Friday, January 31, 2014

Haitai Chocolate Cookie Bar

If someone decided to create the written equivalent of esparanto, that is, a writing system that everyone could use as a common form of  communication, but was no ones native language, would you want to learn it? Would you be willing to memorize the characters and learn to type and write them? If it were possible, what are the chances that we could get all the peoples of the world to make the effort? I can't speak for everyone, but I'm pretty sure that a lot of the English speakers wouldn't trouble themselves since they currently possess the dominant language for international exchanges. Why should they bother?

I think about things like this when I look at a package like the one this candy bar came in and think about the fact that I can't read anything on it. Unlike the Japanese, the Koreans don't alway splash a bit of English here and there to give us a clue of what is going on. And, unlike Japanese, I can't understand a single Korean character, but my brain tries to shape them into Chinese ones in an effort to try. This does not work at all, and only increases the depth of the furrowed wrinkle between my eyebrows that becomes more pronounced with each passing year.

I picked this up at a Korean market for a mere 79 cents because the concept reminded me of a Japanese candy I've had and reviewed before called "Black Thunder." This is a kid's candy which is fairly cheap and had a surge of popularity around the time that I was leaving in March 2012 because the maker, Yuraku, hitched its wagon to the Japanese men's gymnastics team and I believe a particular athlete (whose name I do not know) said it was his favorite candy. He may have been a baseball player. He may have played soccer. I don't know. I only know that he wasn't a sumo wrestler and I'm pretty sure that getting your candy endorsed by one of them wouldn't necessarily be perceived as good for the brand as no one would want to think candy has the chance of making you gain weight.

At any rate, if you compare the pictures from my review of Black Thunder to this bar's pictures, you'll see that they are quite different inside. Black Thunder has much bigger chunks of cookie and some cereal. This is smaller, denser bits of cookie bound by chocolate.

The chocolate candy portion is not especially sweet and mainly seems to serve as a somewhat dryly finished bonding material for the cookie bits. This is not a bad thing as the cookies carry a lot of the nice somewhat bitter chocolate flavor of the sandwich cookie that an Oreo has. The textural contrast is also pretty good with some solid, but not brittle, crunch from the cookies and some yielding, but firm sense from the chocolate. Even though there is no "cream" portion, there seems to be somewhat of a similar flavor in the bar which carries the same sweetness.

I think this bar is better than the Japanese one because the chocolate is less waxy and the chocolate flavor more pronounced. Both have great textural qualities, but the cocoa seems to be a bit higher quality in the Haitai cookie bar. For 170 calories for a relatively lightweight bar though, this packs more of a calorie cost. It'd be a toss up which I'd go for. This wins for taste, but Black Thunder is lighter and wins for the calorie to enjoyment ratio. Either is a good deal and I'd recommend picking one up if you can - especially if you're a fan of the cookie part of an Oreo.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Karel Capek Sweets Teatime Set (product information)

During the holiday season, I was drawn to the gift baskets and packages that I saw on sale. I don't know how other people regard them, but I am always fascinated by the way in which items are chosen for these package deals. The obvious combinations like cheese, crackers, and shelf-stable cured meat, don't hold a great deal of appeal, but the ones that mix things up a bit pique my curiosity.

This set from designer tea maker, Karel Capek, is less interesting in what it includes than in the little fairy tale that is woven around the choices. They say this is a "once upon a tea time set" and talk about a Nordic King's caramel scones. It includes five kinds of tea, cookies, raspberry muffins, cherry jam, and a special bowl for the jam.

The set will set you back 4,200 yen (about $40). That's a pretty penny for 25 bags of tea, a jar of jam, a little pot for the jam, and a handful of cookies and muffins... and it's not even a particularly interesting assortment. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Random Picture #199

I've mentioned my feelings about Gari Garikun on my other blog. I find him one of the more disturbing mascots. His enormous maw makes me want to go through the freezer case and turn all of the boxes around and it certainly dissuades me from making a purchase with his visage on the package. That being said, apparently having a mouth that big creates an enormous gravity well into which bits of food are sucked so there is some sort of benefit to such a deformity.

At any rate, this is a nashi pear (Japanese/Asian pear) flavor ice pop. It's an interesting flavor option, but it says only 2% of it is pear juice so you're mostly getting sugar and water. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Calbee Seaweed Mashed Potato Chips

Picture from Calbee.

