Friday, February 28, 2014

Sumo Citrus Oranges (Dekopon)

I consider myself extremely fortunate in some regards as a blogger who used to live in Japan and now does not. One of the big ones is my unimaginable access to Japanese food from my current location. If I lived in my home town, well, let's just say there'd be nothing to write about or I'd have to rack up extremely hefty mail order bills by getting things from agencies that sell exported Japanese snacks.

Though I knew shelf stable items would always be possible, I didn't think fresh fruit and vegetables would. I was thrilled when I found "kabocha" (Japanese pumpkin) at local markets. In fact, I was shocked at just how often I could find it. After a few rounds of cooking with it, and noting that it was grown in Mexico, the excitement vanished. The kabocha that I tend to have access to tastes like a cross between a squash and a cantaloupe. There is something of a strange aftertaste to it. Clearly, a kabocha by any other name does not taste as sweet.

The lesson I learned was that it may walk like a Japanese duck, talk like a Japanese duck, but it doesn't taste like a Japanese duck... not that I have ever eaten a Japanese duck. My experience with the kabocha showed me that produce can be marketed as being like what I loved, but not actually taste like it. With that thought in mind, I approached the "Sumo Citrus" entity that is often marketed as "Japanese mandarins". What they are, ostensibly, is dekopon, a type of Japanese orange which is available in the winter and is sweeter and more flavorful than your average orange.

Finding Sumo Citrus is not easy. They have a limited number of stores carrying their produce. If you are going to try and track some down, I'd recommend calling the stores listed on their web site to make sure they have them first. And, I'm going to tip my hand and say that you are going to want to find them if you like oranges a little because they are fantastic. They are every bit as good if not better than the dekopon I bought in Japan.

The only down side to these oranges is that they aren't cheap. Whole Foods, which is where I got mine, is selling them for $3.99 a pound. One orange will cost you about $2. Though that is a pretty large orange, it is a splurge. At the very least, it is a healthy one.

Finding them at Whole Foods was more of a chore than I expected. We went in through one of the entrances and walked the length of the front of the store to the produce section. After casing the entire produce area, we had to ask someone where they were and they were in a display outside and in front of the other entrance. As we approached the display, a woman was picking one up and saying that they were really good, but expensive. We told her that we'd had them in Japan and that they were very, very good.

As my husband talked to her about our past experience, I picked out the ugliest, most pock-marked-looking and old-looking ones. My husband asked me why I was taking those ones and I told him that the worst looking ones were the sweetest. In Japan, it's common to pick them then allow them to age a bit so their natural sugars develop. So, if you decide to have these, don't go for the pretty ones. The ugliest one from our bag was nearly as sweet as candy.

These are seasonal and available in a limited area. I wish more growers were providing them, but Sumo Citrus is the only one I know and there is a risk that they won't produce many (or at all) next year due to the drought in California. Get some while you can, if you can. They're really worth it.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mister Donut Strawberry Assortment and prize sponges (product information/promotion)

Images from Mister Donut Japan.

For spring, Mister Donut is releasing a host of strawberry-flavored donut options. Three of them are new (which you can tell by the little circles that say "new" in them). From left, top row: strawberry milk donut, strawberry milk pon de ring (a chewy donut made using rice flower), and strawberry whipped cream pie (made with strawberry jam). The prices range from 126 yen/$1.23 (the yeast-raised strawberry donut second from the left in the bottom row) to 168 yen/$1.64 (the strawberry milk donut). For the most part, they are variations on two single themes - one is a strawberry coating made with white chocolate and whipped cream either on its own or mixed with strawberry. The French crueller (second from right, bottom row) is filled with custard.

