Thursday, October 31, 2013

MOS Rice Burgers (product information)

MOS Burger has been offering rice burgers in Japan for quite some time, but their web site talks about how hard it has been for them to substitute the burger bun for a slab of rice that doesn't fall apart when you eat it. From my limited experience, I can say that when we ordered such rice burgers, the rice did tend to crumble sooner, if not later.

Their current press claims that they have found a way to fix this problem and they're offering up some interesting burgers to boot (all images courtesy of MOS Burger):

mackeral miso burger:

colorful sauteed vegetable burger:

fried seafood burger:

curry rice burger (with pork patty and ketchup sauce):

egg burger with soy sauce:

The egg burger is part of their morning offering, and, yes, you can order the miso soup as well!

This is the sort of "esoteric" junk food in Japan that I'd like to see make its way over here, but I know it never well. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Random Picture #186

As my readers may know, I rarely use a picture which is not my own as a "random picture", but this comes courtesy of Coca-Cola Japan. No, this is not a "funky vending machine", but rather an ingeniously modified machine placed in front of a shop in Shibamata, Tokyo. I don't know if this was inspired in any way by the fact that Shibamata is located in Katsushika, a place which hosts the home of the headquarters of toy manufacturer Tomy.

Though much of this modification is done above and beside the machine, some of it is in front and, in theory, could impede access to the machine because of the way the blocky "feet" stick out. I couldn't help but wonder if such a modification in the U.S. might cause some consternation and a demand to return it to its former state. I thought it was cool that Coca-cola Japan displayed this picture rather than became angry about the way in which their machine had been altered.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lawson Cold Duck and Pumpkin Sandwich (product information)

I often scoff at the idea that Japan offers exotic flavors that you wouldn't be likely to find anywhere else. Now, I have to eat those words because I'm fairly certain no convenience store in America is going to offer a combination like the one in this Lawson sandwich.

This is throwing in all of the goods in order to create the illusion of an elegant sandwich. I'm sure that it sounds and looks better in the promotions than it appears when it's a plastic-wrapped sandwich in the store, but the concept is pretty high profile nonetheless.

This promises fatty, melt in your mouth duck, Kiri cream cheese, balsamic dressing, orange marmalade, walnuts, and pumpkin. The bits of walnut are artfully studded between slices of pumpkin in the pictured sandwich, but I'm guessing the reality will be a bit more haphazard.

"Konbini" elegance comes at a slightly premium price though. This sandwich costs 290 yen (about $3), which may seem cheap by American standards but you have to remember that sandwiches are a more petite affair in Japan. This will satisfy your average office lady with her diminutive appetite, but is unlikely to do for anyone on the more active or taller side. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Yuki & Love Mango Mochi

Have you ever been in a situation in which someone tries very hard to convince you of something and the more they try to get you to believe them, the less you do? If your friend was trying to get you to go on a date with another friend, you'd probably become suspicious if they used too many superlatives. "He's a great guy, really. He works hard, has a great job, and is trustworthy. He's the best cook I've ever known. He's great, really!"

By the second "really," your suspicions are going to be aroused and you won't be shocked when you meet him and find he has an enormous horned toad tattooed on his face and is still living at home with his mother. He probably also has a collection of pet reptiles in his basement "bachelor pad," and an unabashedly displayed collection of adult diaper pron. No, I'm not speaking from real life experience, fortunately.

I think that there is an inverse relationship between how good something actually is and its claims of how good it is. This not only applies to dates, but also to food. I should have thought of that before buying this mango mochi, but Asian food so often has such claims earnestly displayed on it that I've learned to tune it out. This one says, "Tastes good, absolutely delicious products." If that weren't enough, there is a little crown on it that says, "King of the Tawiwan mochi." That was the one that should have told me that this was a potential toad-faced loser with a stack of diaper porn.

Perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh on this, but I did have somewhat high expectations. I found this at "Ranch 99" Asian market for around $2.00 (200 yen) and was happy to find a new flavor among the more common taro, sesame, peanut, brown sugar, and green tea. I wished I'd tried the green tea instead.

The mochi itself was actually quite good. It is tiny - about the diameter of an American quarter or a little bigger than a Japanese 100-yen coin - and only 90 calories per serving, but it manages to pack a little funk into its petit package. The mochi is soft, fresh, and nicely chewy, but the thick jelly-like center which is supposed to be mango has a strange taste to it.