Mini Stop convenience stores is offering this abomination before the potato gods for a limited time. The concept is potato-chip-like shells with mashed potato filling inside. This type of carb-on-carb action reminds me of when I was a kid and used to make "mashed potato sandwiches". However, this version seems quite a bit more incestuous than the wedding of bread and mashed potato.

A cup of this treat can be yours for about $2 (198 yen). The fact that the inner potato is yellow orange (and as far as I can tell, it's not sweet potato) is a bit scary, but otherwise, this may offer some kinky textural qualities.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Meiji Meltyblend Creamy Chocola

Everything in life carries a price, and I'm not talking about just money. When you are young, and you don't have an income, you tend to see things mainly in terms of whether or not you have cash in pocket. In fact, yesterday, I overheard a conversation between two boys which illustrated this very well.

I was in "Dollar Tree" investigating the cheapest of the cheap when it comes to Valentine's options. Please note that I wasn't doing this to make an actual gift purchase. This was sociological "research" of a sort which I am prone to doing. A handful of college-age women were standing in the aisle goofing on the Valentine's items and that itself was worth the trip. It's more than ironic to hear them make fun of things which they will more than likely purchase. It's also exactly the sort of thing I did at that age when I was too cool for the things I actually liked and could afford.

There were also a couple of boys, around the age of 10 or so, who came in and headed for the candy aisle where I was contemplating a bag of "Red Vines" (for my husband, who loves all sorts of licorice). They were talking at length and explicitly about exactly what they could buy. One of them was saying that one could buy two items and the other could buy one because of the taxes. The other was saying tax was included so they could each get two things. The first kid seemed dubious of this assertion and nervous about going to check-out without the extra scratch to cover tax. Their exchange made it clear that they had $4 only between them, and one of them said they needed to get things that would last. In other words, they wanted to buy the biggest snack for their buck. Value for their limited dollars was the only price they considered.

Now that I'm older, and I have a few more dollars at my disposal than the average 10-year-old, I know about other expenses like nutrition and calories. There is the value that comes from how pleasurable something is. My husband has called this the "calorie to enjoyment" ratio. It's when you learn as an adult that your body is not a garbage disposal and you care about how good something is rather than how much of it you can get for your cash. When you're a kid, and money is scarce and the body is nearly invincible, such concerns aren't even on the radar.

In America, the concept of overall quality rather than only quantity is a little out of place. Most people are looking for how much they can get, not how good what they get is. I grew up very poor, so I more than understand this as a fact of life for many folks. Nonetheless, even people who have more money view "value" as something they get only if there is an enormous amount of something (hence the outsize portions in restaurants). In Japan, well, they see value based on a variety of factors including how it is packaged (for both convenience and style) and what the experience of eating it is like.

Meltyblend, which I swear is called Melty Kiss in Japan, is a product which goes for quality over quantity. The reason the "Melty" line is popular in Japan is that it is perfectly formulated for the market's interests - individually wrapped bits of
not-too-sweet chocolate with unique textural properties. They are truffle-like confections served up in tiny sizes. They are rich, chocolatey, and melt in your mouth. The best way to eat one is to place a firm little square in your mouth and allow it to dissipate into fudge-like goo. It's a textural and taste delight which is wasted otherwise.

The flavor of this "creamy chocola" version is a little lacking in complexity, but is still well worth it. The chocolate part hits you up front because of the dusting of cocoa powder. As it melts, the sweetness reveals itself in increasing layers. This works in part because it off-sets the somewhat bittersweet nature of consumer-level Japanese chocolate and it even goes some distance toward mitigating the sometimes unpleasant (coffee-like) aftertaste of Japanese chocolate. Incidentally, this type of Meltyblend/Melty Kiss (creamy chocola) is ranked the most highly on Meiji's site.

Without a doubt, Meltyblend is the best consumer level chocolate I have ever had. I found this for $1.98 (about 200 yen) at Marukai market. I was very lucky that it was on sale because usually these are $3.98. For 15 small pieces (each is 25 calories and about the volume of a Hershey's Kiss), it's quite expensive, but definitely worth it if you savor the experience. This is the sort of thing which makes an excellent gift for someone who you want to offer a unique, mid-range chocolate gift to. In fact, it would be a great Valentine's day treat, even at full price - especially if you can pair it with a Japanese Valentine's day card of some sort. ;-)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lay's India's Magic Masala Potato Crisps

My husband and I found these chips at an Indian market. I wasn't there for potato chips. In fact, I was there to buy loose leaf tea because it is one of the few places at which I can acquire Brooke Bond tea in the United States. In Japan, it was the only brand of tea bags that I liked and remains, in my less than sophisticated senses, the best mass market tea available. It's not Teavana level, mind you, but it also costs a lot less and has a nice robust flavor and floral aroma.

