I'm not sure why anyone feels it's necessary to anthropomorphize letters and assign them human feelings. It just encourages deviant behavior. If people think letters possess emotions, there might be some ridiculous movement toward giving them human rights and they can refuse to work for us. I'll have to start giving their unions money in order to use them in my posts. If that happens, it's all over, people.

Getting to the cookies, like all of the "All (fruit)" line, there is supposed to be 10 cm. of fruit crammed between two cookie layers. I guess that they are compressed into a quantum singularity of fruit filling for your convenience. There's no fear of getting lockjaw after having to open your mouth wide to bite down on 10 cm. of fruit. Woohoo?

One of the points about the "All (fruit)" line that I like is the texture mix of the somewhat dry biscuit cookie base mixed with moist, sweet dried fruit. The fruit really brings moisture into the equation in most cases, but not in this one. Lemon is not exactly a soft fruit when dried because it has a low sugar content. That doesn't make this bad, but it does make them a bit dry and lower the quality of the experience of eating them.

This is unfortunate because I like the mild lemon flavor mixed with a hint of salt. The salt is very well-balanced from my perspective because it lies in wait until you've chewed the carby, floury cookie base and chewy lemon. It comes in most prominently at the end, but not so potently as to make this unpleasantly salty.

These are fine, but they could be better. There could be more sweetness to boost the overall flavor profile. Though I am not a fan of huge amounts of sugar, I think that it can add to more potent flavors and this can use it. Also, I truly wish the cookie and the filling were moister. If the cookie had a cakier feel, I think these would definite be worth repeating. They aren't though, so I wouldn't have these again.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Montebovi Amaretti Cookies

If someone drops you in the desert with a knife, a canteen of water that'll last one day, a blanket, and three protein bars and it takes three days to get out of there, you're going to have to be pretty creative and innovative to survive. You might even come up with some unique and impressive ways to manage survival that others will find laudable.

Compare this to what would happen if someone dropped you in the desert with just one thing for your survival. In this case, it's a set of keys to a fully-stocked RV that is parked just around the corner with enough gas to get you out of the desert and then some. It even has a GPS. Who is going to care about your little adventure?

I've often felt when I'm playing a game that the most interesting time is when your character has nearly nothing to work with. The challenges are less difficult, but you have less to meet them with so you've got to be crafty. Sometimes, I look at modern cuisine and I think that we have too many options and the results are far less impressive that our ancestors came up with when they were working with fewer ingredients and cruder tools.

Amaretti are small, crispy cookies made with almonds that are sometimes referred to as "macaroons". They were first tracked in Italy during the Renaissance and there are varying recipes. Most American recipes that I've read include almond extract.

They are called "macaroons", what they remind me of more than that are meringue cookies. They have the same sweet crispy quality with the added benefit of nutty richness. Their ingredient list is quite small, usually consisting of egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds or apricot kernels. This simple recipe yields an immensely satisfying cookie which has both flavor and textural delights.

This mass produced amaretti, which I picked up for a mere $2.19 at a Russian market that carried world foods, includes "flavours", milk solids, and baking soda, so it's not quite the classic recipe from days of old, but it doesn't seem to be greatly modified. Whatever the case, these are delicious amaretti that are shelf stable and don't lose their crispiness even after the rather airy package has been opened. They cleave easily and almost melt in your mouth.

They're not as dry as meringue cookies, but have the same textural quality that makes them crumble apart a bit like honey comb. The combination of a good shatter and the melting quality make these satisfying on two fronts in terms of texture. The amaretti flavor can be a bit intense, but I love it, and I loved these cookies.

The truth is that I haven't met an amaretti cookie that I didn't like, but these were definitely more modestly priced than some. They were also the sort of thing which I rarely located in Japan and aren't incredibly common in the U.S., but also not difficult to find either (at least not in my area). I loved these, and I wish I'd bought 3 packages of them, especially since 5 small cookies are only 97 calories and I can feel pretty indulgent.