This starts out okay with a bland flavor that becomes sweeter as you get more of the center flavor. It is definitely mango, but the finishing flavor is polluted by something which tastes like melon, but not any melon that you'd want to eat. I'm guessing this flavor comes from the cassava starch in the ingredients list, but I've never had cassava so I don't know what it actually tastes like. All I know is that something ruins a fairly promising mochi and I'm going to say the cassava is the toad tattoo on an otherwise decent-looking face because most of the other ingredients are sugar (maltose, water, sugar, cassava starch, mango juice, gelatine, glucose, sorbic acid, natural flavor, and a bunch of artificial colors). The weird thing is that that is mochi, but there's no rice listed!

I may choke down one or two more of these, but chances are I'll spring them on unsupecting visitors or throw the rest out. Life is too short for weird-tasting fruit mochi. I'm sure you'll see that on a bumper sticker one day, just as I'm sure you'll meet someone with a toad tattooed on his face (likely sooner rather than later given how many people tattoos there are in America these days).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Nongshim Sweet Potato Snack

One of the lessons that I used to teach Japanese students had to do with symbolic hand or finger gestures. The sign for "ok" in America, creating a circle with thumb and forefinger and raising the other fingers, means "money" in Japan (or so I'm told). Humans do not naturally fall into the same sensibilities about symbols. However, due to globalization, we are coming to share more and more of the them.

I never thought too much about this point until I investigated the web site ran by the  South Korean maker of this snack. I saw that this company is a distributor for American brands that I would not have expected to see abroad. In particular, they sell products made by Welch's, V8, McCormick's, and Kellogg's, and, most strangely to me, Morton. That logo of the little girl with the big umbrella walking through the rain? I'm guessing they must recognize that in South Korea, too. It's weird to consider that they know salt the way I know salt. 

This is my first experience with a product by this company and they lured me in with the promise of a sweet potato experience. The potato on the front is the equivalent of a stick figure in potato form, but he does look pretty happy. I'd like to join him in yam happiness.

I should have looked at the ingredients list before forking over my 99 cents for this 55-gram/1.9-oz. bag of salty snackness. The first item is not sweet potato, but rather is "flour". This is supposed to be a sweet potato snack, not an alchemical abomination! You can't make sweet potato gold out of ground wheat. That is madness.

The second ingredient is sweet potato, but is listed as "white sweet potato". When it comes to sweet potato, I'll admit that I'm a bigoted woman. I like them yellow or orange and am fully prejudiced against white ones. If it's white, it ain't sweet in my opinion. So, I've already gotten off on the wrong foot with this snack and the other ingredients including one that takes up an entire line by itself - fructoooligosaccaride - is not encouraging me to go on.

Nonetheless, I tried to approach this mutant snack with an open mind, and then wished it had stayed closed. The substance within is fried, no doubt, and it is lightly salted, but it is far from being "sweet" or "potato". In fact, what it mostly tastes like is frying oil that has seen far too many re-uses. If you're really eating slow (which I don't recommend as then that frying oil taste is in your mouth all the longer), you can get a very vague somewhat sweet potato-y after taste, but your taste buds have to be flexing all of their buddy muscles to catch this. On a "lucky" bite, you may get an errant bit of sesame seed (a few pieces have one) and it'll taste better. Some are also sweeter than others (no doubt due to getting more sugar-coating), but they'd need a lot more than the occasional extra bit of sugar or sesame seed to make me decide not to throw most of it away.

This was a major disappointment and I won't be finishing the bag. It's not so much that it lacks appeal as the frying oil flavor makes it actively unpleasant. I'd rather have it tasteless than taste like French fries made in oil that had been used all day without a change. It's been awhile since a product has been bad enough to  warrant an unhappy rating, but this one easily took the "prize."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Kanro Framboise and Lychee Pate de Fruits Gummi (product information)

This gummi candy is the odd couple of candies. First of all, it uses "framboise" for raspberry which is like using "aubergine" instead of eggplant. Second, it invokes the feeling of a highly sophisticated candy when it uses "pate de fruits". This is like calling Welch's grape juice "wine". I'm afraid that I'm entirely skeptical at the notion that a mass-produced, shelf-stable candy designed to be chewy (a gummi) is going to bring to mind the soft, high-quality sensibilities of real pate de fruits. For those who don't know, pate de fruits is like what is marketed in the U.S. as aplets and cotlets. It's a fresh, soft, fruit distillation that is sweet, but generally not cloying. Each is made to be intense enough to fulfill, but not sweet enough to cloy. It's not the sort of thing which translates to "gummi".