While perusing the shop and pondering whether I should pay $4 for the regular red box Brooke Bond or $4.49 for the "Taj Mahal" variety, we stumbled across these chips. I forked over the extra 49 cents, but I'm not sure the Taj Mahal is better than the red box. As for the chips, at a mere 99 cents per bag and with such an exotic-sounding flavor name, we could hardly pass it up.

The flavor of these is pretty amazing in its complexity. It hits you with cumin immediately followed by some chili flavors and onion, and then some sweetness. There are at least 3 layers of depth involved and the list of spices is long and explains how this is accomplished: spices (weird that this is listed then a long list of specific spices is given), chili powder, onion powder, dry mango powder, coriander, ginger, garlic, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, salt, black salt, sugar, tomato, citric acid, and tartaric acid.

This potent and complex mix also carries a strong bit of heat at the very end. If you're sensitive to hot things, this may be a little overwhelming, especially the cumulative heat that comes from it. My husband purchased these, but I'm wondering now if he will be able to bear the level of fire they offer. It's not that they're so hot. I can easily manage them, but I'm able to tolerate a lot more heat in my food than he is.

These are available on Amazon for a much higher price than I paid for them. Each bag is 2 servings at 2 oz./57 grams. For the 99 cents I paid (about 100 yen), they're well worth it for the novelty and complexity, but for $2.99 at Amazon, it's quite an indulgence, especially if you have to pay shipping.

To me, this is what flavored chips ought to bring to the table, though I do wonder if the flavor may be overbearing for some. One thing I used to think was that flavor-blasted snacks were mainly geared toward the American market, but I believe these are made for India or England. They are definitely made in India, and since I found them at an Indian market, I have to presume that they are something folks from that country might favor.

I don't buy or eat lots of potato chips, but I'd certainly entertain buying a bag of these again and if you like Indian spices and hot food, they're well worth a sampling.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cryptic Burger King Ad (product announcement)

Burger King Japan has released this rather cryptic ad with accompany text that says, "coming soon". One can only guess at the monstrosity that may be related to it. The statue is eating a burger and the apple appears to be stuffed with lettuce and bacon. It could be that they're going to have a burger which contains apples or uses apples instead of bread for a bun. However, chances are that this is a far more boring item and that the apple refers to "The Big Apple" (as does the Stature of Liberty) and that we're going to be seeing something called a "New York" burger released on January 28.

Any guesses from my readers as to what would make for a New York burger or what this ad might mean?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Random Picture #198

Certain things exist in many cultures. I can't say "all cultures" because I'm sure there are many undeveloped or tribal cultures which don't have things like pornographic chocolates, but most developed countries that have mastered the art of packaged shelf-stable candy are likely making such crude offerings. The main difference between how pornographic items are managed in Japan and in the U.S. is their visibility. These "oppai" (boob) chocolates were not in some obscure shop catering to adult tastes or even a specialty market. They were in Narita airport and were one of the last things that I took a picture of on my way out of the country. While it's possible that breast-shaped white chocolates are for sale in major airports in the U.S., I do have my doubts.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Morinaga Crackling Choco Balls and Potato Choco Balls (product information)

When I was a kid, I remember trying Pop Rocks. It was sort of cool feeling them crackle in my mouth a few times, but then I lost interest. Years went by and I grew up without feeling any desire to re-visit Pop Rocks. At some point, I started dropping in on designer chocolate shops in Tokyo. One of those was Leonidas and they gave me a sample. Lo and behold, it included Pop Rocks. It was one of the most expensive chocolatiers I'd ever experienced, and they were designing their candy with little carbonated bits of sugar.

If putting Pop-Rock-style candies is good enough for Leonidas, then it's good enough for Morinaga. If nothing else  convinces me that this is candy designed for kids, the existence of a "crackling" version does. This is adventure candy. If I run across some at a Japanese market, I'll probably give them a shop, but I would have very low expectations.

Morinaga's other somewhat unusual offering is "potato". It's being promoted a "light and crispy". This is another one that I'll pick up if I see it. I would anticipate that it has potato-chip-like bits in it and that it won't have a lot in the way of potato flavor to offer, but rather be textured white chocolate.