Some Renaissance cook was dropped in the desert with very few ingredients and made something amazing. I'm glad he or she didn't have more to work with.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Subway Japan Coarse Ground Sausage Sandwich and Mos Lettuce Burger (product information)

Subway has decided that the best way to manage the super hot summer is to offer up a big old wiener sandwich. Why go for some cool cold cuts on a bed of veggies when you can eat a hot sausage with cream cheese sauce that weighs in at 445 calories. I'm not suggesting that Subway is always the epitome of healthy eating, but that is the way they sell themselves. I'd think it'd be better to opt for something lighter for summer than a bit of sausage.

Mos Burger, on the other hand, is offering a "lettuce burger" to allow the Japanese market to embrace low carb living. You can substitute lettuce, iceberg, of course, for the bun on several different burgers (fish, beef, chicken, teriyaki chicken, pork cutlet). Though I recognize the nutritional value of a bun is pretty much zero and that this is a better choice from that viewpoint, to me, a burger is not a burger unless it comes between two starched planes. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Random Picture #176

I bought a chou cream dessert when I was living in Tokyo called "Pai-Chou". If you can't parse that phonetically, it sounds like "pie-shoe". It was called that because the chou had a portion which was like flaky pie. I told my husband that "pai-chou" sounded like the name of a Chinese girl. I said that because I don't know anything about Chinese names and I remembered once hearing the word "pai gau". I don't even know what that means, but I associate it with China. Such are the types of things you think when you're completely ignorant of a culture and your febrile mind just makes things up.

Seeing this "pai cro" reminded me of my former stupidity. This is a new line of products by Kanro which are supposed to remind you of croissants. Currently, there's the chocolate version sold here, a "sugar-butter" version, and a brown sugar one. I passed on this because these things never end well. Croissants are awesome things and some shelf-stable mass-produced snack is only going to disappoint.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kanro Blueberry Candy (product information)

Some time ago, when I was still watching television on occasion, I used to see a lot of commercials for a dried blueberry that was called "iki iki ai-beri". That last part means "eye berry". I've read that "iki iki" means lively, but the truth is that I never really looked into it. All I know is that the commercial was advertising a kind of special, extra juicy blueberry which was supposed to improve your eyesight. Hate your eyeglasses? Just eat those blueberries! Actually, they never made such claims, but they did imply them.

Blueberries are supposed to be super healthy food. How do you take something pure and bursting with natural goodness and render it into junk food? You make it into candy. Kanro uses blueberry paste in the center of a hard candy to pack these candies with something which appears to be healthy but has probably been processed out of most of its real value. They recommend that you eat them at the computer at work and "relax". Personally, I'd rather sit at the computer and eat chocolate, but that likely won't improve my eyes or add the total amount of Vitamin A in my body. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Okashina Mizuame

This is the second of two items that I received from Candy Japan (gratis) for review. This candy is designed as much if not more for the entertainment value as for the "candy" itself. In fact, I'm not sure if you can call plastic packets of good "candy", but I guess that it is sweet so that makes it fall within the general category of "candy".

When I was a kid, we didn't have too many elaborately prepared packets of candy that were about the process. The closest we had was an Easy-bake oven. You mix packets of cake mix with water, stir, and cook under a light bulb in a tiny tin cake "pan". The cakes never tasted very good, but it was just cool that you could make them yourself.

Unfortunately, I'm not a child anymore. Actually, that's fortunate because I hated being a kid. You have to go to school and it's more of a pain in the ass than going to work. At least work is over when the day is done. You don't have to go home and study for tests or do homework afterwards. You also get money for working and nobody rewards you for school. You also have to do what you're told and the value of what you're being asked to do is always greater for the person in authority than it is for you. At any rate, since I'm not longer a young one, the delight I take in making my own candy is not particularly great.

Candy Japan kindly provides a video for how to deal with the packets of syrup that are included, though it's actually a pretty straightforward process. Nonetheless, it's pretty good service for them to go to the effort of explaining things. It's only simple when you already know how it is done. Prior to that, it can be a mystery.

