Sunday, June 29, 2014

Subway Japan Subman

Image from Subway Japan.

Anthropomorphic mascots are pretty common all over the world. Mr. Peanut was one of the earliest in my recollection. I'm guessing he wasn't created in a time when graphic design and marketing were as sophisticated as they are now. These days, companies have the chance to do surveys and focus groups to test the impact of an image on the market before they unleash it upon the unsuspecting population. For that reason, Subway Japan's mascot surprises me.

I have to say that I am more than a little disturbed at the idea of a bun with abs and pecs. I'm not sure what that's creepier than one with appendages and a face, but it just seems weird that muscles are being carved into bread. Even if one thinks that muscular baked goods are no weirder than those that can smile, the commercial featuring their mascot visiting the sandwich shop he represents reveals that most appalling of behaviors - cannibalism.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

McDonald's Squid and Tomato Italian Risotto Balls (product information)

Image from McDonald's Japan

I have never wanted to put quotes around something as much as the word "Italian" in the title of this post. I'm sure that there is nothing Italian about wrapping risotto infused with either tomato or squid around cheese and deep frying it. This abomination is part of McDonald's way of celebrating one of the world's most popular sports. There is no greater way to tip your hat to feats of athleticism than to eat fried balls of cheese and risotto. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mizuho Arare Handmade Sembei (Wasabi)

Have you ever purchased a blueberry waffle, blueberry muffin mix, or any commercially produced product which is blueberry flavored? If you've done so, there's a very high chance that the product you've consumed contains no blueberries whatsoever. Most "blueberry" is candies that are flavored to taste like the real thing, but actually have little to do with it. That's because real blueberries are expensive, not particularly sweet, and troublesome to handle in their fresh state (as they will mold or go bad rapidly).

Most people don't realize when they're being sold something as something it's not. Even when they learn the truth, if they're satisfied with the taste, they generally don't care. I think the same might be said for the often faked flavor of wasabi. I've read that most wasabi in the United States is colored horseradish. I have no idea if it is fundamentally different in taste, but I'm guessing it may be different in terms of the overall flavor depth and the experience of eating wasabi.

I've said before that wasabi is different from other spicy flavors (that's spicy in terms of being "hot") in that it burns the back of your nasal passages. Intense wasabi will punch you, literally, in the back of your nose. These rice crackers can be a full freaking assault to your entire nasal system. I found that the intensity varies, but if you get a particularly potent one, it will flood your nasal passages from back to front in a flash of painful intensity and hit the back of your throat for good measure. By random chance, if you get one of the less intense ones, it'll just offer a strong, but relatively closer to average hit toward the back.

The nuggets offer a bit more than just the pain that can accompany wasabi. They smell vaguely of soy sauce and have a nice savory undertone that lingers on the middle of your tongue quite awhile after you've recovered from the wasabi attack. The saltiness and overall savory nature is undercut by the presence of sugar. If you've ever made soup and added a little sugar to it (the Japanese often do), you'll note that it'll mellow out any too sharp flavors. Incidentally, sugar is the third ingredient in these after glutinous rice and soy sauce (and before "wasabi powder"). If you're watching your sugar intake, these may not be the best choice.

The texture of these is hard and crunchy. "Arare" sembei is denser, less airy and spongey, and crispier than what is often called "soft" or "fluffy" sembei. I think these are designed to be enjoyed mainly with drinks, particularly alcohol, but anyone who likes wasabi can dive in without potential inebriation to off-set the nasal beating.

I only paid $1.50 for these at Daiso Japan, and I'm torn about whether I'd get them again. I like them quite a lot in terms of the taste and they are made with real wasabi. However, when I hit a powerful piece, it truly is a bombastic experience in my nasal cavities. It reminds me a bit of snorting soda through my nose and not in any way pleasant. I'm not sure if the price I may pay in pain is worth the experience, but I'd probably go for another round of these in the future after I had forgotten that some nuggets are more pain than pleasure.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Changes to My Blogs

I've been blogging regularly and steadily on both of my blogs since each one's inception. Both were created to serve several purposes from the outset. One was to bookmark experiences regarding life in Japan so that I could remember them as well as share my perspective on things both trivial and important with others. Another was to set myself a task such that I would develop my writing skills in different directions by focusing on a particular niche (Japanese snacks) or a particular style (short form for 1000 Things About Japan). Still another was in hopes of generating some income for my writing work. Despite my spotty proof-reading, I do put a lot of time and energy into my blogs.