Those who live in Japan already know that Mister Donut has a point card system in which you get a stamp in a little booklet when you buy donuts. After collecting a certain number of points, you can get certain promotional items. Of interest at present is a Duskin sponge with the pon de lion or French crueller mascot on it. When I was in Japan, I often saw a variety of such rewards like little bags, bento boxes, and, most frequently, various dishes (cups, plates, bowls), but this is the first time I've seen dish sponges. You need 50 points to get these and, as a point of comparison, you can also get a free donut for 50 points or a free drink for 100 points. I think it says something about the Misdo customer base that they would offer cleaning products as a prize. It lets you know that they are overwhelmingly female.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Random Picture #203

David Letterman used to do a line repeatedly in which he'd say, "does this look infected to you?" While looking at these cakes, I'm thinking they look a little infected to me, or possibly "infested". Those little black things are beans, not bugs or spots of mold. The cakes are "mushi" or steam cakes. They're actually a sponge cake that isn't especially sweet, but tend to be fairly fatty. They're usually quite fluffy and, though the texture is light, some of them are rather weighty. In fact, as I've mentioned in other posts, misunderstanding how caloric these babies can be helped add some weight to me in my early years in Japan. 

These are quite popular and I think they are one of the older sweets. My guess is they were borrowed cuisine from China. I've mentioned before that Japan got its baking culture largely from Europe. These steam cakes are not made in an oven, but usually on the stove top. That would explain their long history and the nostalgic popularity of them. If you'd like to try your hand at making your own (sans bizarre-looking beans), there's a recipe here.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

KFC's Colonel Pokota (game)

This isn't about a particular food or item from KFC Japan, but rather about a promotional item. I think there are a lot of absolutely adorable mascots in Japan. In fact, I think they have more cute cartoon mascots per capita than any country in the world (likely any civilization in the universe - there's no chance an alien culture has more). That being said, this thing is a creepy hybird of Colonel Saunders and a bunny. When I look at it, it's hard not to think of some sort of unnatural coupling that produced a result that is horribly wrong. It actually reminds me a bit of the ugly Nova usagi (which I always called the "beak bunny" because of its weird yellow nose) that was extremely popular. I guess rabbits are something that artist struggle to anthropomorphize.

At any rate, the point of this post is not to talk about the abomination, but the fact that it is used in a game that KFC is making available for free to promote its greasy poultry products. I have not downloaded the game, but their web site says you can "summon" this monstrosity by tapping on something called "friend's power". I don't know what happens once it arrives in your game, but you might want to have a can of pepper spray on hand.

Those who want to give it a go can get it from Apple's app store or Google Play. If you can't understand Japanese, you can enable automatic translation of the pages in your browser (at least you can in Chrome) and bumble your way through in broken English.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Eiwa Blueberry Marshmallows

I once read a little blurb in an article about a woman who had a conversation with her grandmother about food in her childhood. She said that her grandmother loved sugar cane. She said that she had a stalk of it that she kept under her pillow and would savor over time when she was a child. Her granny spoke of it as if it were the most magical and sublime food experience that she ever had. The granddaughter was so impressed by what her grandmother said about how good sugar cane was that she obtained some to try. When she got it, she found that it tasted like sugar. It wasn't the most fantastic food experience ever. It just tasted like sugar.

I remembered this story because I think about old-fashioned vs. modern sweets sometimes. I think that things like marshmallows are not as popular because they entered our food culture at a point in time when the types of sweets that we now have access to either did not exist at all (because of a lack of diverse ingredients on hand) or were not mass produced due to cost issues. How can the lowly, simple marshmallow compete with the fatty, sugary, salty, greasy complexity of a peanut butter cup?

I'm an enormous fan of all things marshmallow, but the truth is that, even I don't crave them all of the time. Since returning to the U.S., I've had more marshmallows because there is a plethora of varieties compared to Japan. I'm not only talking about the short-lived joys of a fresh, sugar-coated Peep (once they're stale, then the rainbow has gone away), but also the unique flavor offerings that come out seasonally like gingerbread or pumpkin spice marshmallows. From my childhood, incidentally, my favorite candy was Mallow Cups and I only recently came across and sampled the joys of Vallomilk. Both are pleasures I've revisited on a few occasions since coming home.

In Japan, I didn't really care for the texture and the funky aftertaste of Japanese marshmallows, so I tended to just avoid them, but I decided that it was time to give them a better chance. I was convinced both by the flavor combination of blueberry and marshmallow and the price. I found these on sale for under a dollar (100 yen) at one of the Japanese markets in our area (Marukai, I believe).