The resulting candy is a mixture of three fruit flavors of syrup including ramune (lemon-lime soda), lemon, and strawberry. The result is an extremely sticky mass of fruit-flavored stuff that you scoop up with a spoon. It tastes like a melted fruity lollipop and is not particularly tasty. If you do decide to slurp up the whole tray, it'll set you back 83 calories, and probably give you a cavity.

In terms of the candy, this is definitely one for the short-pants set and not for an oldster like me. The delight is in the making and the gooey nature, not in the taste or texture. My hat goes off though to Candy Japan for their service. They send you an e-mail with a link to the video as well as give a brief explanation. Their explanation is:

"Strange viscous liquid sugar candy. This is one of those DIY items that you mix to make. "As you mix, the taste changes!!""

I think that means that you can taste the syrup at each stage to get three taste experiences out of it. That's not a bad idea, but I didn't do it. I'm sure that the flavors would change, but I don't think that'd improve my enthusiasm for the candy.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Candy Japan (service reviews) and Fueramune Blue Soda Whistle Candy

My package from Candy Japan. Note the pretty flower tape at the top.

Today's review candy, Fueramune Blue Soda Whistle Candy, comes courtesy of "Candy Japan". They contacted me and asked if I'd like to receive a few samples and, of course, I said I absolutely would. I'm not the sort of person to turn down free food, especially not free Japanese candy!

Before I get to reviewing the first of the two candies that I was sent, I would like to talk a little about "Candy Japan". They are a subscription service that sends "mystery sweets" twice a  month for a fee of $25. This service includes as much candy as will fit in a standard Japanese envelope sent directly from Japan by SAL. "SAL", for those less well-versed in postal jargon than me, is "sea air land". It's a "between" option for sending packages which is not nearly as slow as seamail, but not quite as fast as air. My experience with it was that it takes about 2-3 weeks and is usually closer to two if you're on the West coast of the United States.

The service includes a nice bonus of mailings that tell you about the product that you're getting in English so that you aren't dealing with a mystery. In fact, they did the work for me in terms of researching the items I was sent. With the Fueramune Blue Soda Whistle Candy, they offered the followed information along with this photo:

Also known as Coris whistle candy, these are soda flavored whistles which you can also eat after you are done whistling with them. There is a small random plastic toy included as well. "Ramune" flavor comes from the popular soda pops sold in Japanese festivals.

This is a kid's candy which I never tried while in Japan and I noted that it also included a little box at the bottom which had a propeller in it. I think that the idea is that you buy multiple packages of the candy and each may include a different plastic part. When it is assembled, it is likely an airplane like the one illustrated on the box.

The candy itself is very interesting because it is a pressed powder candy which becomes soft and dissolves very quickly in your mouth. It seems like an enormous disc, but it becomes a burst of "ramune" (lemon lime soda) flavor that is brightly sweet, but not cloying, in very short order. And yes, the disks do function as a kind of low-rent whistle if you blow through one of the holes. The sound they make isn't loud enough to be annoying, but is close enough to fulfill the promise of a "whistle". I loved the textural elements and the way the flavor just lets loose in my mouth, though I wished that each disc had lasted a little longer before melting away in my mouth.

The company that makes the candy, Coris, has a variety of children's candies including this and the next item from Candy Japan that I'll be reviewing on Monday. The Fueramune is one of their best and longest selling products since their start in the late 1940's. They specialize in fruit and ramune candies and tend to focus more on options which will not melt in the heat of summer like gum, pressed powder candies, taffy-style candies (chews), and gummies. It makes sense that Candy Japan would choose offerings from Coris at this time because the summer in Japan has been pretty brutal. They aren't going to want to send anything which will be likely to melt in transit.

I'd definitely buy this type of candy again if I were in the mood. It's a very "homey" feeling candy for someone who has lived in Japan for quite awhile and I don't think there is anything quite like it being sold in America (though I could be wrong as I'm not up on American kid's candies).