If any of my readers get to these before me, please feel free to share your impressions in comments. If they're not particularly interesting, you can save me a little money. :-)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Glico Chubu Regional Pretz - Wasabi flavor

I would think that Glico ripped off Nestle's concept of issuing regional varieties of various foods if it weren't for the fact that I know the notion of regional specialty snacks almost certainly pre-dates Nestle's existence as a company. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it goes back hundreds of years in Japan (if not further). At any rate, the marketing concept seems certainly to be a similar one, and I believe it works much better for pretzels than for chocolate. You can make a pretzel savory or sweet without going through the looking glass. You can't really do that with chocolate, though Nestle Japan sure did try.

I rarely know off the top of my head why a certain flavor is paired with a certain region. For instance, I still don't know why rum raisin KitKats were paired with Tokyo as it is not famous for it's rum or grapes/raisins. It turns out that Nagano, which is in Chubu, is famous for wasabi so that is where this notion comes from. Prior to this, I just thought of Nagano as the place where everyone does snow sports. At any rate, wasabi is grown in various places including Tohoku so it is a very flexible choice for a regional Pretz.

I've tried wasabi Pretz before, but they were not a regional variety. As is so often the case, I believe that there is little or no difference between regional versions and regular versions of the same flavor. I knew when I bought these that they may be the same thing that I tried before in different packaging. As it turns out, I'm largely right, though there is a superficial difference which makes it questionable that these are, indeed, the same pretzel sticks.

In terms of the tasting experience, these are the same as far as my tongue can recall. They have the grassy flavor of wasabi and give a bit of a burn on the back of the tongue as a secondary flavor. By about the fifth stick, you're getting that familiar discomfort at the back of your nasal passages. Continuing onward from that point only makes the effect stronger. The sticks are fresh and crispy, but don't have the effect of shattering that you get from brittle bready pretzels. I wouldn't be surprised if these include more delicate layers of fat between the flour. These are tasty, savory, and just salty enough without being too much of anything.

The only difference that I can tell between these wasabi Pretz and the ones I tried before is that the others were tinted green and these were not. I don't know if that means some coloring was added before or if coloring was somehow removed this time. I can only say that it has no impact on anything other than aesthetics.

These are very fine flavored pretzel sticks and I can honestly say I'd buy them again since I believe I have already bought them twice now.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Babaevsky Elite 75% dark chocolate bar

This chocolate bar comes to me courtesy of a Russian friend who went home over the holidays and ever so kindly brought me back some awesome souvenirs. In addition to this very large (200 gram) chocolate bar, she also brought me back tea and a Gzhel pottery rocking horse. I couldn't be more delighted, so my review may be tainted... but, probably not. The truth is that I love European candy. It is usually stuff from Western Europe, but Eastern Europe is good, too. I have great friends. I really do.

It's always a bit of a trick for me to track down information on food I get from countries other than Japan, but the company that makes this, Babaevsky, has been around since 1804. I've read that Russians regard this as a very nostalgic treat. I'm guessing it is their equivalent of Hershey's, only, you know, without the low quality that now comes along with America's best known "chocolate" bar. Babaevsky chocolate has, apparently, won many international candy contests.

With all of that positive press to live up to, I had reasonably high expectations of this bar. Since I'm not an enormous fan of dark chocolate, it's sometimes hard to please me on this front. I'm okay with it being bitter, but not too bitter, and I hate it when the bitterness is compensated for by being too sweet. Trader Joe's dark chocolate bar has been one of the few that has kept me happy, though I rarely partake of it much these days.

Because this is dark chocolate, the bar doesn't have much of a sheen on it and the finish is quite dry. The ingredients list is "cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa powder, cocoa butter", emulsifiers, and artificial vanilla flavor. I didn't know what "cocoa mass" was before, but apparently it is the "brown stuff" in cocoa. The white stuff is cocoa butter - that is what makes white chocolate. I'm guessing cocoa mass is used to up the level of cocoa to 75%, and using more of it is the reason this is so dry. However, I'm engaging in idle chocolate speculation here. I really don't know.

What I do know is this bar is not too sweet and not too bitter. It has a fruity aroma which registers when you eat the bar as cherry notes. It's complex enough to be an interesting nosh, but intense enough to satisfy with one square (each block is about 60 calories depending on how you manage to break it off). As dark chocolates go, I really liked this one because it didn't leave the same sort of unpleasant aftertaste that Japanese bars do and it wasn't too strong on the coffee notes. It also didn't have the sense that one was coming very close to eating baking chocolate and actually eating candy - adult, sophisticated candy, but something decadent nonetheless.

