Monday, September 30, 2013

Sanko Seika Lemon Sembei

There's an episode of Monty Python in which people rather inexplicably keep saying "lemon curry" in a very quizzical fashion. I must say that I feel the same way about the concept of "lemon sembei". Since sembei can be sweet, it does have permission to be so, perhaps this isn't so strange, but I have to say that this is the first time I've run across this particular flavor. When I saw it at Marukai Japanese market for about $2.30 (about 230 yen), I couldn't resist despite the potential for disappointment.

These crackers are kin to Sanko Seika's venerable "Snow Inn" line of frosted sembei. I've reviewed them somewhat unfavorably in the past, but the general flavor concept is starting to grow on me. In fact, I may revisit the original Snow Inn crackers at some point in the future.

When you open the packet, they don't smell especially lemony. The first bite reveals just a hint of lemon flavor and a very modest tang. This is a salty sweet with a decent balance of both. Instead of them coming together in a battle royal, they sit quietly in their play pen making up new and imaginative flavor games. It's not a flavor punch, but I think it works well with its subtle flavor tones.

This was unique, but not in a bad way as such things can be. I was very surprised at how well it all came together, though there is a bit of a sense of disharmony when the "baked rice" flavor of the sembei comes through and it's mixed with a twist of lemon. However, once I got used to that concept, I really enjoyed these. They may not be everybody's cup of tea, but if you like lemon and sembei, and have a marginally adventurous palate, I'd recommend giving them a try. They're also only 53 calories per two sembei packet. That's a pretty good deal.

Incidentally, the yen is getting a little weaker and prices in Japanese markets are going down. I noticed when I went to Marukai that things were looking a little more affordable. This is bad news for folks working in Japan, but good news for those of us on the other side of the ocean buying stuff as imports.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Calbee Yakimorokoshi Corn Snack

Sorry for the mangy picture. I had a shot of the unopened bag and lost track of it.

When Japanese folks eat rice, they generally eat it plain. Occasionally, they'll garnish it with a bit of sesame seek or place a pickled plum (umeboshi) on the top. I'm not sure if these things are added to enhance the rice or just for the aesthetic appeal of the contrast between the snowy white rice, black seeds, and red plum. The idea that one would put soy sauce in the rice is abhorrent to most Japanese people and the notion that you'd butter it is downright insane, yet many Americans have been known to butter their rice. It's little different than adding it to potatoes or spreading it on bread. Adding fat to starches is what we do.

The way in which we conceptualize cuisine is far more limited than we imagine because we get into habits. Those patterns are governed by what is placed in front of us from childhood. When we had roasted corn, it was delivered with salt and/or butter. Oh sure, occasionally somebody's grandma may have rubbed it with beet juice or rhubarb pulp or some such esoteric combination, but it isn't common.

For most Americans, it doesn't occur to us that we could brush it with soy sauce and that would add a rich, savory, salty dimension that could be incredibly delicious. In Japan, it is not uncommon to see roasted corn brushed with soy sauce, but I have never seen it here. This being a Japanese corn snack, it's going to go with what they enjoy on their corn, so that's soy sauce.

This corn snack is infused with the flavor of roasted corn brushed with soy sauce. Actually, it's a little low on the "roasted corn" angle and higher on the salt, soy sauce, and, yes, even a little sweetness aspect. It's a flavor combination with depth that plays well with the crispy corn base.

One thing I love about Japanese savory snacks is that, most of the time, they have a fairly rich flavor blend. Many American snacks of a similar bent are one-trick ponies - fake cheese flavor, fake "barbeque" flavor (usually heavy on the smoked paprika), etc. In Japan, I find there's generally a richer mix of things like meat-flavored powders, onion, garlic, soy sauce, and yes, even fish powders. This mix includes bonito (essentially fish flakes) broth and kelp powder as well as soy sauce, sugar, and shiitake mushroom powder. You don't have to love any one of them because they come together in a rich melange of savoriness which is unique.

I really liked these, though the hit of sweetness at the end came about as close to undoing the happy rating as it could come. It just wasn't quite powerful enough to step over the line, fortunately. I found this at Nijiya Japanese market for a mere 99 cents (it's a small bag at 26 grams or just a shade under an ounce) and it was well worth the investment. I don't know where others can locate it, but the package size and design screams typical "konbini" (convenience store) fare in Japan.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Glico Sugar Rich Chou Ice (product announcement)

This product's name caught my eye because it is called "sugar rich". I can't imagine, in a day and age when sugar is considered in the same toxic posse as cocaine and heroin, that we would ever see a product promoting itself with such a name in the U.S. It would be like selling meat as being "fat-rich". Nobody wants that.