I have realized two of my three goals. For various reasons, I make nearly nothing from my blogs despite having a pretty decent readership that has continued to grow at a slow pace. This is disappointing, but not the primary reason for the changes that are to come.

For some time, I've been writing a book. It's well over 100 pages now, but I keep having problems finishing it. The primary reason for this is that I tell myself each week that I'll do my eight blog posts (five for Japanese Snack Reviews and three for 1000 Things About Japan) and then I'll work on my book. All of my energy and time is taken by the blogs such that there is not enough left for the book and I have decided that has to change.

I've always been the sort of person who believes in structure and discipline. One of the reasons that my posting is regular is that I think that you have to set a goal and stick with it in order to make sure you achieve it. On 1000 Things About Japan, I met that goal awhile back when I hit 500 "Won't Miss" and 500 "Will Miss" posts, but I kept going and added in other content. On this blog, my goal was the number and type of posts and I've steadily stuck with each of my goals for a long time. It is time for my goals to change to getting the books I want to write finished instead of writing a certain number of blog posts each week for each blog.

In terms of what this means, I'll say first what it does not mean. It does not mean these blogs are ending or dying. I will continue to post, but I will be posting like most other bloggers do from now on. That is, these blogs will be second or third in my writing priorities rather than occupy first place as they have for so long. I will blog essentially when I feel like it rather than according to a self-imposed rigorous schedule.

For my kind and faithful readers, this means you'll have to track changes in some way rather than know when something new will be here. I recommend using an RSS reader (like Feedly) as it will automatically notify you of new content when it arrives, but you could simply pop in occasionally to see if anything has been posted. My best guess is that you'll see at least one post per week, but I can't say now as I haven't yet embarked on this new path.

As a postscript, I have to also say that this sort of change was inevitable since I knew at some point that I'd have to start leaving my connection to Japan behind and focus on making new and different ones. That connection will always be there as I spent so much of my adult life there, but it will fade. I love to write, so I will continue to do so, but it will likely branch into other areas rather than be monopolized by all things Japan. I hope you'll stick with me and read when I have something to say. I appreciate all of the kindness and support I've been shown over the years and look forward to continuing to offer something to those who enjoy my writing, albeit on a less frequent basis.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Haitai Choco Flavor Homerun Ball

I'm not a person with a plethora of bad habits. In fact, I'd say that I have far fewer of them than the average person. I don't procrastinate. I don't smoke or drink alcohol. I maintain good sleep hygiene habits. I don't watch much T.V. nor engage in any activity to excess. I do appear to have one habit which I might want to consider breaking. That habit is making decisions about food based on how amusing I find the names of the products to be.

I picked this snack up at a Korean market because the idea that it was named after baseball struck me as funny. Now that I have tried them, nothing about them is the least bit entertaining. I'm not even sure now why I found the name amusing, but I guess it's because it seemed weird for a Korean snack to be named after something related to baseball.

Incidentally, if you look at the picture, you will note that their is a graphic of a gold emblem in the upper right which says "premium". Now that I think of it, that is the most hilarious part of this. The product contained inside is about as far removed from being "premium" as I believe a treat can get.

The picture on the outside shows you what looks a little like a chou ball filled with chocolate cream. The little balls of dough contained therein are reminiscent of a choux pastry. They are airy and actually taste similar to those French delights. The point at which they diverge is the texture. If you bought a choux and left it sit in a closet for 6 weeks or until it reached a desiccated state more akin to Styofoam packing peanuts then injected it with a bit of chocolate, you'd have these. In fact, the major failing of these, and it is an incredibly enormous one, is that the balls are so dry and the texture is spongey and lacking in all delicacy.