In terms of Candy Japan's service, they  have a very professional way of managing their subscriptions and I love the way they send out packages twice a month. Unlike some other services, they are sending directly from Japan so you are guaranteed to get something which comes straight from the source. You have no choice about what items you receive, but part of the point of it is that you're going to be surprised and try new things rather than choose from within your personal comfort zone. The cost for two mailings per month is $25, and that value includes the cost of the product as well as the shipping, handling, and management of the service.

As I've said before, I did not do this sort of thing from Japan despite the fact that many people asked me about doing it because I see it as a very low margin business given the time and effort involved. Readers will have to consider the value of such a service based on their own tastes, wishes, and desire to have something truly unique in their mailbox a couple of times a month. As someone who used to live for what showed up in the post for quite a few years of my life, I can speak to the unparalleled delights of such surprises once you get accustomed to the idea of having them. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Frito-Lay Grano Salted Snacks (product information)

Image courtesy of Frito-Lay.

I'm always on the fence about how to regard junk food. Is it something that we should endeavor to make as healthy as possible so that we can improve the overall nutritional profile? Or is it something which we should simply conclude is meant to taste "good" and health be damned? I think the choice I make depends on how I happen to be feeling at the time. If I were feeling that we should make it as healthy as possible, then I'd go for this "Grano" chips. 

The selling point of these is that they include three types of grains - brown corn, rice, wheat, and oats. The grain aspects don't translate into lower calories, however, as 55 grams (about 2 oz.) is 254 calories. You can compare this to the average calorie load of potato chips which is about 150 calories per ounce, you're not really saving much on that front. I guess you'll just have to be happy with the whole grain goodness and the fine work it will do on your digestive tract. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Random Picture #175

For those who don't know, Tirol sells little square chocolates in two styles. One is a "premium", which is a 1 inch/2.54 cm. square that sells for about 20 yen (20 cents) per piece. Those are the more sophisticated versions. The other is a smaller version, about 2/3 the size of the premium one, and is sold in various variety packs. Most of what I get my hands on these days is the small stuff. The easiest way to get them is in long strips of nine. They are often sold in Japanese markets in my area for a little over $2. It's not a bad deal, even though it is double the price for such things in Japan.

The main issue with them is that they always use boring flavors that I've had many times before and put in just one new flavor. In the case of this package (nine candies), three of them are "white cookie" and three are "milk". The new one, which comprises the final three, is lemon cookie. I never want to buy six that I've had before and find okay but not fantastic in order to get one that I would like to try. This method probably works pretty well for Tirol with kids (who I believe are the main market for this), but it isn't flying with this jaded old lady.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Calpis Baked Goods (product announcement)

Image courtesy of Family Mart.

I remain a Calpis virgin, despite my many years in Japan. However, I would have surrendered this status if these things had been available during my time there. I probably would have gone for the Calpis tart (top left) for certain and the cream bread (bottom left). However, I probably wouldn't go for the sponge cake (top right) and definitely wouldn't have touched the "cup jelly" (gelatin).

The tart and sponge cake cost 110 yen ($1.10). The jelly is, for reasons I can't imagine, 158 yen ($1.58) and the cream bread is 137 yen ($1.37). If you can get past the name which sounds like bovine urine, you can enjoy them from Family Mart convenience stores. (All jokes aside, Calpis is supposed to taste like yogurt and I'm sure is pretty tasty.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bourbon Alfort Green Tea Chocolate Biscuits

Several years ago, I sent a friend of mine a "care package" from Japan. I should call it, in retrospect, an "I don't care for" package as most of what I sent him wasn't exactly regarded with enthusiasm. Included was a bag of Japanese green tea, since was a green tea drinker at the time, some instant corn potage soup, some small salted snack things, and several chocolate items including a box of Alfort chocolate biscuits. I think he said either the corn potage snacks or the soup "tasted like Cap'n Crunch". I could understand why he'd say that since they are both made from corn and on the sweet side.