The cornerstones of its appeal are not necessarily in sugar, however. It is promoted for its white glaze and cookie crunch. I'm sure that both are full of sugar, though it should be noted that this is not ice cream despite the appearance. It's what the Japanese call "lacto ice" or ice milk. So, all of the sugar is included, but less fat.

This went on sale yesterday (September 23) and retails for 126 yen (about $1.25). It has only 196 calories, but I'm sure it's not especially big since it is stated as being 80 ml. Glico's press release said that the target audience is women in their 20's and 30's who are seeking luxury. I'm guessing the point about that which is not included is that they must bee looking for it on a budget as they aren't paying for higher quality frozen confection.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Random Picture #181

One of the things which I liked about Japanese bakeries was the tendency to fashion their bread products in the shapes of animals or characters. Where I was born and raised, I don't think we ever had what would be considered a "real" bakery and my first experience with this sort of bread artistry came in Japan.

Upon returning to the U.S. and learning that they actually do such things here as well, I was a little less impressed, especially with some of the more mass-produced-looking results such as the bears shown above. The one in the front looks like he has been punched in the snout. The one behind him looks rather deformed.

I never really thought much about it, but I wonder if Japanese customers would avoid malformed character bread. Since Japanese consumers are renowned for their fussiness, it would make sense that they would prefer not to get a mutant bear bread. After all, if it's not pretty, what's the point of getting a shaped bread at all? Considering that these are small (about the size of your palm) and cost 200 yen (about $2) each, I'm not sure it's worth paying the somewhat premium price for substandard work.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

KFC Smile Set (product information)

Images courtesy of KFC Japan.

Anything in Japan can be "chibified". That is, it can be made cute and adorable like Rilakkuma or Hello Kitty. This includes deceased purveyors of greasy fried chicken who, heretofore, were mainly represented in statuary.

Making the colonel, who seemed to be born near-sighted, white-haired and with a goatee, into a little cutie-pie is one of the best ways to get kids interested in buying KFC's "smile set". If that's not enough, then they'll give away little prizes with the meal sets (shown at the top) as illustrated above. The top item is a "cooking board" which, near as I can tell, is about cutting straight (hence the measurement marks at the bottom). I'm guessing it is not anything as solid as a cutting board. The second item is a "hand towel". Those are usually the size and shape of a diminutive handkerchief and meant to be carried around for drying ones hands after using public restrooms that have neither towels nor electronic dryers. The third item is a "recipe memo", because kids are always writing down recipes. Finally, there is a "deco sheet" which you can use to decorate your cakes.

The strange thing about these to me is that they don't seem very "kid" oriented. While you can get your choice of one of these if you buy one of the two "smile sets", they definitely seem that they're for young women, not for kids. How many kids do you know who are decorating cakes using stencils?

At any rate, if you have found yourself in love with the crooked-nosed chibi Colonel and would like to adorn your desktop with his adorable little image, you can download a wallpaper of him here

Monday, September 23, 2013

UHA One Piece Puccho Candy (via Candy Japan)

Consider a hypothetical Japanese business man who is transferred to the United States for about 10 years. He wasn't interested in American-style football before he came to the U.S., but he gradually develops an interest in it, comes to understand it, and attends some games. He can have conversations on the topic with native fans. While he doesn't like all American food, he does give various dishes a chance and settles on a handful that he really enjoys and partakes of regularly. While not totally integrated with the culture, he has found and has an affinity for aspects of it to varying degrees.

Around his 7th year in the U.S., he has a conversation with a Japanese colleague back home and this fellow asks him if he has ever been to Comic Con or visited a gaming or comic store. This coworker, who lives in Japan and has never been to the U.S., is an enormous fan of American comics like "Spider Man" and "X-Men." When the businessman says that he has not had any experience with comics or comic-related culture, his coworker scoffs and says, "America is wasted on you."

I'm offering this little hypothetical story and asking the reader to pause and consider their impression of the Japanese coworker's attitude toward his colleague who is residing in the U.S. Now, I'd like to ask you to replace a few of the details. Instead of "Japanese businessman", substitute "Orchid6" and instead of "football", think "sumo". Finally, instead of Japanese coworker, put in "fellow American blogger" and for "Spider Man and X-Men", sub in Japanese anime and manga. 

When I was living in Japan, I had zero interest in Japanese comics. When I was in my late 30's, I was told that the way in which I did not partake of this one particular aspect of Japanese culture meant that "Japan (was) wasted on you". Yes, because if an adult doesn't embrace just that niche of interest that another adult does, he or she is missing a very important boat.