I really like this and would welcome a steady supply. I'd rate it as equally good to the dark chocolate at Trade Joe's, but with much nicer complexity and flavor depth. Amazon sells some Babaevsky dark chocolate, though not this particular bar. If you can try it though, I'd say it is well worth your hard-earned cash, especially if you like dark chocolate, and I'm not just saying that because the origin of this gift was a special one for me.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Suntory Green Dakara Drink with Face Mask (product information)

Images from Suntory.

During my long and far less than illustrious life, I've heard a lot of theories as to why people catch colds. The most common one, and in my opinion erroneous one, is that it happens when you get cold. Another is that you catch it from germs passed along. This is the one I believe, but I believe it only happens when your immune system is compromised or suppressed somewhat.

This can be caused by many things, but often happens when the homeostatic state of your body is severely disrupted by abrupt weather changes. I think the reason people think cold weather causes colds is that the shock to the system of a switch from warm to cold weather suppressed the immune system and people succumb to germs they might otherwise be able to fend off.

In Japan, Suntory talks about the threat to health should you allow yourself to become too dehydrated. They may have a point. I'm not certain, but it wouldn't be too far a stretch to say that dehydration also could suppress the immune system. Of course, they recommend you hydrate with their beverages including their Green Dakara drink. It's got green tea, vitamins, and minerals to help strengthen the body as well as moisten those vital tissues.

However, just in case drinking the Green Dakara won't do the trick when it comes to fending off colds, you can avoid inhaling the germs entirely by donning the free mask they'll give you with purchase. Whatever the risk, Suntory is doing its best to look out for your health. It has nothing to do with selling their drinks. No, sir.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Random Picture #197

When I was still in Japan, I rarely picked up the Tirol variety packs because they sold the same old flavors with one new one in order to encourage people to buy a lot of mundane flavors with one interesting one. Times have not changed. Tirol still follows this marketing scheme and I still won't buy them. Of course, in Japan, these things cost about 1/3 what they do here.

The above variety pack was at Nijiya market for a little under $6 for 27 tiny pieces of chocolate. The old flavors are strawberry jelly, coffee nougat, biscuit, almond, "milk" (like condensed milk), and cookies and cream. The new flavor is "raisin sandwich". Those kinds of cookies are very popular in Japan and actually quite tasty. They're delicate little biscuits that are on the flaky side with a cream and raisin filling. I'd be shocked if the candy in any way resembled the cookie that I so enjoyed in Japan.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sunkus Brown Stew Sandwich (product information)

Image from Circle K/Sunkus.

I never liked the sandwiches sold at Japanese convenience stores and this one is just one of the weirder examples of why. I may be very conservative when it comes to sandwiches, but the one pictured above looked like someone hurled onto the bread and tried to cover up the mess with another piece of bread. The scary thing is that I'm sure food stylists did their best to make this look good.

This sandwich has egg salad, shrimp, broccoli, and, of course mayonnaise. I like broccoli, but I don't want lumps of it crammed in a sandwich. This monstrosity can be yours for a mere 298 yen ($2.84) and will provide you with 285 calories of sandwich fun.

The name of this sandwich reminded me of a Simpsons bit about gravy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Kabaya Doutor Coffee Bean Chocolate

For those who haven't spent enough time in Japan to know, Doutor is a very popular and well-known coffe shop chain in Japan. They are, in my estimation, the Japanese equivalent of Starbucks with, of course, a unique Japanese twist. That spin generally comes in the form of rather more refined desserts and sandwiches which are better made, but smaller, than those that you find in the U.S.

A wedding between Doutor and chocolate sounded a lot like a match made in heaven, so I couldn't pass up a chance to give these a try. Note that I have tried no small number of chocolate-covered coffee beans in my life, but never any produced by a Japanese company. The ones that I have tried have always been imported. The main features of this particular confection has always been that the beans are either so potent that they overwhelm the chocolate or the chocolate is so thick that it overwhelms the bean. It's a delicate balance, and I've had some good ones, though not lately and certainly not often.

The spin on these particular chocolate-covered beans comes from the fact that the interior is white chocolate and the outer coating is milk. I've never seen a two-toned version of this, and the idea, I'm guessing, is to bring to mind coffee with cream as well as a hint of cocoa. It's an interesting idea, which doesn't really pan out well with the candy itself.

On the bright side, the beans that are used are on the smallish side. Since roasted beans are pretty potent, that means that they don't necessarily dominate the scant amount of coating. The white chocolate inner coating doesn't add any milkiness or creaminess, but it does add sweetness and a rich textural contrast to the crunchy bean. The outer shell is really what lets you down, however. It simply doesn't have much in the way of chocolate flavor. It's very shiny, which probably means it is waxed, and that does all the more to mask any of the actual chocolate notes.