It could be that there is some truth is advertising involved in this product. I've never chewed on a homerun ball and these might actually have verisimilitude with a baseball if you tried to eat one. I can't imagine it could be a whole lot worse than one of these.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pizza La Avocado Series (product information)

Image from Pizza La's web site.

I really like avocado, but I'm not one of those people who is trying to figure out new ways to incorporate it into my diet. I've seen recipes for chocolate pudding, cake, and, of course, the ever popular egg baked in half an avocado. It's not that I'm a purist, but I just think some flavors aren't meant to be combined with avocado. I wouldn't put chocolate syrup on one. I wouldn't sprinkle it with sugar. That's why I wouldn't put it in pudding or cake, though I'm sure that it "works" on some level and many people enjoy those things.

I have never thought about putting avocado on pizza, but the truth is that I think it's a flavor that would likely work. The creamy texture would also bring something to the table. The only part that I have doubts about is whether or not it'd be okay hot and wouldn't turn to mush if cooked. I think Pizza La has actually hit upon an interesting idea, though I'm not sure if the full execution is one I'd embrace. The pizza on the left is avocado and cream cheese. The one on the right is crab and avocado. I never really cared much for Pizza La's pizza (the tomato sauce had a funny taste in my opinion), but I find these toppings interesting and may have been persuaded to try them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Random Picture #218

It's becoming clear that cranberry is now a thing in Japan. I've been seeing more items containing cranberries including some chocolate-covered ones. I've done a bit of research and this sort of spread of cranberries isn't truly new to Japan, but it's definitely seeing a surge right now which I either didn't experience or notice during my 23 years in Japan. Since I love cranberries, and found them in short supply while I was in Tokyo, I hope I would have noticed if suddenly cookies and candies featuring them started popping up all over the place at the same time. However, I'm not so arrogant about my perceptual skills as to say it didn't fly right by me.

These "all cranberry" cookies are the latest in the long line of fruits that Tohato has dried out and sandwiched between two biscuits in their rip-off of Garibaldi biscuits. I've not been entirely impressed by the "all fruit" line in the past so I gave it a miss. I may be persuaded otherwise in the future, but I have more than enough snack review fodder lying around and don't need to toss another pack on the pile. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tirol Cafe de Brasil Chocolates (product information)

The whole World Cup thing is a bandwagon that I am not jumping on. That being said, it's one which people around me seem to be hauling themselves onto. People who have shown no interest whatsoever in soccer are suddenly watching it. I was sitting outside a cafe in Palo Alto several days ago and a bar across the street was emanating yells about goals and I assume missed goals. I may not be interested in it, but I can't avoid it.

Even in Tirol's news, I can't avoid seeing soccer-related things. They're offering a coffee chocolate in a special soccer-themed box (which you can dump all of the chocolates out of and use two candies to play a game with, or so they make it seem with the above photo). The candy uses authentic Brazilian coffee beans (roasted). You can buy these for 32 yen (about 30 cents) at Circle K/Sunkus for the time being, though I don't know how you're supposed to get one of the boxes without buying up a ton of the candies (or if you can have the box at all).

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fujiya Country Ma'am Double Chocolate Crispy Cookies

There was often a confusion in Japan about the difference between "ma'am" and "mom". In terms of how they get translated from English to Japanese, the sounds are very likely indistinguishable. That's my way of saying that I don't know if this brand name is meant to bring to mind an old-fashioned mother in an apron making fresh baked cookies for her brood or if it's meant to elicit a gentile woman who lives in the country and serves her guests, for who she is the quintessential hostess, an array of fine sweets at tea time. Of course, it doesn't matter, but part of what I think about is branding and who it is meant to appeal to. The names of successful products are important and savvy companies know it.