A whiff inside the bag when opened reveals the scent of fake blueberry. The marshmallows are small and soft. They are a little chewier than an American marshmallow, but less sticky. If you try to pull them apart with your fingers, they're tougher than what I'm used to.

The marshmallows themselves are overwhelmed by the blueberry jam flavoring. I don't think they're incredibly sweet on their own, but the jam inside is quite concentrated both in terms of flavor potency and added sweetness. I'd prefer a bit more mashmallow in the mix to try and offeset the nearly cloying nature of the blueberry filling.

The ingredients list starts with "corn syrup" followed by "sugar" so the sweetness is not surprising. Other ingredients include dextrose, water, gelatin, corn starch, sorbitol, concentrated blueberry juice, pectin, and citric acid. The coloring comes from beet root. As I've mentioned on my other blog, the Japanese rarely, at least in my experience, use artificial colors.

Because these are so sweet, it's no surprise that the manufacturer recommends as a serving suggestion that you pour plain yogurt over them and wait 4-5 hours. I tried this "recipe" twice. The first time, I waited about 4 hours, but it just seemed like blobs of chewy marshmallow covered with a yogurt topping. I had hoped that the moisture of the yogurt would break down the marshmallows a bit and create a different texture. I found that leaving them overnight accomplished this and it was actually quite good. It still tasted like there was candy in my yogurt but the textural blend was more enjoyable.

Frankly, I'm a bit on the fence about these. I liked them fine, but I can't see craving them or wanting to have them again. My criteria for an "indifferent" rating is that I don't mind having them, but am very unlikely to buy the same thing once more. I could see sampling another flavor, but I think one small bag of blueberry was enough.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Five Grains Cream Sand Biscuits

When I shopped at the Daiso (100-yen shop) in Tokyo, I used to look at the cheap products on sale there and investigate their country of origin. On the packages, it often said very prominently, "PRODUCT OF JAPAN." I took this to mean that this item was manufactured in Japan. It turns out that saying something is a "product of (country)" has nothing to do with where it was made. It just means that the country it was marketed for is the given country.

I realized this after careful inspection of these cookies, which I purchased at Daiso Japan in Cupertino for $1.50 (156 yen). As an aside, I should note that I rarely buy snacks there these days because their inventory so rarely changes. These were the first new product that I was drawn to there in quite some time.

Getting back to the point, this says "PRODUCT OF JAPAN" just as I've written it here in all capital letters and right under it, it says, "Country of Origin: China". I have to wonder if the all caps is intentional. It's the equivalent of "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." It's not that I'm particularly troubled that my cookies are from China. I'm very egalitarian about such things, but I do think that it's a wee bit on the naughty side to label things as they are on the package.

Packaging aside, and as another aside, a recent study says that packaging matters a great deal to people so is it any wonder that I'm droning on about it, let's talk cookies. I was drawn to these because of the "five grain" aspect. Those grains are corn, black sesame seed, peanuts, oats and black soy beans according to the front of the box, but the first ingredient is actually wheat flour.

Note that ingredients are listed in order of volume in the recipe and, listed after salt, are black soybean, peanuts, and oats. That means there are fewer of those ingredients than salt. I'm pretty sure that means somoene tossed a peanut, a thimble of oats, and a black soybean into the vats and that there are trace amounts of them. Well, if these are insanely salty, then I may be wrong.

As it turns out, these cookies are not incredibly salty, nor are they super sweet. The outer biscuit is earthy and mainly tastes of black sesame with a whole wheat sense in the background. The vanilla filling doesn't come through much at all with the stronger grain flavors and it mainly adds texture. I think you'd have to unsandwich the cookie, eat half and place the filling against your tongue to get a sense of it, but I didn't bother to do that. I'm a purist and will eat it as it is presented.

This is an interesting cookie because it has a lot of flavor depth and feels more like a health food biscuit than a sandwich cookie. It still carries Oreo-level calories at 67 calories per (they are bigger than an Oreo though by about 25%). No doubt a lot of those calories come from the second, third, and fourth ingredients: sugar, refined palm oil, and shortening. Those make it clear that, while this may sound like a health food, it's got plenty of bad fats in it to spoil the whole grainy goodness. Still, this isn't a blog which concerns itself seriously with nutrition when it comes to snacks. I'm not complaining and merely noting that the multi-grain nature is not related to these being nutritionally sound.