The snarky attitude of a geeky American was not enough to incite any interest in Japanese comics for me, but a talk with a student who I respected and liked was. A former student, a nurse, said that she borrowed and read the "One Piece" comics that one of her friends collected. At first, she thought they would be childish, but she got hooked. The fact that it involves, at least in theory, pirates, didn't hurt. So, I went online and watched some of the available "One Piece" cartoons that were based on the comic books.

The truth is that I hated it. I found the whole thing grating and relatively incoherent. I'm sure that there's something in it for people who aren't me, but it just didn't do anything for me. That being said, "One Piece" is incredibly popular in Japan and "goods" related to the series are everywhere. The fact that UHA would make a candy themed after it is no surprise. The surprise would be that they could afford the licensing fee.

Before I get any further, I should note that this little bag of interest came to me courtesy of Candy Japan. I reviewed their service previously, and they send out two "surprise" packages per month for a subscription fee of $25. They put as much into a standard Japanese envelope as can fit and they had to make a good effort to cram this in there without mangling it (and a very good job they did of it), because the bag is actually 1/3 bigger than the envelope. I have to give them credit for living up to the "fitting" into the envelope promise which is a part of their service as well as offering something colorful and intriguing. 

To appeal to "One Piece" fans, this packet has various characters depicted on the packages of the "puccho" candy as well as a foil-wrapped sticker. My sticker depicts the "Roronoa.Zoro" character and looks pretty much the same as the packet design of the candy with his image. I believe that there are 9 sticker designs that mirror the packets plus a "surprise" one, but I may be misunderstanding the description on the front. Of course, you have no way of knowing what the sticker will be, which would encourage you to buy many more of these to collect them all.

Incidentally, Candy Japan includes a non-food surprise with most of their packages. My guess is that the inclusion of a sticker with this is a substitute for an additional item this time. That's fair enough, especially given how relatively cramped the package was getting this resealable plastic bag of candy (which is really a nifty little Japanese thing in and of itself - you could reuse it if you were careful with how you opened it - and I was).

The candy itself is a type that I've seen many times, but never bought. "Puccho" is a taffy-like candy with little bits of other things in it, usually gummy. There are two flavors in this bag - lime soda and muscat. I didn't pay exquisite attention, but I think that the muscat are in the blue wrappers and the lime in the green. There are twelve candies in all and appear to be six of each flavor.

Lime soda: Just out of the package, this was a bit hard to chew. There seemed to be a few gummies crammed inside, but once it's in your mouth, you can't distinguish between the taffy and the interior filling. After it warmed up a bit in my, it was much more pliable and enjoyable to chew. It releases a nice, citrus-like burst of lime that is perhaps just a bit too well-tempered by sweetness, but only after you've been chewing for awhile and the taffy exterior has released more of its sugary load. This was a bright, eye-opening option, though it left a lingering sweetness in my mouth that I needed to wash away with a drink.

Muscat: This was also crammed with gummies, but they were smashed up a bit more such that they formed a chewy fruit-leather-sandwich layer. The muscat (a kind of grape) flavor was quite good and had the same sort of flavor that I associate with the large, purple grapes that are sold in Japan. I liked this better than the lime soda and would have been happy with a whole bag of these. It had a non-alcoholic wine feel to it because of the richness of the grape flavor. It also seemed to carry the muscat flavor longer and have less cloying sweetness to pull it along. However, by the end, I still had the sense on my tongue that I'd been sucking on a grape lollipop for awhile.

Some candy is what you want to eat all of the time until the bag is gone. Some is for when you're in the right mood for it. This is definitely a "mood" thing, as many fruit and taffy candies often are. There's nothing wrong with this, but I think the greatest value is in the very colorful novelty of the packaging, the little toy surprise, and the wrappers. You don't even have to be a "One Piece" fan to like the designs, but it probably would make you feel that getting this for half of your subscription price was even more worthwhile.

If I were rating the overall appeal of the package, I'd be giving this a "happy" rating. However, I'm only rating the candy itself. I'll be finishing the candy slowly over time, but I don't think I'd buy "puccho" again. I will, however, be saving the sticker and plastic bag that these came in just for fun. They're nifty little souvenir-type things from Japan.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lottesand Black Cookies

When I saw this box on display at a Korean market, the English sign in front of it said, "Black Sandwich Cracker". This intrigued me because what is pictured on the box resembles a knock-off of an Oreo cookie, not a cracker. I wanted to know if the contents of the box actually were cracker-like confections and it only cost me 50 cents to find out.