The Country Ma'am line has expanded since its early days of being the soft cookie that you put in the microwave for a fresh-baked experience. Part of that expansion is the "crispy" line. Part of it at present is also a summer offering of cookies that are supposed to be put in the freezer. Whatever your temperature wishes, Country Ma'am appears to have you covered - hot, cold, or room temperature. The crispy line is for those who don't want to fuss with major appliances. I tried one in the microwave and it didn't do anything for it and I'm pretty sure that freezing wouldn't do much for it either.

I picked this up for $1.50 at Daiso Japan. Each bag contains 6 cookies at 46 calories per tiny cookie. One of the things that tends to put me off of the Country Ma'am line is that they are so fatty and rich for such a small morsel. In terms of the calories, they are the Oreo of the Japanese cookie world. I tend to prefer to spend my calories on a meringue cookie or a rice cracker (sembei) instead of two small bites of cookie. This consideration may not matter to most people, but it matters to me.

The point of the crispy cookies is rather obviously to offer a cookie which is crunchy. These do deliver on that front. They are tiny little crispy cookies (a little bigger than a quarter or 100-yen coin) with a deeply rich chocolate flavor. In fact, the flavor is reminiscent of a brownie. They are very similar to something that I recently tried here in the U.S. called "brownie brittle." The main difference is that the brittle is super crispy and these are between a regular cookie and that brittle in texture.

The call on this is hard to make. These are good little cookies with a nice texture, but given the small size, I'd rather blow 50 calories on a slab of brownie brittle (which will give me far more time with the texture and flavor for the same calorie footprint). However, not everyone can get brownie brittle and the comparison isn't quite fair. If I was in Japan and I wanted to have a shelf-stable bite with a nice chocolate punch, I'd buy these. Here in the U.S., with other options, I can't see choosing this again. So, I'm rating this as "indifferent", but that's only because I have other choices which are cheaper, more flavorful, and a better calorie to enjoyment ratio. If I were still in Japan, these would probably get a "happy" rating.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A-sha Hakka Flat Noodle-Vegetarian Spicy

One of the things people mentioned to me again and again when I said I was heading back to the U.S. after 23 years in Japan was that I was very likely looking forward to the food, and I was. After getting back, however, I found that the food was not as I expected. It's not particularly bad, but it's also not as good as I recall. Because of this, I've found my eating habits have seriously changed compared to my pre-Japan diet. For that matter, they've changed compared to what I tended to eat in Japan.

The biggest change for me has been that I seem to have lost my taste for meat almost entirely. It's not like I was carving up a cow or tucking into pork on a regular basis in Japan. I mainly ate chicken-based dishes because I don't care for beef at all and, while I'm okay with pork, I don't crave it and it's expensive. The truth is that most days I'm eating homemade vegetarian food because it's what I feel like eating. It helps that I've discovered the processed joys of soy chorizo and the less processed joys of smoked paprika. Vegetarian paella is now my favorite food with black bean stew being a close second. Yes, I know, it's so boring, but I do have to offset the snacks I eat somehow.

I've never been an enormous noodle eater, but since I've been expanding my repertoire, I was happy to sample these "snack noodles" when a representative at Taiwanese company called A-sha contacted me and said, "Hey, do you want some free food for review?" Yes, yes, I do.

I wasn't sure what I was in for when I got the box with two types of noodles because the packages have little in the way of English information. Mind you, they have nutrition information in English, but no description of the noodles or soup. It's no matter really as their web site came to the rescue. I was delighted when I found out that the type I'm reviewing today is spicy ("not for the faint of heart") and vegetarian. This greatly increased my enthusiasm. However, I don't want to mislead anyone. I'm not a vegetarian. I've just lost my desire for meat (maybe it's because I'm getting older). Don't think I've gone and gotten all ethical or anything!

Since I can't read Chinese at all (I assume it's Chinese writing though these are made in Taiwan), I had to guess at the instructions based on the pictures, but this is not a complex process. I've made noodles before and the illustration of a pot with heat lines coming off of it clued me in on the fact that you probably are supposed to boil them like every other noodle on the planet. I am one sharp cookie, after all.