As someone who actually prefers brown bread to white bread and stronger, earthy flavors to the blandness of white flour, I enjoyed these. I'm not sure if I'd buy them again, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out. The fact that the black sesame dominates is an enormous plus for me. If you enjoy whole grains and black sesame, then you may want to give these a try.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tirol Doll's Festival Box (product information)

First of all, my apologies for the lateness of this posting. I thought I had already done this post and cued it for this morning (as all posts are set to publish at 8:00 am), but it appears that I spaced out this week. While I doubt many of you were sitting there hitting the refresh button on your browser all day and hoping for this post, I do like to keep my posting regular (much as I like to keep other, more personal things).

The above is an adorable bit of packaging that Tirol is offering in preparation for the doll festival on March 3. The box converts into a display and the chocolates serve as the dolls. The real deal is much more elaborate and expensive. I don't think this is meant to be a substitute, but just a little extra decoration or something that those who are nostalgic might want to set up and smile at before they devour the tiny candies.

Since most of the doll sets, at least I'm told, run up to a thousand dollars (a lot of sets on Rakuten are in the $150-200 range), this would be the cheap way out, but, sadly, not particularly permanent. You couldn't hand these down to your own daughter.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Random Picture #202

Assuming you cannot read Japanese or haven't taken a moment to scrutize the picture from a vending machine shown above, I'd like you to take a moment to guess at what is being sold in these cans. All of these feature Mt. Fuji at different points in time - in winter, in spring with cherry blossoms, and the last one says, "diamond Fuji" which I imagine is the sun over Fuji in summer? What cannot item do you think fits the motif?

The truth is that I'm not sure what sort of canned food fits these scenes, but I wouldn't have guessed that it would be what it turned out to be. These cans are full of bread. From left to right is adzuki (red bean) bread, plain bread, and then coffee bread. I guess that, if you climb Mt. Fuji, you might benefit from a canned carb boost. That would make more sense if this picture was taken on the ascent up that mountain, but this machine was nowhere near it. It was in Tokyo in Kichijoji's Inokashira park. Perhaps the bread was made from something on Mt. Fuji, but I doubt it. My guess is that it's just a tourist thing. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

7-11 Tomato Sandwich (product information)

Image from 7-11 Japan.

When I was growing up, my mother used to eat food which I felt was pretty disgusting. The worse was just bread with raw green bell peppers with butter. The second worst was the same sandwich, but using tomato in place of the bell peppers. This sort of one-vegetable sandwich was bad not because of the veggies themselves, but rather because of the shallow flavor profile and the unpleasant textural combinations, especially when you pair cheap soft, gluey white bread with crunchy raw peppers and squishy butter.

This new sandwich from 7-11 seems to be something after my mother's heart, but with a little more sophistication and depth. Those are biggish chunks of tomatoes glued into the sandwich with egg salad mixed with broccoli and carrot. A few reviews that I've read proncounce it "unusual" and "crunchy". I wouldn't exactly call those encouraging words.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Imuraya Adzuki Bean Ice Pop

When I was working at Nova conversations school during my first few years in Japan, one of my students told me that she wasn't allowed to have chocolate or other sweet snacks when she was a child. She said that the only snack that she was allowed to have were bags of dried fish. The reason for this was that she had bad teeth and her parents wanted her to get added Calcium from the bones in the tiny little fish (she told me this, I don't know if they are a good source of Calcium) and they didn't want her exposed to the tooth enamel-rotting aspects of candy.