At any rate, I am intrigued by this ambitious effort on Kanro's part. If I locate one of these, I'll buy one despite my dislike of lychee flavoring and fruit. Actually, I think that pairing lychee with raspberry is also a bit strange, but I won't knock it until I try it. This was released in mid-October, so chances are I may not see it around for awhile, though I do tend to eventually gain access to Kanro's gummies. If any of my readers have tried it, please leave a comment and let me know how it was. I'd love to know if this lives up to its confection aspirations. ;-)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Random Picture #185

I found this box of cookies at one of the Japanese markets that I frequent and was immediately struck by the similarity in appearance between this and an Aussie favorite. This product is, apparently, not new and was recently refreshed in some way (package design, most likely). There was only one box at the market and it was pretty obscenely priced at something like $5-$6 for a smallish quantity. I've had TimTams, which these at least superficially resemble, and I wasn't willing to shell out so much money just to see if what looks like a duck also quacks like one.

There are two flavors of this out at present according to Glico's Bitte web site - chocolate and rum raisin. The latter sounds pretty gross actually. If any of my readers have tried this and are familiar with TimTams, I would be curious to know if they are similar of if they just look alike.

Incidentally, you get a free Astoria-brand instance coffee "stick" packet with this. I guess they want you to have the chance to enjoy this with their instant coffee. That didn't really sweeten the deal for me in considering this purchase.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

SKE48 promotion at Family Mart (News)

The truth is that I didn't know what SKE48 was until I stumbled across this news. I could guess based on the existence of AKB48, that it was a group of girls who were being presented as "idols". They're part of the obvious factory-production line of cute girls that are rotated in and out of these groups to appeal to the new breed of Japanese male. You know, the herbivorous type (soshoku danshi) that doesn't date or have sex with real people.

This campaign will include various Family Mart sweets that include chilled desserts and baked goods. There is also a chance to win prizes including what is talked of as a "toy". Given the type of person who is attracted to these groups, I'm wondering exactly what sort of "toy" is involved and whether it requires a bicycle pump to inflate or a battery to assist it in its functionality.

Note that I tend to focus on specific snack news rather than something more general like this, but I loved this picture because it shows the typical proper exchange of business cards in Japan. It's a good capturing of a moment which I relate to well.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shirakiku Dorayaki (with chestnuts)

During the last eight months of my time in Japan, I taught a sweet old lady who used to bring me gifts on a regular basis. She told me that her favorite sweet was dorayaki. This was a woman who, when I told her that I was leaving Japan, started to cry and continued to do so throughout most of the remainder of the lesson. I learned from that experience to tell my students about my departure at the end of the lesson.

Because this woman was so emotional about my leaving and so sweet to me, I always associate this particular Japanese treat with her. I was her favorite teacher - when I told her that I'm sure she'd find another very nice teacher when I was gone, but she said, "but, I love you!" - and this was her favorite snack. I have to say, given how hard my departure was for her, I feel a little guilty every time I see dorayaki. It's not a happy association, but it is a reminder that teachers are not just monkeys who entertain in English to the Japanese people who they associate with. That's just who we are to other foreigners who have no respect for us.

I realize that's a bit of a downer to start a post off with, but they can't all be about mascots with large crotch plates or delirious yet non-drug inspired stories about other mascots. No, no. Sometimes, this is serious business despite the sugar- and salt-drenched nature of my work here.

For those who don't recall from my other single review of dorayaki, these are pancake-like cakes with red bean paste in the middle. Mine promised to be studded with lavish and large bits of chestnut as well. All of this was available at the sale price of $2.99 (about 300 yen), which is about as cheap as dorayaki ever gets around here. Usually, these go for $5-6 a pack in my area.

One of the reasons that I haven't reviewed dorayaki much in the past is that I have a lack of love for the type of cake on the exterior. It tends to be dry and sticky. It's supposed to be modeled on or similar to castella, which I am not a big fan of. This particular version does have the tacky exterior of castella, but it's not as dry inside. In fact, the cake portion was fluffier than usual and that made it much more enjoyable.

The filling though, was not quite as promised. I realize that this is a smallish picture for detail, but there is not an enormous collection of chestnut pieces in there. The illustration may show them in there like nuggets in a gold miner's pan, but they are pretty thoroughly integrated in the real deal. That doesn't mean this was bad. The red bean jam filling is actually quite tasty. It doesn't have as many large, un-mashed beans as these sometimes do, but it is slightly coarse in texture. I've had better anko, but this is absolutely not bad anko. The sweetness balance between the somewhat bland exterior and sweet interior is quite good. I also enjoyed the textural contrast between the cake and filling.