When I got home and started looking more carefully, I saw that these are made by Japanese snack-making power house, Lotte. In fact, if you peruse the Korean web site, you'll see that there is substantial product overlap between countries including Ghana chocolate bars. I think that products produced for both countries are essentially identical. However, I could not find a chocolate sandwich cookie (or cracker) option on Lotte's Japan site. Perhaps they threw in the towel in that market and gave in to Oreo.

The main benefit of these cookies for me over Oreos are that they are sold more cheaply and in a smaller package. The first time my husband and I bought a standard size package of Oreos after returning to America, it took four months to eat it all. The second time, it took longer and we had to throw the rest away. It's just too much cookie for a couple of people who aren't gobbling them down like a crazed 8-year-old.

Of course, a 50-cent box is unlikely to live up to the greatness of Oreo, right? Well, maybe... The truth is that these were very good cookies. The bitter chocolate cookie exterior was flavorful and had a good texture. It lacked some of the fatty, crumbly nature of an Oreo, but it did not go anywhere near "cracker" territory. It was a more than serviceable cookie with just enough cream to make it interesting without making it too sweet or cloying.

Frankly, for my tastes, these were better than a standard Oreo, but I'm guessing those who are into double-, triple-, and whatever multiple numbers of "stuffs" they enjoy in Oreos will find the filling amount paltry and insufficient. It truly depends on how sweet you like your cookies. Oddly, the calorie count is not enormously lower despite the lesser sweetness and white stuff. The cookies are 45 calories each, but are smaller than an Oreo.

I wouldn't say that one should bust a gut scrambling down to the local Korean market (I got these at a place called "Super Kyo-Po Plaza"), but I'm guessing you could get them at any Korean market... provided you have access to one. I certainly would buy them again if I wanted to have an "Oreo" cookie around. They're not "better", but they are different in a way that suits my tastes (and pocketbook) better.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lawson Yuzu-man Tie-up Campaign (product information)

There are certain flavors in Japan which I view as being difficult to love for those who didn't grow up with a taste for them. In this group, I include bean paste (anko), green tea, and, of course, natto (fermented soybean paste). There are other flavors which I think are very accessible and I wonder why they haven't spread to other countries. One of those is yuzu, the citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between a lemon, grapefruit, and orange. It's one of my favorite things from Japan and pretty much the only thing that would compel me to buy convenience store fried chicken (pictured above).

The chicken is yuzu koshyou or citron-pepper flavor, but they're also offering up yuzu popcorn and several themed items featuring the character associated with a musical group called "Yuzu man" that you can collect with points acquired from buying Lawson products including a cushion and a pre-paid card. I don't know anything about the music, besides what the Japanese Wikipedia page tells me, but if a pop group can get more yuzu-flavored products out there, I'm all for it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Random Picture #180

A word of advice to my readers about Korean vs. Japanese snacks - there is a lot of overlap between the markets. It's not only Lotte, which operates big time in both countries, but many other snacks as well. I've discovered that many of the products I saw in Japan were identical to Korean ones. If you want to try "Japanese" snacks, you can often just buy the Korean versions and it's the same food with different packaging at an often significantly lower price.

The item pictured above is a pretty good example. These "Choco Boy" cookies look very much like the "kinoko no yama" cookies that are easy to find in Japan (and in my area as well). The big difference is the price. You can't get the Japanese cookies any cheaper than $1.50 per box in my experience and these are a mere 79 cents. One of these days, I'll pick up a box of these and try them for comparison. For now, I'd just like to say that sometimes cheaper is not only just as good, but precisely the same. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Karel Capek Marron Tea (product announcement)

Year-round, we can buy nearly any kind of nut roasted, salted, or dried in markets. You can even get them in convenience stores. For reasons I'm not sure of, chestnuts have never taken off in America the way they have in Asia. This may have something to do with the fact that they can't be gobbled down by the handful with beverage and are a bit moist and often vacuum packed. This doesn't explain why they haven't penetrated American cuisine as deeply as they have Japanese (and I know what you're all thinking after reading that because I know you all have minds that are nearly as filthy as mine).

Chestnuts are a very healthy, relatively low calorie nut. They're creamy and similar to sweet potatoes in texture. So, why aren't we eating more of them? Well, this article in Serious Eats speculates that they fell out of favor when trees started dying due to blight. That writer believes that they were forgotten and never made their way back into people's regular diets. Personally, I think that people are too lazy to do what it takes to make dishes with them (and they aren't great just by themselves as they can be slightly bitter) and too conservative in their eating habits by and large for them to be popular.