I thought of that student when I tried this bar. The main reason for this is that this bar seems like the kind of snack that you buy your kids when you don't want them to eat something more decadent. An ice bar made of beans has got to be better for you tha one made of chocolate and cream, right? Well, maybe not. This has 2 grams of protein, but so does a Fudgesicle. This has 110 calories for 70 grams and the Fudgesicle has 100 calories per 65 gram bar. This does clock in with less Sodium though (35 g. vs. 80 g.), but the Fudgesicle has less carbohydrate (17 g. vs. 24 g.). Finally, this actually has more sugars (24 g. vs. 14 g.) than a Fudgesicle. All in all, not an especially nutritious option despite the presence of beans.

I didn't look carefully at the ingredients before I bought this. For 80 cents (about 85 yen), I'm not terribly fussy and am always keen on a new experience. This is made from sugar, red beans, glucose syrup, cornstarch, and salt. In that short list, you will note that there is not type of dairy product at all. This is not a type of red bean ice cream. It is, quite literally, sweet frozen bean juice on a stick - a sort of perverted popsicle as it were.

Because this has cornstarch and beans in it, it's very grainy. Because it has no dairy, it isn't creamy at all. You cannot lick it or suck on it. You pretty much have to bite into it and chew on frozen wads of bean. Bad as that sounds, this doesn't taste bad at all as long as you like adzuki beans. On a flavor level, this is rather too sweet (no surprise with two types of sugar in there) and has only two notes - the sugar and the beans. The texture is satisfyingly thick, but easy to cleave even while frozen pretty solid.

This is a weird experience, but not in a bad way. I definitely didn't have to choke it down, but it felt a lot closer to "food" than "treat". Since I chose to eat it when I was between meals and feeling pretty hungry for something more substantial, it hit the right spot between food for fun and food to fill. That being said, if you're looking for dessert or just something to eat for fun, this is likely to let you down as it is so "beany".

I liked this fine, but I really don't think I'd buy another. If someone gave me another, I'd surely eat it eventually, but I'm not a fan of something that feels like ice cream but eats like food. The main drawback is the texture, which is weirdly gritty, followed by the somewhat overwhelming sweetness.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Chocoworld Choco*O*Star

After reviewing snacks regularly since 2009, you'd think I'd approach purchases with an informed eye. There is one thing which I don't do, and I really should, and that is look at the ingredients list before I buy. When I saw this at an Asian market, I looked at the name only and expected this was full of, well, chocolate. It was only after I got home and opened up the package that I looked to the ingredients list to understand what I had before me.

What I had was a bunch of little individually wrapped packages of very crumbly brown stuff. It smelled like chocolate, but the appearance was quite peculiar. The ingredients list reads: sugar, peanuts, milk powder, cocoa powder, vanilla flavoring. You'll notice that there isn't anything in there that suggests much in the way of fat. This was very cheap for the side - a little over half a pound/240 grams for $1.49. I think it reflects well the notion that sugar is cheap, but cocoa butter is not.

This is quite sweet, as would be expected from something which lists sugar first. The peanuts and cocoa do a bit to offset the sugary nature of it, so it is not cloying. However, the purity of the sugar on my teeth made them ache a bit. The picture above shows the candy after opening. I didn't break it. It fell apart in this fashion. The texture made me think about astronaut food like dehydrated ice cream and how you have to provide the moisture to allow the components to dissolve on your tongue and then you can experience the flavors. This has a fairly serviceable peanut and chocolate combination. It's mellow and sweet and pleasant, but not decadent and overwhelmingly flavorful.

This was not a bad experience in the least. It was, for lack of a better word, "weird". When you see the words "milk chocolate" on a package, you expect something with a very different texture and a lot more richness. You don't expect something which is like a cake of dried and powdery things, but that is pretty close to what this is.

The truth is that I'm glad that I bought this for the experience of something I'm not familiar with. It didn't cost me much, and there is a certain unique enjoyment in allowing the flavor to unfold by letting it rest on my tongue. It forced me to find a new way to enjoy it. On the other hand, I do tend to enjoy the way I have chocolate just fine already and the way in which the sugar in it made my teeth ache means that I won't be having it again. If this has piqued your interest despite my less than glowing review, you can buy it online for a marginally higher price than I paid.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mini Stop Valentine's Day Offerings (product information)

There's an episode of the Simpsons in which Homer needs to get something for Marge for Valentine's day and, being the selfish slob that he is, he doesn't do anything until the moment is upon him. He rushes off the the Kwik-E-Mart and the proprietor, Apu, blows the dust off of a large heart-shaped box of chocolates and offers to sell it at a ridiculous price. The point here is both that you can get gouged on price if you wait until the last minute and buying your Valentine's goodies from a convenience store is not really the best idea - at least not in the United States.