This is not the best dorayaki to ever come down the pike, but it was certainly very tasty and brought a nice sense of nostalgia as well as an enjoyable tea time. If you're a fan of red bean sweets and have never tried these, this is a good and relatively economical place to start. If you like this, then you can move up the scale to something handmade from a Japanese sweets shop (if you have access to one). I'd certainly have these again.

Friday, October 18, 2013

PT Agel Langgeng Gingerbon

While pondering these candies, I asked my sister why she believed that ginger, without the added boost of nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. and as a component of gingerbread, had not really caught on as part of Western diets. It's healthy, tasty, and not insanely expensive. I do see candied ginger on sale of Trade Joes (and I could eat an entire bag of it if I didn't exercise some self-control), but you don't tend to see much in the way of things like ginger lollipops, gum, or even cough drops. Our consumption of ginger is relatively limited unless it's ginger ale, gingerbread, or ginger snap cookies.

Her reply, which is the one that makes the most sense, if that it isn't indigenous so we didn't habitually consume it, but there are plenty of things people eat which were introduced relatively late in the cultural game. I'm pretty sure most everyone has soy sauce in their refrigerator these days... well, perhaps except for your granny who likely frowns in disapproval at the bottle of black stuff which you insist on adding to your stir fry. Of course, she does this while also looking puzzled and a little frightened of the wok you've got heated to nuclear levels in order to produce said stir fry.

At any rate, we do appear to be far more conservative about our candy than we are about other foods. For savory preparations, we'll toss in the kitchen sink whether it's Asian, European, or American. However, we won't put up with such shenanigans in our sweets. I don't even find that people are putting it in their tea, and that's one of the best places to get your ginger on for health purposes.

I'm fanatical about getting rid of trash so I threw out my bag before I took a picture for this review. Mine is the one on the far right. This picture is from PT Agel Langgeng's site.

Perhaps due to the exposure to ginger that I had in Japan, it's one of my favorite flavorings and I am keen to try a variety of preparations of it. My desire to have it is especially high if I have a sore throat because I fool myself into thinking it'll help it get better.

These candies are very chewy, but not as deadly as the last ginger candy I tried. They stick to your teeth, and would surely be a hazard to sensitive dental work, but have less of a tendency to get jammed in your gums or the roof of your mouth than similarly sticky candies. Still, if you've got old fillings, beware.

The candy's taste reveals itself over time. At first, it is mellow and sweet with just a hint of ginger. As you keep chewing, it turns a little hotter, but still retains it sweetness. By the time you're done, it's sending some heat into the back of your throat and the sugar is merely tempering the spicy kick. This, to me, is what a ginger candy should be. I like the transition and that hotness, which is unique to spices like garlic and ginger, makes me feel like I'm getting some heavy duty benefits from one of the spices that has the power to both delight the senses and heal the body.

I loved these and would absolutely buy them again. Of course, I'm a sucker for ginger candy and an even bigger sucker for cheap candy (I paid 99 cents/100 yen for this at an Asian market). These are similar to the Sina Ginger candy that I reviewed previously, but I would rate these as slightly better both in terms of quality (not quite as sweet, not quite as sticky) and quantity (more candy for the same price). If you're a fan of ginger candy, this one is a winner.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tirol Halloween Box 2013 (product information)

As a former KISS fan, I associate protruding tongues with Gene Simmons. It's not that he's the only one who famously stuck out his (or her) tongue for the camera. There's a famous shot of Albert Einstein doing so which is a popular college poster and, of course, we all now know that Miley Cyrus can't keep her's from lolling out the side her mouth like some unfortunate roadkill.

Whatever the inspiration, Tirol has decided to give this year's Halloween box a tongue that you can pull out. They've made some lovely boxes in the past and, at least graphically, this one looks good as well, but the tongue thing is just gross. The box is supposed to convert into some sort of Halloween party covering that you can put over your head.

There are also four smaller packs of candy which include individual masks that only cover the eyes. All of them have the same types of candy as the boxes of years past. In fact, the little candy wrappers are exactly the same design. Though I am not a big fan of the pumpkin box, I still admire their dedication to design. In fact, I wish I could get a job working in one of their offices and apply my Illustrator skills!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Random Picture #184

In Monday's post, I mentioned all things mango in Japan. I felt that it would be appropriate to follow that up with the sembei that I didn't review (or purchase) during my shopping expedition. Though this wasn't incredibly expensive, I felt that the lemon flavor would suit me better since most mango-flavored things tend to taste a bit too much like mango puree that was formed on the far side of the fruit's viability. Still, if this is still around in a month, I may persuade myself to give it a try. I'm a sucker for unique sembei flavors.