All of this is my lamenting that chestnut, or "marron" as they're called in Japan and France, and chestnut-flavored items are so rare here. When I saw this new tea by Karel Capek, I wished very much to be able to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, even if I still lived in Japan, it would require some effort as I'd have to go to Musashino to visit their store (not a small hike from where I used to live) or do mail order. Chances are, appealing as this tea sounds, I wouldn't have troubled myself to do either. I guess that also speaks to why chestnuts aren't more popular. If even someone who loves them as much as I do can't be bothered to make some efforts to get goods made with them, then they probably aren't going to sell especially well.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Glico Rare Cheesecake Pocky

When I did a product information post on the summer Pocky releases, I didn't really expect to find myself sampling them. However, my husband and I recently moved to a new place - and note that this is our sixth move since returning to the U.S. and I can say with experience now that moving is absolute hell - we found a place within walking distance of a Korean market that has the lowest prices I've ever seen on these types of limited edition Pocky. When I saw this for $1.99, I figured that there was no reason not to try it despite my reservations about the flavor.

What reservations are those? Well, they are the ones which say that this is going to taste like bad dairy or powdered milk at best and some sort of savory cheese like Gouda or Cheddar at worst. That was my initial concern when I wrote the product information post. There's something rather cool about making such a prediction and seeing whether or not it comes true.

"Rare" cheesecake means that this should taste like cream cheese. It should not be especially pungent or have the sharpness of an aged cheese and should possess a delicate sweetness and a rich undertone of fattiness. Yeah, I'm expecting a lot out of a psuedo-chocolate goo coated pretzel stick.

After opening the packet, I gave it a whiff and it smelled funky. My husband said that "it's a fine line between rare and bad cheese". This is definitely treading the line. It smells like milk that is going off, but isn't quite at the scary level yet. You could probably get away with keeping it for one more day and using it in your coffee or tea, but you're not going to want to drink it straight.

Pocky does not live or die on scent alone. In fact, I'm guessing most people don't even notice the aroma. The first bite tasted a bit "cheesy" to me in a not so good way, but subsequent bites allowed my tongue to acclimate and it wasn't so bad. In fact, there is definitely a progression when you eat these. The first bite is "too much" pungent dairy. The second is mellow sweet somewhat milky, but slightly cheesey in a good way flavor and the third has a nice lemon kick to it.

This is not the greatest Pocky on the face of the planet, but it is unique and kind of tasty once you get paste the first hit of strong "cheese powder" flavoring. It's has that sort of quality that you find in which a food becomes better as you eat more and it encourages you to chow down on the whole package at once. In this case, it at least helps you avoid the slightly unpleasant sense of that initial bite if you eat a whole package (170 calories) at once.

Since coming home, Pocky has been growing on me. I didn't care much for it in Japan, but I do like the pretzel goodness more than I used to. I'm not sure if that is because I no longer have access to certain other types of snacks or if I'm just more inclined to give it a chance. Whatever the case may be, I liked this, but perhaps only enough to try it about once a year. If I had a rating between "indifferent" and "happy", this would get it. In all fairness though, I did enjoy it, so it gets a smiling sumo wrestler.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Variety Friday: "Communication Chocolate"

Sometimes I see YouTube videos of commercials from decades ago and I wonder where on earth those came from. It's especially curious when I see things from the 1970s because there were so many commercials and so few VCRs at the time. Some of those videos, clearly, were transferred over from old video tapes. You can tell by the quality. Did someone just find some old videos lying around of TV shows and they decided to capture them? Who does that sort of thing?

Well, ironically, I recently got my hands on some old videos that my husband made in 1986. Besides his presence on the tapes, there is also a little cameo from his sister who had just celebrated a birthday. My future brother-in-law had sent his sibling some things from Japan as gifts, including quite a few chocolate bars called "Communication Chocolate".

From that video, I was able to get captures of these bars, each of which has a phrase in English written on the front and a very typical list of ingredients in Japanese on the back. At one point, my future husband asked his sister to turn the bar around so I could, indeed, see the Japanese writing on the back. Despite the fact that these look very much like they were made for a country in which English is natively spoken, I assure you that they are 100% Japanese.

One of the questions that my future sister-in-law had about these was why are the messages written in English. I know from long experience in Japan that most Japanese people don't care about the meaning of the words, but are focusing on the design. That being said, I think most of these are sufficiently simple phrases that they could be understood by most people who had completed high school. She also speculated about whether or not the phrases were explained in Japanese on the back. From what I could read through fuzzy video, the back only talked about the chocolate itself.