It's important to note that I tried this two ways. First, I tried it with no beverage and I could really taste the coffee element. Second, I tried it with a cup of coffee and then I could pick up much more on the sweetness of the white chocolate and the chocolate coating. If your taste buds are acclimated to real coffee, the flavor of the bean tends to recede a lot into the background. I didn't find this to be a bad thing given how it added a different dimension to the experience.

If you want a taste of something with coffee, but are not in the right place to get one, keeping a bag of these in your desk for a nibble (each bean is about 10 calories) is not the worst you can do, but it is certainly not the best. Frankly, this is just a very bland chocolate-covered coffee bean experience and I'd look elsewhere.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Aling Conching Native Products Special Uraro

As some of my readers with detailed memories may recall (that is to say, probably no one), I don't make New Year's resolutions. That being said, I did have a recommendation for my Facebook friends for the coming year. It's not something I personally can resolve to do because I already do it. That recommendation is to try and do something new every week. In fact, I said it would be a good idea to make a numbered list from 1-52 and write down the new thing that you had done to motivate yourself to keep doing it.

One of the reasons why I've started to review non-Japanese food every Friday is to try new things. I haven't tried every Japanese thing on the planet, but I have tried a lot of them. Since I'm fortunate enough to have access to a plethora of Asian markets (and ethnic markets in general), I'm blessed with new snack food potential at every turn. It was in the spirit of trying something completely new that I picked up these "special uraro" cookies. I had not idea what they were. I only knew that they were cheap (about a dollar/105 yen) and from the Philippines.

It wasn't until I got home and looked them up that I learned that they are arrowroot (cassava) cookies. That would mean more to me if I knew what arrowroot was. Looking it up on Wikipedia told me a lot about the history of it and informed me about its potential for gluten-free diets, but it didn't really give me any idea of what to expect from these tiny little cookies. Each is a little bigger than the diameter of my thumbnail.

Each cookie is very dense and crumbly. They smell vaguely of coconut, though that is just my nose trying to find a similar aroma to that of arrowroot/cassava. The ingredients list for these is very short. It's just cassava flour, cane sugar, and butter. Clearly, there is no coconut in there.

The cookies are stored in 4 wax sleeves, but given how dry and crumbly they are, they keep pretty well despite having a fairly "airy" packaging. I've had these around for awhile and did not have them sealed up after opening and they stayed pretty much in their original state of crispness.

These are an unusual experience. The flavor is reminiscent of coconut and they don't come across as very sweet at the start, but get sweeter on the second bite (and each cookie is at most two bites). They also have a very chalky flavor which matches the texture to some extent. The texture is a cross between a shortbread cookie and a Tums antacid tablet. Each cookie is 23 calories.

These are not especially bad, but they really weren't particularly good. I think that they are designed largely to be shelf-stable and to cater to rather basic tastes. I believe there are probably lots of far better cassava cookies out there and I plan to look around for a more expensive variety in the future as a point of comparison. As a starting point for "uraro" cookies, I'm glad I picked them up, but I really can't see finishing even the small portion that I purchased this time.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Mister Donut Hot Pon de Ring (product information)

Image courtesy of Mister Donut.

I have to admit that, to my somewhat warped sense of humor, "hot pon de ring" sounds like some new sort of group sex activity. Unfortunately, it's just a type of warm donut that the venerable Misdo is offering for the time being. If you believe their PR, their chefs labored long and hard with furrowed brows to figure out a way to best work this complex combination of chewy rice-flour-based donut and warmth. They promise that the sticky texture of the donuts is like mochi (pounded rice cake).

The flavors on offer are kinako (yum, yum), honey, caramel honey, and caramel macchiato. "Honey" in Japan tends not to mean honey flavor so much as glazed, though it does tend to have more of a honey tone to it than pure sugar.

You can see by the picture that they're sold in special boxes to allow to grip a warm, sticky donut without getting your hands dirty. They're also offering up a "present" of Snoopy donut cases if you spend 800 yen ($7.63). The cases are designed to allow you to warm your donut neatly in the microwave.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Random Picture #196

One of the problems I had before leaving Japan was that there were all sorts of nifty things which I wanted to buy and bring back with me as souvenirs, but I knew I couldn't fit them all in our bags. I also knew that, cute as some of them were, they didn't have much in the way of utility. I could justify buying a yukata, but not a plastic figure. 