Note that these are "dried", not fried. Most of the ramen that you could buy in similar packages in Tokyo was fried and not particularly healthy. The stats on these nutritionally are actually pretty decent. One packet is 290 calories and has 10.7 grams of protein (22% of RDA according to the package). The total fat is only 1.8 grams (3% of RDA). Of course, with any packaged noodles, the place where you get socked nutritionally is the sodium and these have 1338 grams or 56% of the RDA.

Okay, so I know I'm closer to being on Reddit's terrible food porn site than on Tastespotting, but I'm sure you'll live with it. I'm a writer, not a food pornographer.

I'm not prone to eating large amounts of anything at once, so I planned to only eat half of the package at a time and I paired it with a boiled egg and green onions. That has no impact on how I feel about the taste of them, but it does balance them a bit better as a meal. People who are younger than me and don't have a body that is approaching it's million mile check-up can just gobble down the whole thing without my old person's (I turn 50 this year) concerns.

I believe the instructions are telling you that you can boil the noodles for varying lengths of time depending on how soft you like them (1-5 minutes). I'm a person of pedestrian tastes so I boiled them for 5 minutes. Foodies who believe everything should be al dente would turn their noses up at my food preparation. That being said, the noodles were not flabby or overdone even after the longest boiling time. They held their structure and were pleasantly chewy. The sauce smelled really good with the aroma of chili and sesame oil.

The sauce is where most of the flavor is going to come from, obviously, and this was hot and spicy with some nice depth. My concern was that it would be overly salty, but it was not. It was very balanced and had a complexity which merged into a unified flavor that had heft when it sat on the front or middle of the tongue. It also had heat and burned my lips and the front of my mouth, but it wasn't more than I could bear. Keep in mind that I can bear a fair bit of spice, but I'm not looking to challenge the Scoville scale or anything - I'm not downing raw habaneros or anything. However, these are Asian chili flavors, so like Mexican chili, there will be a build up over time. I was happy for the bland boiled egg addition and to have a soda on the side to give my mouth a rest. I also chased it down with some gelatin dessert to cool my mouth further so this is definitely not for chili wusses.

I really liked this. In fact, I liked it far more than I would have expected. The texture and quality of the noodles was far nicer than I experience with regular pasta and I'd buy the sauce in a bottle and put it on other things if I could get it outside of the little packets. As it is, I'm truly delighted to have had this and would definitely buy it again. It also seems to be healthier than most packaged meal options and not particularly expensive. A-sha is offering a box of 5 packages for $6.99, which makes it more expensive than college-student ramen, but cheaper than a lot of prepared foods. I'd take this with a boiled egg as a meal over any frozen dinner option both economically and taste-wise.

If you'd like to follow A-sha online, you can do so via the following outlets:
Twitter: @ashadrynoodle
Instagram: #ashadrynoodle

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pizza Hut and Morinaga Milk Caramel Pizza (product announcement)

The Japanese have to show that they can take anything America does and do it better. They've finally turned their attention toward the excess which is "dessert pizza". Given the enormous task involved in taking something as sacred as putting sugary delights on pizza dough, Pizza Hut decided to combine its research forces with that at Morinaga, a company known well for it's caramel delights.

As you can see by the ad, the pizza costs 800 yen (about $8) and is topped with "colorful marshmallows", almonds, and caramel sauce. It is 25 cm. (about 10 in.) in size. This monstrosity became available on June 10 and will be making new cavities for a limited time. You can have it delivered to you, but only if you buy at least 1400 yen worth of food at the same time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Random Picture #217

Excuse my flash, and you can click on this image to see a bigger one.

Many a man would like society to put up something called a "beer signal". It would have lights telling you "drink", "don't drink", and "prepare to drink." This peculiarly named place has a "Spanish Belgian" concept behind it. They serve tapas, but they offer Belgian food and beer. So, the only Spanish part is that they do small portions to be enjoyed with imported booze. I'm not sure how that is different from Japanese otsumami (which is snacks served with alcohol), but mine is not to question. Mine is to make fun of their sign's English...