There is even a little bit of a "review" of these bars on the video. My husband's sister wondered if the chocolate was going to be bad because the focus appeared to be on the packaging. She sampled the almond crunch bar and said that it was good though a little different from American chocolate.

The question about what the purpose of these bars was also came up, particularly in regard to the bar pictured above this post. This bar in particular made the circumstances for buying them clear. This bar would be given to someone who wanted help with work or some other task. It may sound like a cry for help, but it's actually pretty easy to see someone giving one to a teacher, a coworker, or a friend as part of a request for a favor. Of course, several of these bars are designed to be given to potential or current romantic partners.

I tried to find something more modern that was like these bars, but came up empty. If you've seen an updated version around, let me know who the manufacturer is. One piece of information that I did not get from the video was what confectioner produced them. I hope you enjoyed seeing 27-year-old chocolate bars from Japan! This is probably the only place you're likely to see them... unless someone else has home video of a similar gift. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Glico Dororich Cafe (product announcement)

Image courtesy of Glico.

I sometimes wonder if some sort of "assembly" is supposed to make a food more attractive to people or if it just is all about creating a unique end product by not preparing everything beforehand. This product has a layer of "coffee jelly" on the bottom and whipped cream on the top. You're supposed to shake the snot out of it and then some sort of fluffy, foamy beverage that you will be impressed by. Personally, I've never found the notion of drinking thin gelatin mixed with whipped cream through a straw a very enticing proposition. Of course, it's also not something I've ever thought would be offered to me either.

The truth is that coffee jelly in Japan is actually quite good, especially with a little whipped cream on top. However, I'm not sure that I'd like this considering that it's good because you can get the textural contrast between the gelatin and cream as well as the flavor variation between the bitter coffee jelly and the lightly sweet, milky cream flavors. By mixing them together, you're killing at least half of the fun.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Random Picture #179

I've seen these creepy things around before and did not know what they were and, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why they are popular. To my, possibly jaded, eyes, they just look ugly and elicit a very negative response. I learned that they are actually supposed to be ugly in such a way that you may, if you look at them long enough, decide that they're cute. That is, if you don't want to blind yourself before you reach the point at which madness overtakes you and you decide these aesthetically displeasing creatures are attractive.

Someone decided to put illustrations of these on cookies. These are called "kobito (dwarf) zukan (encyclopedia) biscuit". I don't know what Kabaya was thinking unless it was, "if I eat all of these cookies, those horrible faces will go away." No, I did not buy them. I'm sure they're boring little cookies anyway and I wouldn't want one of those things in my house. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kanro Freeze-dried Natto Snack

Image courtesy of Kanro.

Raise your hand if you don't know what natto is? Okay, the truth is that I can't see my readers so you just did that for nothing. Natto is that one food in Japan that Japanese people like to ask foreigners if they "can" eat it with a certain snicker in their voice. It's fermented soy beans that have a mucous-like sticky goo between the beans. They also smell like bad beer. It's supposed to be super healthy, but even some Japanese people find it disgusting, so it's jolly good fun to ask foreigners about how they respond to it. Not to worry. You can get them back by asking them to try root beer (which they find equally if not more vile).

Kanro is capitalizing on the love of natto by making it into a freeze-dried snack. It's apparently been around for awhile and this is a "renewal" which has reduced stink and is available in two flavors - soy sauce and seaweed. If I were interested in doing another week or two of "weird" Japanese snacks, I'd give this a go, but I'm not really going to do that. I'll leave my readers as guinea pigs for this thing. Leave a comment if you braved this. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fujiya Sweets Torte Banana Caramel Pancake Chocolates

I've been crazy for pancakes since coming back to the U.S. I did have them occasionally in Japan, but I tended to not eat them too much because the syrup had about, oh, a billion calories in it and a pancake without syrup is simply fluffier bread. One of the reasons I crave pancakes here is that I can buy sugar-free syrup. Besides being carcinogenic, it weighs in at about 30 calories per quarter cup whereas the real stuff is 240 per cup. That makes it a lot easier to eat pancakes without going up a size.

Since I've been on a pancake kick lately, these chocolates caught my eye. I was certain that they'd taste just like a banana pancake because I'm just that stupid. The main problem with anything "pancake" flavored is that it's missing the essential element and that is the texture. More often than not, "pancake" means maple syrup and I was hoping that wasn't what this was going to be.