Images courtesy of Mini Stop's web site.

In Japan, since Valentine's Day is not a romantic holiday (despite all of the hearts, someone missed the point), you can get your "giri choco" (obligation chocolate) anywhere you want. The picture at the top is a rather random-looking collection of sweets piled on top of what looks like pudding/mousse. This will be available for 3 days only (so rush out and get one now) and is 500 yen (around $5). I think that is not the sort of thing people buy for others, but rather buy for themselves.

The second picture is a display which offers "colorful chocolate" in boxes with 6 pieces for the price of 333 yen (about $3.25). I'm not sure how that price was arrived at. It is a curious one, but I'm guessing that it has little meaning other than being fairly cheap and easy to remember. Of course, I grew up learning that "Three is a magic number", so perhaps that has something to do with it. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Random Picture #201

I went to an area in San Jose called "Little Saigon". I perused a supermarket there which offered a lot of durian-flavored items. This one stood out to me not because it was a durian salted snack, but because it is designed for the Japanese marekt. On the left side, it says "durian maki". There's a little cartoon man with a headband that has the Japanese flag on it in the lower right. "Maki" means "roll" in Japan and I'm guessing the little fellow is supposed to represent a sushi chef. Perhaps these are supposed to be a snack version of a sushi roll made with durian? Any way you look at it, this is one scary-sounding snack. And, no, I did not buy it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Starbucks Sakura Chocolate Latte (product announcement)

You know that spring is on its way in Japan when the "sakura" (cherry blossom or cherry depending on the entity that distributes it) foods start popping up. In my buffer, I have a post I've been sitting on which talks about seasonal flavors and sakura is definitely a harbinger of the end of winter. Starbucks is launching a very pink-looking beverage the day after Valentine's day. You'd think they'd do it before, but I believe this is a way of appealing to palates that are tired of all that chocolate. This is cherry and white chocolate with strawberry-flavored candy bits on the top. While I have to admit that the colors are beautiful, this is the sort of thing I'd avoid because I'd expect the fruit flavors to create a strange melange and the white chocolate to make it too sweet. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fujiya Sweets Torte Nama Dorayaki

"Nama" in Japanese means "raw". I'm guessing that the reference in this case relates to the enormous dollop of whipped cream in the center of the dorayaki in the picture as this certainly does not appear to be uncooked in any sense of the word. Dorayaki, for those who don't remember or haven't seen my reviews of such treats, is two pancake-like slabs that sandwich a sweet jam filling. The filling is usually red beans or a mixture of beans and other things like chestnuts, pumpkin, or sweet potato. I favor the chestnut ones, but the red bean ones are fine as well.

I have never had one that came with a whopping pile of whipped cream, but the idea certainly holds appeal. My husband is a sugar hound and I'm a fat fiend. He'll take the heavily frosted things and I want the stuff that's slathered in whipped cream. In fact, I'm pretty sure that gelatin was invented not as a way of using bones from animals, but rather to offer a preferred conveyance for whipped cream. Gelatin as a dessert is so lame that no one would blame you for adding a little something to make it better. I believe this is also the reason people invented "Jell-O shots". Knowing that you are getting intoxicated makes it feel more worthwhile.

Getting back to this candy, I've reviewed a few of the Sweets Torte line before and am very likely to review more in the future. The concept is to recreate a particular confection and offer up both the flavor and texture elements of the food being imitated. It's done using multiple layers of chocolate, jammy fillings and cookies. The possibility that you're going to get something special is pretty good, but there's no guarantee.