I wonder if many of my readers are regular consumers of sembei and if they'd be "adventurous" enough to give this a try. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kanro Mojilu Halloween Candy (product information)

Image courtesy of Kanro.

I witnessed the "growth" of Halloween as a holiday in Japan during my years there. Like most foreign holidays, they didn't simply adopt it wholesale, but adapted it to their own sensibilities. Kids don't trick or treat at private homes, but some merchants or shotengai (shopping streets) will hold a special event in which kids can visit shops and get treats or participate in "stamp rallies" (getting a special stamp from various merchants to fill in a booklet or page). 

As the years went by, I saw more and more in the way of Halloween candy and decorations and confectioners got increasingly creative and involved. It started with imported candy or snacks with a Halloween motif, then Japanese snacks had a modest Halloween look and feel, and now there are things which are completely specialized for the holiday. To that end, you can't go any further than the Kanro Mojilu candies.

These packages, which contain bits of hard candy, spell out words in English and include punctuation. Incidentally, "mojilu" almost certainly is the katakana way of saying "module" as in, each letter is a module you can use to build messages. 

One point about this which I'm a little confused about is that this candy does not appear on Kanro's web site (I searched using their search engine as well as hopping around looking for it) and my information says that it's limited to 500 units. I can't believe they're only selling 500 of these, but I guess it's possible. I was released on October 10 and if any of my readers in Japan have seen it on shelves, please let me know. It's possible that this is simply a promotional item that will be distributed to shops and not for sale. Unfortunately, the information I found was pretty vague. This would be a pretty cool find if they are so limited.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Glico Tropical Pocky

Recently, I was looking through a copy of "Elle" magazine. No, I'm not a fashion aficionado. It was free and I was on a sociological "expedition" within the confines of my home. I was looking at it not for the articles, which was fortunate since there are probably fewer than I can count on one hand, but for the ads. For those who have never taken a look at this particular periodical, it is pretty much all advertising for fashion-related items, especially clothes.

The point of scrutinizing the ads was to note certain aspects of them. What was the ethnic balance of models, where did certain products tend to be advertised (the front of back of the magazine), what products were advertised, etc. Though not scientific, I do believe that I learned a few things about how advertisers try to reach their markets and who they are focusing on. For instance, I noted that anti-aging products - so-called "serums" - did not include a model at all, but simply showed a big bottle of the product. Food was rarely advertised, but when it was, it was clearly marketed for the calorie conscious and toward the back of the magazine.

What is my point in all of this? My point is that we are marketed to in specific ways. There are a lot more conclusions I reached, which I won't bore you with here, but I am very aware that I believe I'm making choices when I am not. There may be 25 different types of Oreos in the store, but I'm still not in control of the choices I make. Whatever those 25 types are, I didn't choose them. Some marketing person decided on what would appeal to the broadest customer base and packaged them to make that base want them more. Products are positioned, choices are narrower than we believe, and we are not in control even when advertisers offer the illusion that we are.

If you think about this for a second, you'll see what I mean more clearly. If you wanted to eat a pumpkin-flavored Oreo with a yellow cookie, and I would want to eat such a cookie, could you? That's the choice I'd like to have, but it's not there on the shelf. It sounds like a fine holiday option, but it is not available. I'm given what I'm given, and can only choose from those options.

This leads me to the Tropical Pocky, of which mango is an integral component (pineapple is the other part). Mango started to explode in popularity a few years before I left Japan. Suddenly, I started seeing packets of dried mango everywhere then that was followed by various snacks being offered in mango flavor (including sembei/rice crackers). I'm pretty sure this all started with news that mango was going to cure you of cancer, wrinkles, or male pattern baldness. Once that news got out (if such news existed, which it probably did in some form or another), people started eating the fruit and once they developed a taste for it, everyone started to flavor food with it.

Japanese people didn't choose mango. Someone on a news program, a T.V. show, or another media outlet chose to highlight it and then everyone decided this was a bandwagon to jump on. So, I experience a plethora of mango-flavored snacks from a fad that started at some point in the not so distant past and continues to slog onward into the future. Mango could be the "tiramisu" of the future - a fad that started the integration of a flavor into the collective tastes of the country and never got old. Or it could just fade away over time.

This is not "mango", though it is listed as one of the ingredients and I have to imagine that there is a reason that it is listed as a copilot with pineapple and that it is listed first. It's the same reason that "Brad Pitt" is listed before "Matt Damon". Sure, we recognize both of them, but which is going to have a greater likelihood of drawing viewers?