The "sweets torte" line by Fujiya is an attempt to make a fairly complex and sophisticated chocolate for the consumer market. To that end, they tend to layer a little cookie with a few kinds of chocolate and syrup. This should add in multiple flavors unless they all happen to come together into a melange of horribleness.

Fortunately, I can say that this keeps at least some of it's flavors distinct. The first thing you get is the outer chocolate coating following by something which is reminiscent of an actual pancake's taste. The kicker is a banana flavor. Unfortunately, it's a little too strong and knocks out that hint of actual pancake flavor pretty strongly.

This is not a bad chocolate. It certainly is interesting and has some complexity. However, the banana part is a little too strong for me and these are somewhat expensive candies. I can't remember what I paid for it, but it was between $2.50-3.00 for a tiny box with 5 individually wrapped pieces. As a one-time novelty, I don't necessarily regret trying it, but I wouldn't buy it again.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Yuki & Love Japanese Style Sesame Mochi

My experiences with "Yuki & Love" brand mochi snacks has been a very mixed bag. In fact, I started off flying high on their blobs of goo-filled rice cake with their taro mochi. It was all a thundering downhill ride from there. They even ruined peanut butter mochi for me. It was like one of those friendships that start out great and, not so slowly, you find yourself bored and then repulsed by the idea of spending time with a person. In the end, you're putting them off when they ask you to spend time with them because you're dreading the experience.

The truth is that I was treating this box of sesame mochi like such a bad friendship. It has been in my possession for five months and is currently past its expiration date of June 2013 by a fair margin. I feel obliged to say that because, clearly, I'm not having this at its best.

In fact, I may not even be having it when it is safe to eat. However, my feeling is that these packages are sealed pretty well and there are little oxygen absorbing packets in them. If I don't go blind or projectile vomit, then it probably is okay to eat. Mind you, I would only do this with a sealed product. If it had been open for five months, I wouldn't be eating it now. Suffice it to say, this is not a "do as I do" sort of thing. I don't recommend anyone eat expired mochi. Don't try this at home, kids!

Fortunately, there were no infestations of insects in the package and I couldn't perceive visible growth on them. In fact, it looked pretty innocuous in there. My main concern was that the mochi would have gone very, very stale. That being said, the other Yuki & Love mochi snacks which I didn't care for tasted stale even when they were supposedly on the fresh side.

I'm happy to say that this was actually pretty good, especially given its status as aged mochi. In fact, the mochi texture was better than my previous two experiences. It was relatively soft and easy to chew. No, it was not like fresh, handmade stuff, but this is shelf-stable and much cheaper - not to mention the fact that I can get it at Ranch 99 Asian market any time rather than make a special trip to the nearest Japan town.

The mochi was pretty pleasant cold, and downright pliable and almost fresh when popped in the microwave for a few seconds. I tried it both cold and (too) hot and I preferred the filling cold and the mochi warm. The sesame coating on the outside added a nice nutty quality as well as the unique flavor that comes from the roasted black seeds. The interior is a little on the milder side for sesame, but still quite flavorful. It lacks intensity and richness, but is not bland.

I would absolutely buy this version of Yuki & Love's mochi again. In fact, I'd say that it is very serviceable and a good variety to keep around for emergency mochi cravings. Yes, I realize that only I actually have those... well, me and possibly pregnant Japanese women. Each little blob is 130 calories, which is not low for the size, but is pretty good for something which contains seeds (which are fatty and high calorie relatively speaking).

It seems that sometimes you avoid a "friend" because you expect to have a bad time, but then you discover that good times can be had after all. Next time, I'll try not to wait until the snack is two and a half months past its expiration date to give it a go.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

KFC Corn Potage Fritter (product announcement)

Images courtesy of KFC Japan.

KFC Japan is starting to sell a "corn potage" fritter today. It is the closest I've seen in Japan to someone deep-frying a liquid a la deep fried beer or Coke as are often sold at fairs and festivals in the U.S. The outside is supposed to be crispy. The inside is likely going to be some sort of flavored mashed potato with corn kernels. It'll be a carb-o-rama, but I bet it'll be good in a bad way.