It seems that I did not necessarily leave that temptation behind. The above picture is of plastic bento boxes with shelf-stable gelatin ("jelly", as it is called in Japan) desserts inside of them. The price is a bargain considering that the cheapest bento box that you can buy is $1.50 (at Daiso Japan) and is not as cute as these. You get gelatin and a keepsake. Tempted as I was to pick up one of these for posterity, I just could not think of a good use for the box so I reluctantly passed. If I could have found a pragmatic reason, one of those cat face boxes would be in my possession right now.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tirol Strawberry Cheese Pie Premium Chocolate (product information)

About two weeks before Christmas, I bought some brie at Costco. It was on sale and it was about as cheap as such things are ever going to get. What is more, Costco usually has better quality for its prices than your average discount joint. The brie I bought was quite good and I enjoyed a small piece of it most days with a little fruit.

Given that fruit and cheese make such a natural pairing, you wouldn't think that I'd be giving this strawberry cheese pie chocolate the stink eye because it shows wedges of savory cheese with images of strawberries. The whole concept of a wedge of Emmantale with strawberries doesn't bother me. The problem is adding copious amounts of sugar and chocolate into the mix. I will never get the concept of sugar and anything other than cream cheese. This is my admitted defect. That being said, if I found this at one of the local Japanese markets, I'd try it. I'm pretty sure I'd dislike it, but I'd take the plunge considering these are generally very cheap and small anyway.

If any of my readers has happened across this monstrosity and ingested it, I'd love to  hear your impressions.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Rice Cracker Arare Mix

When I was growing up, my mother was the queen of buying off-brand and store-brand snacks. I'm pretty sure that we never once procured a bag of Ruffles or a Lays brand product. I'm certain we never purchased anything from Hostess. For us, "Little Debbie" was the highest rung, on the rare occasions when we got that far up the economic snack ladder. I think that we dwelt more in the zone of "Mrs. Freshley's" - that's the "Dollar Tree" brand for those of you who don't find yourselves mucking about at the lower end of the shopping spectrum.

I imagine Japan has its equivalent of "Mrs. Freshleys" (or in the case of salted snacks, Granny Goose), but we foreign folk don't know the difference between their Lays brand (it's probably Calbees) and their cheap brands as we didn't grow up with advertising and pricing fluctuations. Even after having been in Japan for 23 years, I still just grabbed whatever suited my fancy and ignored the price differences. Of course, the price differences weren't nearly as broad there between the high and low snacking ends.

I mention the branding issue because I believe today's snack is the equivalent of the lowest of the low on the sembei front. I paid only a dollar for this at Marukai market and it's the sort of thing that I tended to completely ignore in Japan. The main reason it didn't appeal to me was that there is no specific flavor mentioned. It's just a generic mix of different flavored rice crackers. The only identifying information is the use of the word "arare". That simply lets you know that they will be hard and crunch little bites instead of puffy and airy things.

My expectations of these were suitably low. They got even lower when I gave the back of the bag a closer look and saw that they were made in China. I don't necessarily think that makes them bad, but it does mean that they are made with only the cheapest ingredients and for the least fussy of Japanese consumers - think drunken old men living on limited pensions who will take the cheapest nosh as long as it's salty and crispy.

I should have expected one thing and that was that the pink crackers would be shrimp-flavored. I'm not a fan of shrimp, so this wasn't the best of news. The seaweed-wrapped ones were incredibly fishy and the ones with little dark specs were mainly soy-sauce flavored, though it was rather mild. The light ones were pretty "plain", but most of them were contaminated to some extent by a fishy flavor. This is one of the risks of any sort of mix. In fact, when my husband bought a mint candy at See's they suggested he bag it separately so that it didn't infect every other chocolate. The shrimp and fish insinuated their way into everything in the bag.

Even though I'm not mad about fish and shrimp flavors, I would have found this far more likeable if it weren't for two things. One, they weren't salty enough. All of them could have used a heavier shellacking of soy sauce or salt. Two, they were slightly stale or their texture wasn't as crisp as it might have been. I can forgive and tolerate the flavors infecting one another, but I can't excuse the poor texture. That meant I couldn't finish the bag, much as I hate to waste any food.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Lil' Dutch Maid Dutch Wafer Rolls

I have blogged about "American" things in Japan that were not in any way American. Most of the time, these were what the Japanese believed was American-style, but was actually a distorted version that was modified to suit the tastes of the Japanese market.