At any rate, despite the billing of mango and pineapple, this is dominated by the pineapple and is far too sweet for my tastes. It reminds me of an overly sweet fruit punch, but the type that is made with real flavors rather than artificial ones. It has some verisimilitude to the real deal, but is too concentrated. If this were a drink instead of a Pocky stick, I'd be adding ice or water to it to water the flavor down. If you've ever felt that 100% fruit juice was just too much for you then you'll see what I mean.

This isn't an awful Pocky, but it's far from the greatest in my opinion. I won't throw the rest away, but it'll be a slow road to finishing the box - a stick here, a stick there, and eventually it'll be gone. I wouldn't buy it again, however, and I'm inclined to avoid other fruit-flavored Pocky after this experience.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lotte Harvest Sesame Crackers

As is so often the case when I buy a product that I can't read the label on, I failed to look at the English on this until I got home. For the record, this is a Korean snack that is made by Lotte, not a Japanese one. That being said, it's very similar to the Japanese product called "Harvest Biscuits".

At first, I thought that this was the Korean version of that product, but I looked back and found that they are made by Tohato. They're also covered in sugar in Japan, so it's clearly a different deal. I did research Lotte's web site to see if they make such a cracker for the Japanese market, but, if they do, it's not on the site and I don't recall eating one in Japan.

I do remember trying the Tohato sesame Harvest Biscuits in Japan and being relatively unimpressed. The problem was that, though they were labeled "sesame", I recall that coconut was the dominant flavor and the sugar sprinkled on the top tended to hurt my teeth. They were okay, but just didn't "work" on the whole. I think they were really just too one-note.

I bought these at a Korean market for a few reasons. One was that I was suckered in by the cute illustration of the amiable farmer with his scythe and the little grain graphic that is part of the product name (which, obviously, I could not read as it's in Korean). I'm a fan of whole grain flavors and their earthiness. I see white flour as a palate onto which other flavors can be spread and whole grain flour as bringing its own taste to the mix. Some people don't like that, but I do.

Had I known these were called "Harvest Crackers", I probably wouldn't have bought them as I would have confused them with the Japanese ones I had already tried. Of course, the other reason I bought them was that they were only 50 cents (about 49 yen). It's not much of a risk.

The crackers are very thin and immensely satisfying in their crunch. I don't think you could device a nicer textural experience. The flavor is complex for such a cheap and readily available treat. It incorporates coconut and a solid, nutty hit of cinnamon along with the right amount of salt. There is a hint of sweetness as well as some savory mixed in. The complexity is achieved through using an impressive list on ingredients including coconut powder, almond powder, roasted soy bean powder, and black soybean paste. The artificial flavorings include "milk" and "coconut".

I'm not saying that this cracker is going to set your soul on fire, especially if you don't like coconut or sesame. However, it is a very enjoyable and light tea time treat which has a lot of taste, excellent texture, and a modest calorie profile at 12.5 calories per rather large cracker. This is something off the beaten path and if your tastes run toward Chips Ahoy and Oreos, this is going to be an enormous letdown. If your tastes run more toward rice crackers and ancient grains, then you may find this to your liking as well.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Glico Marron and Chocolate Gum (Product Information)

Quite some time ago, someone invented a device that spritzed the scent and taste of chocolate into your mouth. The idea was to give you the experience of eating chocolate without the calories. The fact that shelves are not stocked with such devices is an indication that taste is not the only reason we eat things that we enjoy. There are far more factors that go into the enjoyment of food than how it hits your tastebuds.

Products like this marron (chestnut) and chocolate gum are attempts to allow people to enjoy the sweets they like without the calories they don't want. Unfortunately, such things never end well. I've tried chocolate gum before and it is distinctly unsatisfying. I'm not sure if the chestnut gum, an experienced divorced from the creamy, carby textural delights of marron consumption, would fare better, but I'm pretty sure I'll try it if I come across some.

Incidentally, the chocolate gum is available on eBay for $3 a pack, but the marron is not. Somehow, this is not surprising as I'm guessing most foreign folks aren't going to like chestnut gum any better than something like, oh, peanut butter gum. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Random Picture #183

The truth is that I am suspicious of any fruit that promises to deliver "passion" (those are passionfruit KitKats int he picture). As much as I love fruit of all kinds, I can't say that it's really lit a big fire in my soul. Sometimes, it may light a fire in my gastrointestinal tract... some apples don't sit well with me, but it's not so much with the passion.