The green tea got the worst reception because he thought it looked like a bag of hash. At that time, I didn't know that Americans drank "green tea" which did not resemble Japanese green tea. For many, it was a sort of brownish stuff that lacked strong grassy notes or the scent of chlorophyll. I daresay that was not what he expected, but I did send along a teapot which he liked. He also liked the Alfort chocolate biscuits. They were the only clear winner among the food options.

Alfort is a very common brand of half-cookie/half-candy made by Bourbon and I was shocked when I looked through my archives and realized that I have never reviewed any of these products before. It's not like I scarfed them down with abandon in Japan, but I did have them on more than one occasion and found them quite enjoyable. You can usually find them at Lawson 100 for 100 yen or about a dollar in U.S. currency. The boxes carry a fair bit of heft and 12 little squares of cookie and candy merged together. It's good value for a solid product. The common flavors are chocolate, bitter chocolate, and white chocolate. This green tea flavor caught my eye mainly because, while green tea is a mainstream flavor in Japan, it's not one I'd noticed for Alfort before. That's not to say it wasn't around, but just that I didn't see it.

I found this at Mitsuwa market for a $1.69 (about 170 yen), which is pricy by Tokyo standards, but reasonable by American ones. The packaging says that it is made with "uji matcha", a green tea grown in Kyoto. I daresay that there is a flood of product on the market these days which touts its uji matcha connection and that it is a bona fide food fad now. It's not that green tea is in any way exotic, but just that this particular type of tea seems to have been swelling in popularity over the past year or so.

The concept of Alfort is simple. Half is a bit of chocolate, pure and simple, with a little biscuit stuck on the back-side. All of the varieties of these candies have a picture of a boat on them for reasons I can't figure out. If the box says so, I can't read it as an enormous sticker translating the nutrition information and ingredients is covering most of it. I'm guessing it doesn't say so at any rate, and my search on the word "Alfort" was no help. It's a commune. It's a veterinary school. It's a botanical garden. It's the name of an English cricket player. Most disturbingly, it's the name of a museum of "anatomical oddities". No, I did not try to look at the linked page in regards tot he museum.

I'm just going to look at the ship on my cookie and pretend that it's a pirate boat and that the president of Bourbon is cool enough to put pirates on his chocolate biscuits. That will make sampling them more enjoyable, not that they need a boost in enjoyment. These are pretty tasty little morsels, as long as you like green tea.

As green tea flavors go, this one is certainly more potent than some of the snacks I've tried as of late. The aroma rather strongly hits you when you break the seal and it is the smell that you detect when you open up a bag of green tea leaves. It could be that all of the scent trapped tightly in the wrapper makes it super strong, but it is still very present when you eat the cookie. It's a very good combination of green tea bitterness with white chocolate sweetness. In fact, as I sample more green tea sweets, I think that it works much better with white chocolate than any other flavor. Fruit flavors, for instance, tend to layer sweetness on sweetness. This creates more of a balance.

The cookie itself mainly adds texture, but it's got some heft for its tiny size due to the cookie's thickness and higher than average quality. For a consumer level product, the cookie has better shortbread notes than I'd expect. While it lacks a buttery flavor to add depth, it has a crumbly goodness and some flaky layering that make it a very satisfying counter-point to the somewhat rich and sweet chocolate. Its blandness also helps balance out the chocolate's sweetness.

Do I think this is the greatest cookie and chocolate on earth? Certainly not. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. The thing about certain types of flavors is that they play better as small portions for novelty and attentive enjoyment. This isn't the type of product that you'd buy a box of to take to a movie and chow down with, unless you grew up with green tea sweets and that's what you did for your entire life. It's more the type that you'd eat one or two of with a cup of coffee or tea and really savor the flavor balance. For marginally adventurous palates, I'd definitely say that this is worth a try.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Schluckwerder Chocolate-covered Marzipan

The previous time that I reviewed marzipan, I learned that it is often covered in chocolate as a means of preservation and not because people don't believe that almond paste is awesome all by itself. Of course, Americans in general aren't big into the joys of marzipan because most of what they are exposed to is pretty crummy quality stuff. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I've only experienced some of the worst marzipan, but that's okay. I like bad frozen pizza, so there's no reason not to embrace my inner poor sense of taste and enjoy the worst that the world has to offer in multiple respects. I am nothing if not open to new experiences all across the lower end of the snack food spectrum.