The first bite reveals most of the anko (sweet bean paste) notes that you've going to get before the sweet and rather soft chocolate flavor merges in and dominates. The cookie base is slightly crispy, but not as brittle as other versions of this that I've tried have been. The flavors don't reveal themselves in layers so much as in a melange which is mainly overwhelmed by milky bittersweet chocolate. I don't get any sense of the flavor or texture of a dorayaki-style pancake at all. That is where the biggest disappointment comes from. If that is not present in some fashion, then this is just really a mildly adzuki-tinged chocolate.

It's actually pretty tasty, but only if you're looking at this as a chocolate and not as something which is supposed to be unique. I paid around $2 (200 yen) for this small box with five candies about the size of a very large coat button. In terms of value for the experience, it's a very bad buy. So, while I can say I will be more than happy to eat the rest of these, I would not buy it again as it's just not special enough for the price.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Lambertz Dominos Cakes

Yes, I forgot to take a picture before I opened the package....

There are people in my life, exclusively American actually, who are very rigid in their dietary habits. They not only will consume those foods which they are confident they will enjoy, but also stick as closely as possible to specific brands. This level of fussiness is pretty extreme, and is largely demonstrated by older people who I guess have decided to embody the notion of "set in their ways" that we often associate with the elderly.

At any rate, I endeavor to be the opposite of such people and to pick up something new and unknown for the chance of finding something that I may enjoy. This little packet of cakes is the fruit of such efforts. This is a German-made confection that I had never encountered before. I found it on sale at an import market which simply calls itself "Specialty Foods". I've been there before and bought Russian cookies there. It's a cornucopia of selections from Russia, the Ukraine, Italy, Germany, France, and England. I only paid $1.39 (about 140 yen) for this. From online resources, this is rather more expensive.

When I first sampled one of these little cakes, which I believe resembles a petit four, I had no idea what the individual components were made up of. The company's web site is of no help in figuring it out so I had to do some cake dissection to figure it out. By selectively consuming each layer, I figured out that the top layer is very soft marzipan. If my readers recall my fondness for almond paste, they can likely guess how happy that makes me.

The second layer appears to be raspberry jam or some sort of fruit jelly. It's soft and easy to bite into, but not runny so I'm guessing it is some sort of fruit paste that is between a gummy and a jam. The bottom layer appears to be a gingerbread-style cake base. It's a bit coarse and dry, but pairs well with the much moister and softer top two layers.

I liked this quite a bit. The combination of flavors was unique, but had a certain harmony. I especially felt that the chocolate paired well with the fruity jam. That being said, the marzipan layer, when eaten as part of the whole, seemed to vanish into the mix and the cake base seemed mainly to offer a stable platform and textural contrast to the pastes on top rather than bringing much flavor to the whole.

I think this was definitely worth what little I paid for it, and I do enjoy eating them. I think that it suffers a bit from being shelf stable, and it likely was not at its freshest. I do not regret buying it in the least and look forward to eating it little by little. I can't say that I'd buy it again, but it is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility. I'm giving it a "happy sumo", but it's a somewhat reserved one. It is enjoyable, but probably not a repeater.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Nestle Royal Milk Tea Kit Kat big bar (product information)

Picture from Nestle Japan.

Nestle Japan continues their environmentally friendly ways with the recycling of flavors. In my experience, there was never a royal milk tea big bar before, but there was a regular KitKat available in that flavor. And it was good. Though I haven't bought this particular reincarnation of that flavor, I'd wager that it's a very similar experience. That means that, if you're a tea fan, it's likely worth a shot. This is a limited edition that came out several days ago. You can get one from Candy Japan is you have no other options (and, no, they're not giving me free stuff to promote them or paying me - that's purely FYI).

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Random Picture #200

My apologies for this being a random picture of something which is not Japanese, but this was a curiosity that I had to ponder and ask my readers about. The sign on this, if you can't see it, says "NS Indian Bob Snack". I don't know if this is supposed to be a Native American whose name is "Bob" (which would be a somewhat unusual name in such a case) or if "Bob" means something in Korean which I do not know about. I'm also not sure what being "Indian" (or more properly since the headdress makes it clear, Native American) has to do with this salted snack product. They are, apparently, made from corn so that may be the missing link.