Though I haven't written much about KitKats lately, I haven't exactly been hurting for opportunities to procure them. The truth is that they just are not inspiring me much. The above is a bag of passionfruit "adult sweetness" minis that I passed on. Nestle Japan has converted most of its standard KitKat offerings outside of the regional souvenir ones to the less sweet "adult sweetness" line. This is actually a good thing since most of the white chocolate variants were too cloying, but I'm still not convinced that I want to sink $6 into buying a whole bag of minis that I may not enjoy. If any of my readers have sampled these, let me know what you think. If you thought they were great, I may go back and give them a chance.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Haagen Dazs Japonais Ice Cream (product announcement)

Starting from October 6, Haagen Dazs will be offering a "Japonais" flavor of ice cream in single serving containers. I have done the minimal amount of investigation and learned that the name of this is French for "Japanese". I guess that lends this an air of elegance, but it seems a little silly using a French name on an American ice cream in Japan. That being said, I'm sure that this is not a rare attempt to add a little European flair to a product by giving it a more "exotic" sounding name.

I've mentioned before in this blog that what people who aren't Japanese regard as more adventurous or exotic flavors than the dreck we get here at home are actually pretty conservative in Japan. This red bean and green tea ice cream, though it looks lovely in the illustration, is downright boring in its flavor options. Red beans and green tea are the equivalent of peanut butter and chocolate in Japan. They're everywhere and they're safe choices to cater to a market with conservative tastes. It's designed to set the hearts of young women with enough disposable income to pay $3-$4 for a tiny serving of ice cream aflutter.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Kanro Pure Mango Yogurt Gummy

Recently, I contacted a woman who used to do psychic readings. I've never been to one, but I know this one to be genuine as she did a reading twenty or so years ago and was correct about some fairly specific details. I know this for certain because I listened to a cassette of the predictions. There's no dancing around the accuracy of what she said because there's no memory distortion at play.

This woman no longer does readings. In fact, she said she hadn't been doing them for a very, very long time, but she'd "pull a card" for me. I'm not sure what that means, but the card she came up with was "expectations". As part of the "warning" she included, she pasted in what I'm sure is a common statement that this is something that I need to interpret personally and not meant in any way to be a bigger message than anything I make of it.

This experience got me thinking about expectations and why we have them and how they are formed. Mainly, they are based on history. We decide what to expect based on the patterns of behavior or experiences in our past. If your neighbor gets up every morning and walks into his kitchen naked by his open window, squats and does a few knee bends culminating in a blast of flatulence, and then pours his coffee and sits down for a nude read of the paper both gas- and clothing-free, you will be shocked to see him show up in a suit and then reading from an iPad. You'll be shocked, but you'll also be relieved.

Sure, you could choose to just not look at him through his morning horror show, but it's like a car crash. It's hard to look away. And, sure, you think you wouldn't look as you have been reading this, but you would. Trust me. You would.

Like all other things, we form expectations of products based on past experience with the brand. My expectation of the Pure line of Gummy candies is that they will possess a certain tartness and not be too sweet. I also expect that the fruity flavors will be relatively balanced and not too overbearing.

I was very excited when I saw this mango yogurt flavor on sale at Marukai market because I had been aware of it for awhile. I figured it would be pretty good, but my expectations, unfortunately, were not met.

The main problem is that the mango is overbearing and too sweet. The yogurt presents itself as a sort of sour dairy undertone, but it isn't really strong enough to ameliorate the intense mango puree flavor. Don't get me wrong, I love fresh mango, but this feels like it has been amped up by boiling it down into an intense mush of mango and stripped of the moisture that evens out the flavor of a fresh mango, not to mention the little acidic sense you get when eating one.

I'm not sure if this is actually all that bad or if my expectations were just too high. Pure has generally been greeting me with a three piece suit and an iPad every morning. This time, it feels more like the naked fart experience. Still, I'm sure that it'll be better next time. Experience creates such an expectation in me.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate Marzipan

My quest for marzipan continues on. Some day, I'm sure that I can make a movie about my epic adventures in purchasing various packages of marzipan, photographing them, opening them up, breaking them into pieces, taking photographs of those pieces, and then tasting them. The tension in the movie can come from the point at which I frown in concentration and scan through my digital photos and fail to find my photos. The resolution to the drama comes when I hunt down a standard PR picture and use that instead of expiring at the grief of having misplaced my photos again. I'm sure it'll be a box office smash.

I realize that the Ritter Sport line is pretty common and many people probably have more experience with it than I do. In fact, it seems to be marketed worldwide since I even saw it in Japanese convenience stores in Tokyo. Oddly, despite my love of European chocolates (this is made in Germany), I remember only buying one of these once in my 23 years in Tokyo and I have no idea what flavor it was. The only thing I can say was that it was not marzipan. When I ran across this bar for a mere $1.49 at "Discount Grocery Outlet" (a quality establishment), I knew that the time had come to continue my slow and tasty journey into the world of consumer-level marzipan chocolate.