I do not know if this Schluckwerder marzipan is supposed to be good or poor quality stuff. I do know that it was relatively cheap compared to some other types. This 50 gram/1.76 oz. "loaf" (yes, they seem to call these things "loaves") was a mere $1.29 at a European import market that I visited several weeks ago. You can find it online from the German Deli, though the sizes that are in stock at any given time varies. I do know that "Schluckwerder" sounds like a name that would get used in a Monty Python sketch about Germans and that means it is a cool name.

I can't help but note that the packaging is reminiscent of Neideregger marzipan, which I've heard is the bee's knees of mass market marzipan. It's also much more expensive than this so my cheap ass has not yet tried it. However, I will, eventually, pay for the experience.

Since marzipan goes nasty quickly, sealing it in chocolate is a way to keep it a little fresher, so I stupidly cut it into 4 portion-controlled pieces. I forgot about the "sealing" aspect before I did this, but I do expect to keep it in a sealed container in the refrigerator and eat it all up over 4 days. Hopefully, that will stop it from turning into some mutant almond paste monster before I can devour it.

In terms of the marzipan itself, I'm pretty happy with it. It's not as sweet as some varieties, and the chocolate is less of a hindrance than in some candies. The coating isn't especially sweet or strong in flavor, so it tends to mainly function as the sealing agent. However, that is not to dismiss it as flavorless or waxy (which a sealant may be seen as). It's just enough to add a hint of chocolate and a crispy texture. This is not a fatty chocolate so it's not especially soft, but that's okay because almond paste has enough fat to carry the day.

The almond paste was what I'd call "fine". It wasn't as good as the best I've had, but it wasn't bad. It reminded me a bit of coconut in terms of texture and wasn't really as sweet as the Mozart brand. This is somewhat of a plus, but the flavor seemed a little "flatter" than I might like.

If I was in the mood for marzipan, this would certainly do me, though it's a little like eating a Hershey's Kiss for a chocolate fix instead of a nice bit of Lindt (which is one of the best consumer-level, mass market chocolates in my experience). For the price, I'm not complaining, but I can't say that I'm going to run out and stock up.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Glico Pretz Tokyo Baby Karinto (product information)

Image courtesy of Glico.

There's exclusive and then there's exclusive. Glico is producing a special version of their "Pretz" crackers in "karinto" (a sort of brown sugar log that is rather fatty and not really like a pretzel) for ANA (All Nippon Airways). Information on buying these is available via your local seat pocket on an ANA flight and they will be on sale on September 28, 2013 and be gone by the end of October. Each stick is a mere 22 mm/.86 in. in length and there are 6 individual portions per box to make them easy to distribute as a souvenir. The listed price is 840 yen ($8.40), but it may vary.

Though this sounds like you have to be on a plane to get it, you can pick one up at the "Glico Kitchen" shop in Tokyo station or the "Diversity Plaza" in Odaiba. The only way it seems to really have to do with airplanes is the shape of the design on the box. However, I could be wrong and ANA could be handing these out instead of your standard pretzels on flights for awhile. I never flew ANA while I was in Japan, but if anyone out there does, let me know if you get a box of these. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Random Picture #174

When I was a kid, if someone had told me that, some day, I'd be standing in a store pondering whether to choose cakes filled with sweet beans that were shaped like ducks or bunnies, I would have thought they were insane. What sort of peculiar dystopian future would lead me to make such choices?