This often applied to coffee, which Japanese folks think is super weak if it's "American", but also to things like pizza. The American-style pizza varied from place to place, but it could be anything from frankfurter to French fry toppings on your pie. One thing that it never was was heaping piles of cured meat with great lashings of cheese. That would have actually been closer to what you'd find in the average American pizza place, but it also would have been unpalatable to the Japanese.

At the local big lots, I believe I found some very unDutch Dutch wafers. They lured me in with the illustration on the box which brought to mind Kinder sweets like the Bueno or the Happy Hippos. These are chocolate-hazelnut cream filled wafer treats which I can occasionally find in shops in my area, but generally at a premium price. I figured that these might be a knock-off version of the Bueno, and I was willing to take a chance on them for a mere dollar for a box of four.

To be honest, I had no idea what made these Dutch in any way. Ferrero SPA, which produces the Kinder line, is Italian, so the oncept was seemingly taken not from a Dutch company. I did a little investigating and found that the Dutch part literally applies to the wafers themselves and not the way in which they are rolled, filled or coated. I should have been thinking "stroopwafels" or waffle cones, not Happy Hippos.

I didn't attend to where there were made, but when I got home, I learned that these "Dutch Wafer rolls" are made in Mexico. Uh-oh. No matter. Just because they aren't actually European does not mean that they can't be good. I tried to remain optimistic, but when I broke one in half for a picture of the inside, more than a little pessimism creeped in. It was much more "wafer" than I was lead to believe and far less creamy filling.

Unlike the lovely illustration showing a full great filling with lashings of Nutella-like filling, When you bite into it, the first hit is full-on cheap milk-chocolate-covered peanuts. The wafer adds nothing to the flavor profile at all, but does add a crispy texture. The filling creates a very slight sense of richness and a deepening of the chocoalte flavor, but whatever hazelnut aspects are in it are totally overwhelmed by the peanuts in the coating.

In no way would I say this isn't enjoyable as long as you like milk-chocolate-coated peanuts. In fact, I rather liked this, but it was far from what I expected based on the illustration and my, perhaps, unrealistic expectation that I was getting a cheaper version of a Bueno. Each piece is individually wrapped in a plastic-foil packet, is about 4" x 1" (10.2 cm x 2.5 cm) in size, and is only 110 calories. As an accessible, somewhat moderate bit of candy, it's not bad at all. It's not high quality, but it is more than serviceable if your tastes don't run consistently toward the high end. At the Big Lots price of a box of four for a dollar (about 100 yen), I'd pick this up again. I wouldn't buy it all of the time, but I could imagine a revisit or two in the future.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mos Burger Lucky Bag for 2014 (product information)

If I had the time and the inclination, I could do a sequence of posts on all of the "lucky bags/boxes" that various Japanese fast food entities are going to sell. I think it would be very interesting to do, but would take a fair bit of time so I'll focus on just a few. Most of these are sold in limited quantities so you have to get out there early to find one. The exception to that tends to be Mister Donut. It's rare that they run out, but certainly not unheard of.

The "lucky bag" pictured above is for MOS Burger (which you can probably guess from the title of this post). It includes the gree and white lap blanket that the other items are resting upon, a vinyl pouch, a calendar, a MOS Burger card, and what they call "lottery tickets" worth 200 yen each. I believe these are really just coupons which you can use toward food purchases.

Like most of these types of fast food offerings, your pay the value of the coupons (in this case 2,000 yen/$19 US) and get the other items essentially free. As long as you regularly patronize a place that you buy the lucky bag from and use up the coupons through regular consumption, you've got nothing to lose. That being said, most of these lucky bag coupons have a deadline (usually March) so if you don't use them, you lose the value. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Random Picture #195

This is the time of year for me at which I most long for being in Japan again. Christmas is generally better in America, but New Year's is definitely better in Japan. The picture above is the selection of snacks that one could buy in one of the Meiji shrine shops on New Year's day. My husband and I went there the year before we left (2011) and got this shot of the sorts of snacks on offer.

As you might guess even if you can't understand the Japanese or make out what is in the bags, these are all rather old-fashioned snacks. I think that they are designed largely with older folks in mind or to evoke a sense of nostalgia from people who went there as children. Note that I do not recall seeing Pocky at Meiji shrine, though I'm pretty sure I saw it at kiosks at at least one of the other shrines I went to during my time in Japan (definitely at one in Kamakura and possibly at Yasukuni).

Happy New Year to all of my readers. I hope that the year ahead brings you many positive changes and challenges as well as good health and fortune.