I had better expectations of this bar than previous ones because I figured the dark chocolate would compliment the sweet marzipan filling. I figured that it would add a balance without detracting from the almond flavored filling. And, I was right. The marzipan was just sweet enough without being overbearing and the coating complimented it well. The chocolate kept the marzipan nice and moist.

The only thing I didn't like about this was that I'd have preferred a higher ratio of almond paste to chocolate. I'm not even sure if that is possible, but I think my hope springs eternal. Perhaps someone needs to cater to people like me by wrapping the marzipan in oblaat. Okay, that sounds a bit gross even to me even though it shouldn't.

I wouldn't say this is better than my other adventures in consumer-level shelf-stable marzipan, but I would say it's just as good. It's also cheaper and more accessible than other versions. I'd certainly buy it again, and I think it's very good quality for the price point and target market.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

McDonald's Happy Set Tom & Jerry or Despicable Me Minions (product information)

If I were a collecting type, I think I'd be going pretty gaga over the "Happy Set" prizes that come with McDonald's kid's meals. They really do look well-designed and better crafted than a lot of the cheap junk that kids get. Fortunately, I am not such a collector so I don't have to buy at least 8 "happy set" meals a month to try and collect them all (not to mention possibly having to trade pieces to complete sets).

The Despicable Me minions are a pretty predictable option since they are very popular right now. I keep seeing crafts including cupcakes and other food items shaped like them. The more curious option is the golden oldie of Tom and Jerry. I didn't know when the cartoon was last in production, but I figured that it was awhile ago. I did a little research and discovered that it's being rebooted by the Cartoon Network, but they're only producing two 11-minute shorts. My guess is that these toys are a cooperative effort between McDonald's and the Cartoon Network (which also airs in Japan) to promote the reboot and generate interest in the series.

Incidentally, when I was in Japan and still had cable, I did run across Tom and Jerry cartoons fairly often on the Cartoon Network during channel surfing. In fact, I don't like the cartoon much so I was always disappointed that it seemed to air so often. I don't know if it was popular or if it was just cheaper to air than other cartoons because licensing fees were lower. I have nothing against the characters. I just love cats and hate to see them repeatedly humiliated by mice (or birds, in the case of Sylvester and Tweety). 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Random Picture #182

When I was a kid, I recall wanting my parents to bring me back something every time they went out without me. The whole "Did you get me something?" business was a part of my childhood behavioral pattern. That being said, my parents rarely went anywhere interesting so the best they tend to offer was a small bag of chips. If I was lucky, they were barbeque, but often they were plain chips or I got nothing at all.

Japanese kids who have a parent who does conventional business travel have much better possibilities in their lives. I daddy or mommy pass through a major hub, treats such as these "train-kun" cookies sold in train-themed tins could be proffered. I've been told that boys love trains, even big ones, so these might actually be more for the pappies in the crowd than their kiddies.

The cookie varieties from left to right are chocolate chip (bullet train/shinkansen), chocolate, caramel, "milk", and fruit. I'm not sure why the old-fashioned train car tin doesn't get a sample cookie propped on top, but I'm guessing making its flavor fruit reflects the fuddy-duddy nature of both the flavor and the container. The regular tins are 650 yen (around $6.63) and the shinkansen one is 980 yen ($9.99). Of course, the bullet train is more expensive. It always is.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Burger King "King's Harvest" Burgers (product information)

It's interesting that America is always tagged for its large-size offerings - especially when it comes to things that are unhealthy like fast food - but Japan is the place that has sold monster burgers and giant kakigori (shaved ice). For the record, the kakigori in the linked video isn't nearly the biggest one I've seen shown on T.V. It's just one that I found an easy connection to showing.

The "King's Harvest" burgers, released on September 27 in Japan, include a "big bacon whopper" which has what looks like a strip of bacon the was carved from the full length of a whole piglet. The more modest sandwich on the right is a BK bolognese and includes, unsurprisngly, bolognese sauce. Both also include a hash brown patty. This is to make sure that, if you were worried about consuming sufficient carbohydrates and saturated fat, that you have nothing to worry about.

It's interesting that these are called "King's Harvest". Presumably, a "harvest" means plants. Unless those plants happen to be potatoes, there's little about these that says "harvest" and more that saws "slaughter". Though I wouldn't try this if I were in Japan now, my husband said that he would try the bacon burger. However, he'd take out the hash brown patty and eat it separately.