Nonetheless, there I was in a Japanese market, faced with said choice and this was the one I did not make. These are "garugamo" or "spot-billed duck" cakes. The reason that the bunnies won the contest was that they were filled with white beans and the ducks were filled with red ones. While I'm fine with either type, my husband only sanctions white beans and I wanted someone to help me eat the lot of them up. Also, frankly, the bunnies were cuter and who doesn't like their food to be as adorable as possible?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Glico Office Refreshment Box (product information)

Culture is often seen as something which is largely reflected in ritual, art, and customs. For me, I think that culture is really in the details of everyday life. In one culture, rice is washed and soaked. In another, it's just cooked straightaway in water. In one culture, people drink coffee with the grounds left in it and in another, they filter out any sediment for a clear brew. It's not just about food, of course, though that is one of those things that affects everyone. It's also about how we live each day including life in the office.

In America, I've been told that it's common in some companies (especially more successful ones) to provide snacks and drinks for free to all employees. The company will fill a refrigerator with soft drinks and cabinets with instant oatmeal. That was never my experience in Japan. The best we got was free tea bags, loose leaf tea, and the most dreadful coffee in the history of mankind.

Glico believes that Japanese offices should offer up some snacks for employees to enjoy and, to that end, have created this little office filing drawer system to provide. They say that sweets will increase efficiency or put something in your stomach when you're doing that unpaid overtime. Speaking of paying, Glico knows that Japanese companies aren't going to give you snacks for free. No. No. You're supposed to put 100 yen in the frog's mouth if you take something from the box. You have to admire that they have such confidence in the honor system as well as the fact that they built this system around chintzy office managers who won't give it up for free.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Usapyon Manju

There's this thing in America where the kids like this singer named Justin Bieber. I'm not sure what the appeal is because he looks like just another pretty boy teen idol to me, but his face is all over school supplies and he gets mentioned a lot here on the web. It's one of those things which I'll never really "get" because it's a corner of pop culture that I have no interest in exploring.

In Japan, similarly, there was a large swath of the pop culture that I knew nothing about and that was in anime. Had I followed it, I would have known what "usapyon" meant. I knew that "usagi" meant "rabbit". "Pyon", apparently, is the sound a rabbit makes in Japan. Animals make the same sounds in every country, but the way humans hear them varies. I looked this word up and there's a character in a cartoon that translates to something like "pretty cure" that is called "Usapyon". It's a stuffed bunny toy that comes to life for some reason every once in awhile. So, now, I understand why these bunny-shaped cakes are named "usapyon" instead of something like "usagi-ju" or the Japanese equivalent of "bunny bun".

I found these cakes at Mitsuwa Japanese market for $4.99. That is actually on the cheap side for bean cakes. They were on sale, which may mean that they won't be around for long or simply that I got a good deal the day that I was there. This brand of bean cake was one that I never encountered in Japan, but that's no shocker. There are myriads of little manufacturers and bakers who have limited market penetration and the chances that you'll encounter all of them or any particular one is pretty small. The same goes for the U.S., and I'm sure other countries.

I chose these not only because they were reduced in price, but also because they have white beans in them. It's actually somewhat challenging to find something which doesn't have red beans. The main difference is that the white ones are milder in flavor and lack the earthiness of the red ones. These carry more of the flavors of the other ingredients.

The bunny "ears" and "eyes" that you see are only on the plastic package. Once they are removed, the "bunny" is represented by bumps alone. Inside is somewhat soft, tender mashed bean that has been mixed with sugar and other flavors. One of the ingredients is condensed milk powder, which may be lending sweetness and richnessThey have more of a sweet, floury, baked good sense to them. They remind me a bit of vanilla pancakes without the syrup. Though sweeter than a red bean cake, they are not as sweet as most cakes and cookies.

I really enjoyed these and would definitely buy them again. They brought back very positive memories of my time in Japan both in terms of the adorable form factor and the taste.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Adachi Sangyo Chestnut Monaka

Sorry, I managed to lose my pictures, but the manufacturer's is much nicer anyway.