The oddest part of this sign is not the name of the place (though it is peculiar), but the first grouping of food - the "fling pan lunch". I'm sure that this relates to some sort of cooking style in Belgium, but a casual search didn't yield anything that makes sense to me and I'm not interested enough to go too deeply. Besides, the truth can't be nearly as amusing as thinking that pans are actually being flung around the kitchen in some sort of violent avant garde cooking process, so I'll stay with remaining ignorant. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Glico Kaneeza and Ebeeza Crackers (product information)

Images are from Glico.

Some names of products and places sound like they should be the names of something else. This is something which Dave Barry pioneered when he wrote so often about something or other "being a good name for a rock band." However, my husband and I take this more than a step beyond Mr. Barry's convention. We hear a new name and say it would be a good name for, well, whatever category it sounds like it fits in.

The names of these new crackers from Glico, which are named in accord with the "Cheeza" line, bring a certain type of naming to mind... at least to me. When I heard these names, the thing I thought of is that these would make great names for a couple of alien planets in Star Trek. That would be "The Next Generation", not the original series - I'm sure you were thinking the same thing.

Kaneeza (which also reminds one of a contorted sneeze) are crab crackers. Ebeeza (which really sounds like a city in Egypt) are shrimp crackers. If I run across these, I won't touch the shrimp version as I'm a shrimp hater of long-standing and I wouldn't want to endanger my status. I may give the crab version a shot because I used to like crab cakes and I'm guessing these crackers have about as much real crab in them as the average crab cake. That is to say, not very much - Glico says they're 3% crab whereas the Ebeeza ones are 30% shrimp.

These are what are called otsumami in Japan, or snacks to be consumed with alcoholic beverages. I'm guessing that the amount of real crustacean in their cracker will not be among the highest of priorities.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tohato Pai Cro Butter Sugar

I've been seeing Pai Cro at Japanese markets for some time, but I was unwilling to fork over the cash they were charging to give them a try. Much to my surprise, I found this bag at Daiso Japan for a mere $1.50. In fact, it seems that Daiso is upping its food game as of late. They've added in more name brand snacks and diversified their line of chocolates to include more varieties. Of course, I haven't been super impressed by their chocolate so far, but hope springs eternal and the price is right (almost all of the products at Daiso are $1.50).

I snapped up the Pai Cro as well as Country Ma'am cookies (another new item) last time that I was at Daiso. I also got a shoehorn, because they have these super long ones that allow lazy people to more easily put their shoes on without bending down much, but this isn't a review of cheap items blog. That being said, at one point, I considered starting a new blog dedicated to 100-yen-shop finds. When I left Japan, the idea died. It could be revived now that I'm living close to a Daiso. The main impediment is my limited need for plastic junk. It's hard to keep buying stuff you don't need just to be sure that you have something to write about. Also, I'm writing eight posts a week already. What do you people think I am, a machine? ;-)

When we made our way to the cashier, an extremely enthusiastic and gregarious young woman, she told us that everyone in the shop was super excited when the Pai Cro was re-stocked as everyone loves it. This increased my interest in what this was going to taste like. However, my tastes don't necessarily match those of peppy women in their early 20's. After all, they like their men muscular with all of their chest hair waxed off and I like my men on the hairy and meaty side. I can't necessarily conclude that our tastes in other areas will overlap when they don't in this crucial area.

There were two flavors of Pai Cro - butter sugar and apple something or other (custard? caramel?). Since I don't remember the apple one, you may guess correctly that I opted for "butter sugar". Also, the title of this post is a tip-off about which variety is getting reviewed. Attentive readers may have noted that already. Inattentive ones have just looked at the pictures in the post and skipped to the rating anyway and aren't even reading all of this blathering.

Getting to the Pai Cro, as soon as you open the bag, you smell margarine and bread crumbs. Though there is some butter in this, it's pretty far down on the ingredients list. There is a lot of oil though - three vegetable oils (palm, coconut, and rice), butter, and "butter oil". I'm pretty sure the crispness of these comes from their being fried like a potato chip. These are pretty caloric as the nutrition information for 2.47 oz./70 grams says one bag is 2.3 servings at 151 calories per serving.