The manufacturer's web site for this offers not insights other than this is a snack with somewhat politically incorrect overtones that is good for the whole family. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Haagen-Dazs Sakura and Rose Ice Cream (product announcement)

I've been watching some "documentary" shows as of late. One of my favorite series is BBC period "farm" and lifestyle shows in which some anthropologists find a homestead in England which still resembles the type that was lived in in a bygone era and work the land and home in the fashion of a particular time. So far, I've seen a series on Edwardian and medieval farms and have started another on World War II era living.

One of the things I've learned is the rose flavoring used to be a pretty big deal. Medieval folks ate flowers and others consumed rose hips. During World War II, when it was hard to come by fruit-based sources of Vitamin C, rose hips kept scurvy at bay.

I don't know about the history of eating flowers or flower-flavored items in Japan, but I do know that I was never a fan of "sakura" flavored food and it made an appearance every spring - hand in hand with all of the talk of cherry blossom viewing. I'm sure that Haagen-Dazs Japan has chosen these flavors based on the time of year and that they will appeal to young women mainly. That delicate and ornate font as well as the pretty flowers make it rather unlikely that the average businessman will be chowing down on one of these at his desk during tea time.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Meiji Hore Hore Choco and Marble Choco (from Candy Japan)

Today's review fodder comes your way via Candy Japan, a service which provides two surprise packages of candy each month for a subscription fee of $25 (postage and handling included). They also provide translations and descriptions of the items they send on their site and by e-mail so that those who can't read Japanese can understand the surprises they receive. My previous review of their service is here. Candy Japan sent these items to me gratis.

One of these two items, Meiji's "Marble Choco", is a revisit. I reviewed it as part of a "petit" assortment in the past and without having had recent experience with M&M's. Now that I've lived in the U.S. and had access to M&M's for awhile, I find the Marble Choco a much better experience by comparison. This time around, they seemed to have a much stronger chocolate flavor, seemed appropriately sweet, and all around seemed to have greater flavor depth. It's possible that the "petit" version is different than the full-size tube, but I'm guessing it is me that has changed and not it. Note that the current version comes with one of a current series of stickers stuck inside the tube (free bonus).

The Hore Hore Choco is something I have not only not experienced before, but have never seen. It's a kid's candy which has one of the niftier concepts for these things. Last time I had one of these types of things, it was a sticky mess which didn't taste good at all. This time, the taste experience is mixed and the concept is for the Indiana Jones in all of us.

That's a sour lemon gummy, so it's a fake. Also, they don't come out that clean. Like a good archaeologist, you have to, er, "clean" it to get it to look that glossy. You can't see it, but there are kanji (Chinese characters) imprinted on the gummy.

The concept behind this is a treasure hunt. You "dig" into the soft chocolate with a spoon and excavate "treasure" (lemon or orange gummies - to simulate gold, of course). There are five kinds of treasure (pictured on the back and explained on Candy Japan's site), but if you get a sour one, it's a fake. Also, I'm here to say that, if you get a sour one, you're lucky. The sour gummies are fantastic tasting, especially the lemon one.

The treasure listing on the back of the bag.

Though the gummies are pretty tasty, the chocolate itself is so-so. It's on the sweet side and lacking in depth. It's clearly designed more for the textural qualities to allow you to dig into it with a spoon rather than for its taste. It doesn't taste bad at all, mind you. It's a little like soft fudge which hasn't had quite enough cocoa powder put in it. Kids should love it as should adults who absolutely hate anything resembling dark chocolate, but those with more sophisticated chocolate needs will find it wanting.

As entertainment candy goes, I really got a kick out of the Hore Hore Chocolate. I'm 49 and I'm still a little tickled at the notion of pretending to dig for treasure. I'd suggest the next concept be something to do with pirates. I'm sure they can carve a big "X" into their chocolate to mark the spot. If you have a kid in your life, I can't imagine he or she wouldn't enjoy this. It also would be kind of cool to have these on hand for an Indy Jones movie marathon as party favors.

Both of these deserve a "happy" rating, though it's more provisional for the Hore Hore Choco as you've either got to love the gummies and tolerate the chocolate or you've got to be able to tap into your inner child to find it worthwhile.