If you search my archives, you will see that I have only reviewed a "monaka" sweet twice. Both times, I was reviewing ice cream because that was the proper context into which I personally believed monaka belonged. For those who don't know, and there's no reason why you should, monaka is often called a "wafer" and is similar in texture and flavor to the cake cones that your mom buys as inadequate receptacles for a scoop of ice cream. That is to say, they taste like nothing and have a spongy texture. I swear that the vast majority of cake cones sold in America these days are not for holding ice cream, but rather for baking novelty cupcakes.

My ambivalence toward monaka was lifted recently when I saw a package of 3 chestnut monaka treats on sale at Nijiya market for $2.49. Most of the bean/chestnut paste sweets there are massively over-priced and I have been hankering for chestnut for quite some time so this lured me into the monaka world.

The truth is that not all monaka are created equal. While I've had some which are the texture (and taste) of Styrofoam, the case on these was rather different. Yes, it is still essentially flavorless, but it is super flaky and almost wispy. It flaked like super fine pastry instead of made my misaligned teeth attempt to tear it asunder. I can't say I loved it, but I can say that it didn't in any way detract from my enjoyment of the filling inside, and the filling is really what this is all about.

Inside of the flower-shaped wafer is a generous amount of bean paste with bits of chestnut mixed in. It is rather surprisingly sweet for a Japanese traditional treat. By the end of one cake (which is all I can eat at one sitting), it was just on the edge of cloying without going over. Honestly, it made my teeth hurt even with coffee to drink between bites. The texture was oddly chewy in spots, which I imagine was something about the rather roughness of the puree.

Despite how sweet this was, I really liked it. I could have used more chestnut and less red bean flavoring, but I really enjoyed the delicate texture of the monaka coupled with the jam. The flavor was good with the chestnut, if not shining through, cutting out the intense "beaniness" which you sometimes experience with anko.

Note that the nutrition information I was given was a bit of a cheat. There are 3 cakes in the package, but the calorie information is given for 4 servings of 84 calories. Each is actually 112 calories. Since the ingredients list is headed by "sugar", neither the sweetness nor calories are a shock. Beans, which by weight are surely a huge part of this, is 4th on the list. That's a lot of sugar!

The company that makes these is Adachi Sangyo, and I was frankly surprised that they have a web site as many of smallish makers of traditional sweets in boring packaging never put up a web site. They make a small range of snacks which are all very much "Japanese". The focus is on monaka, daifuku, dorayaki, and jelly (gelatin) treats. If I were in Japan still, I'd keep my eyes peeled for their chestnut daifuku because it looks pretty awesome. Unfortunately, even if I were still there, I'd be unlikely to locate them as this is one of those businesses that has limited distribution. One thing I definitely learned is that being in the thick of things in Japan is no guarantee of finding a particular Japanese release. Some things are easier to find here than they were there, quite frankly.

Though I really liked these, and I'd buy them again for the same $2.49 (214 yen), I'm not sure others with different tastes would share my enjoyment of them. Monaka is, in my opinion, a bit of an acquired taste texturally, even good monaka. Bean jam is even more so, and this is pretty sweet stuff. Nonetheless, I'd buy it again.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Burger King Garlic Meat Beast and Garlic Double Cheese (product information)

"Garlic Meat Beast" sounds like a good name for a lot of things. It would be a great name for a rock band. It certainly would make a nice euphemism for a part of the male anatomy, especially if its owner is an aficionado of garlic. Incidentally, the Japanese does not say "beast", but says "garlic meat monster". That would be an even better name for a rock band.

These burgers became available on July 26, these became available, though for some reason they are not being sold at the Burger King near where I used to live (Shin-Koenji). I guess that meat monsters simply are not welcome there.

The word "stamina" in Japan is a code word for "high in calories and fat" and it is applied to the meat monster pictured at the top. As you can see, it has three kinds of meat as well as garlic chips, though one is a grilled piece of chicken so that shouldn't lend too much of a load to the calorie total. Unfortunately, I could not get stats on this as it was't included in the nutrition information on Burger King's site. I'd wager, however, that it'd be best to skip dinner if you have the beast for lunch.