As an addendum to this KFC-related announcement, I noticed recently that the biscuits in Japan are different than they are here. They come with a hole in the center like a donut. They also are sold with honey-maple syrup, which I'm not sure you get packets of here in the U.S. I think this is a little reflection of a cultural difference because the biscuits here are seen as a bland accompaniment to the meal whereas they're almost considered a dessert in Japan. Certainly they are tender and flaky enough in Japan to qualify. One of my former Australian colleagues refused to call it a "biscuit" and insisted that it was a scone. Arguments that it was called a "biscuit" in the food's country of origin as well as in katakana Japanese fell on deaf ears. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Random Picture #178

When I see English like this on a Japanese product, I'm never sure of how savvy the promoters are about the meaning. Do they just name is "Rock'n Puff" because these are little rock-shaped nuggets or are they trying to imply that you should be snacking on these as you watch a heavy metal concert on DVD. Perhaps you could use them to pelt someone in pseudo-biblical-style punishment only without the actual death. Instead of bruises and blood, you'll just leave little brown chocolate smears all over them.

This snack, made by somewhat low-rent snack maker Cisco, has a cocoa puff in the center, bits of corn flake and a chocolate coating. Since my experiences with Cisco's products have not been stellar, I passed on actually buying it, but I did think the name warranted a photo and a word or two.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Glico Disaster Supply Marketing

Image courtesy of Glico.

Glico knows how to survive a disaster. If there's an earthquake, typhoon, or nuclear disaster, all you need to sustain you is several cans of their snacks and curry. In order to make sure that they stay intact, they offer them in vacuum packages and tins. This protects them from air and water and, according to Glico, makes them easier to carry.

As part of this promotion, they're emphasizing that their packets of shelf stable curry are tasty and have a good texture even if they aren't heated. They also mention that their candies will provide quick energy if you're on the run from falling objects and can't get food. The Glico biscuits are easy to eat for the whole family from children to grannies.

Personally, I'm a bit suspicious about the nutrition you'll get from candy, cookies, and curry packets. They assume, I guess, that you're going to also have shelf-stable rice packets or that you'll pour your curry on your cookies or something. At any rate, with the earthquake situation in Japan, it's a good idea to keep food supplies on hand, but I'm not sure this is the mix you're going to want to invest in. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Izumi Seika Mugi Mugi Cocoa Cereal Snack

When I was a child, my mother used to buy "Popeye's" puffed wheat and rice cereal. It came in plastic bags with a picture of Popeye smiling his bizarre grimace in the middle. Both of these cereals had several things in common. One factor was that they were very simple types of cereal. There were no heart-, clover-, or star-shaped marshmallows. They didn't turn your milk funny colors or leave a sugary sludge in the bottom of the bowl. They didn't even crunch. The primary reason my mother bought them was that they were insanely cheap. While they were also very low calorie (about 50 calories for 1-2 cups).

The Japanese aren't much for cereal. In fact, they have the puniest cereal sections you're likely to see in any developed country. I've spoken to many Japanese folks about what they eat for breakfast and why they aren't fans of cereal. Mainly, I'm told that it doesn't fill them up. You know what? They're right. Cereal doesn't fill me up either and I rarely eat it. My husband loves to eat it as a late-night snack, but I tend to just avoid it altogether.

Though the Japanese aren't eating their puffed grains cereal for breakfast, they do sometimes eat it as a snack, especially if they're still among the short pants wearing set. Enter this puffed wheat snack, which doesn't have Popeye's ugly mug on it, but it has an apparently animate stalk of wheat that is interested in enjoying a cup of cocoa.

Unlike the spinach-loving, muscle-bound sailor's puffed wheat cereal, this stuff is not low calorie. A 40-gram serving has 170 calories. It's not only the carbohydrate goodness adding much need bulk to your fat cells, but the ton of sugar and vegetable oil they add to the recipe. Not to worry though, this also includes your RDA of Sucralose so that it's sweeter without adding in more calories.

As for as snacks go, this is, essentially, chocolate cereal. The back of the bag shows that you can add milk to it or sprinkle it on ice cream. However, it's also intended to just be eaten out of the bag as a somewhat crispy, somewhat soft snack. It's lightly sweet with a mild, but appreciable cocoa flavor. It's sweet enough without being cloying so that you won't have that "icky" overly sugary feel in your mouth if you do just eat it out of the package. It also has a nice "wheaty" kick to it that adds some depth to the flavor. I like that sort of whole grain flavor, even when mixed with chocolate and sugar.

The strange thing about this product is that the manufacturer seems to have very recently terminated its confectionary division. That means that this may well have been their last foray into making chocolate cereal treats. Given that this is nothing special, I wouldn't be surprised if sales weren't over the top spectacular. The company's main deal seems to be simply selling wheat.

I liked this fine, but I wasn't over the moon about it. If I was still a kid and eating cereal, I'd be all over this compared to my bland, boring Popeye options. Since I'm not a child anymore, this is okay, but nothing to get excited about.