These are super crispy and light. They have a real sense of being like a sweet buttered crouton, but they're finer than that in texture and much less tough to chew. They shatter apart rather appealingly, but there is definitely a strong flavor of "bread" to them. The bread flavor is not good quality bread, but rather like the crust on common white bread that has been toasted. It really does not bring a croissant to mind, at least not to my taste buds.

This is a very "junky" snack which has both qualities of being appealing (crispy, sweet, buttery), but also tastes "cheap" (tasting like cheap bread and margarine/oil). This is a blog about junk food, however, so it is to be expected that such things would come up from time to time. This is tasty junk, but I think those who are used to eating a lot of processed food (and I'm not, despite my blogging about Japanese snacks) will find this more appealing than I did. I will slowly finish the bag, and I'm interested enough to try another flavor, but I wouldn't buy this one again.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Kuchidoke Happy Turn Rice Crackers

I've been told that "Happy Turn" is a brand that many folks in Japan find familiar and comforting. The happy sembei (rice cracker) on the cover gives them the same sort of warm and fuzzy feeling that an American might get from Tony the Tiger. I'm sure he doesn't yell as loudly or often about how "grrrrrreat" things are, but I think one can do without the bellicose nature of some mascots.

Besides the familiar anthropomorphic rice cracker, I noted the color scheme of the bag. It is most elegant in its largely white design. I'm not sure what inspired it, but this is not a winter release since it is still listed on Kameda Seika's web site as an available product. I expected this to be white chocolate because of that, though there was no indication of that on the bag. That's probably because I've had white chocolate sembei before, and loved it. It was likely wishful thinking. Perhaps these are appropriate for weddings? At any rate, it caught my eye and then it grabbed my wallet.

"Kuchidoke" means "melt in your mouth" so, I was expecting something that was more in line with the kinako or cheese "mochi" sembei that I've had in the past. Those balls of spun fat and rice literally melted in your mouth. When I opened the bag and saw the same old planks of sembei that I have always seen from Happy Turn, I was disappointed, but I remained hopeful that there was going to be some magical quality to these which differentiated them from regular Happy Turn.

As it turned out, there was no magic at all. Don't misunderstand me. These are good sembei, albeit quite vinegary ones. It didn't seem particularly "melt in your mouth" compared to regular Happy Turn. Okay, maybe it was a little bit softer and less crisp, but it was nothing like the "fluffy" sembei I'd had before which literally melted like shelf-stable ice cream in my mouth. These were fresh, somewhat crispy, and rather super-charged in their flavor (like the Happy Turn 200% version, but perhaps not quite as dusty).

This is a very savory rice cracker and a well-made one at that, but it really doesn't deliver much in the way of textural variation. If you like strong, vinegary flavors, then this is going to be a pleasure, but don't expect them to melt away in your mouth or to be a very different experience from conventional Happy Turn sembei.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Doutor Acerola Cranberry Yogurt Drink (product announcement)

Image from Doutor.

Starting today, Doutor coffee shop (maker of pretty nice sandwiches and less great coffee) will be offering a yogurt drink designed to appeal to those who go to coffee shops with the idea of improving digestion. the big selling point is that it includes Morinaga's plain bifidus yogurt. Acerola is supposed to be good at preventing certain types of cancer and is rich in Vitamin C. I'm guessing cranberry is there for the flavor mainly, but I have noticed that cranberry seems to be an up and coming flavor in Japanese snack and fast food.

Personally, I've never gone in for smoothie types of drinks. I'm sure they're packed with goodies, but they're also stripped of a lot of the beneficial things and have more sugar than eating fruit and yogurt by themselves. If you want breakfast on the go, this does appear to be a pretty interesting choice. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Random Picture #216

For those who don't know my particular regional supermarket options, I'd like to start out by saying that Safeway is a chain of markets that is common in California. It may be available in other areas, but I know it is not on the East Coast as my sister (who lives in Pennsylvania) had never heard of it before I moved to California. It's like Giant Eagle or Kroger's in the East, or Seiyu in Japan. That's my way of saying it's a pretty boring all-purpose market at which you don't expect to find anything especially exotic.

All of that being said, it seems even boring markets in my area carry bontan ame and Pocky. At first, I was really impressed by them, but now I see these items so much that I don't even notice. That being said, a new Safeway opened recently in the Cupertino area and I was shocked to find this Japanese "purin" (pudding) container for sale there. This particular branch also carries bakery items from the Sogo bakery and I'm guessing their range is broader because the area hosts a lot more residents of Asian descent. The lesson for me is to not take for granted that a chain store is a chain store is a chain store. You never know what surprises might be lurking. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Haagen Daz Lemon Ginger Float Sorbet (product announcement)

Haagen Dazs Japan gave fans of their frozen desserts a chance to sample this product before its official release on July 7. On June 2, Nissin market sold a lemon ginger float flavor before the rest of Japan could get their tongues wrapped around it. It's an interesting thing to do because the flavor is definitely going to be widely released so this isn't test marketing. It's more about making something exclusively available via a particular vendor for a limited time. It's not quite the same as limited edition Oreos only being sold at Walmart (as often seems to be the case), but it's one standard deviation away from that.

This is definitely one of the more promising unique flavor combinations that Haagen Daz has come up with. The only thing about it which could be the case is that it has a little bit of an "I have a cold and this is the flavor of tea that would probably make me feel better" vibe about it. If there was some honey in the mix, it'd definitely be a (much tastier) substitute for cough syrup. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Riska Shittori Kinako Snack

When I was teaching enormous numbers of business students (via telephone - about 300 per busy season), they often talked about building brand name loyalty with their customers. These were companies like Toyota, Sumitomo, Brother, and Nippon Denso. In their cases, loyalty meant some pretty big bucks as they didn't sell tiny things.

The way in which they cultivated this greatly valued loyalty was to lavish attention on customers who worked at the upper management levels. They sent out the same salesman and he'd sweet talk the client. After years of working together, it was that much harder for the customer to move along to a cheaper vendor. Snack companies don't have the luxury of taking it to the customer on that level - both because they have too many of them and their products are so low margin.

So, how does a snack company build brand allegiance? It's something that I pondered because I tried this Riska product, loved it, and then realized the brand makes a good number of economical and tasty snacks, but no one pays much attention to them. If I look back through my blog at all of the Riska products I've reviewed, I liked every one of them and two of them, Corn Potage and Heart Chipple, are in the pantheon of my all time favorite salty snacks.

I'm wondering what it is that Riska isn't doing to build brand loyalty. In my opinion, they have the goods, but they don't have the profile. Someone at Riska should get on that. And, they should also try to export more of their products to the U.S.

This snack is a kinako (toasted soy flour) version of the more common chocolate variety. Like the chocolate version, this has a somewhat puffy, but crisp corn base. You can see from the picture that they're rather airy. Think about the inside of a corn-puff snack with bigger air holes (like an expanded and less crispy Cheeto). "Shittori" means "moist" and the crispy nature of these corn puffs seems to be softened a bit by the white-chocolate based coating. The coating is flavored with kinako, so it has a bit of the nutty soy flavor that one associates with toasted soy powder. It's sweet, but far from cloying and the kinako flavor pairs very well with the muted, earthy corn flavors. It's a much better match than the chocolate in the original version.

A whole bag of these is 80 grams/2.8 oz. I paid $1.58 (161 yen) at Marukai Japanese market (a veritable bargain for a Japanese import). It's a lot of snack for the price and the whole bag is 446 calories. However, it's supposed to be three servings so it's only lethal if you pig out. Tempting as that may be, I've found that you enjoy them more if you put some limits in place as the acclimation to the taste will limit your enjoyment over time.

I loved these, but I also love kinako. I would definitely buy these again and I hope that Riska ups its brand profile and gets into more markets. Even in Japan, I tended not to see them everywhere and it's even harder to find them here in the U.S. If you can find them, I'd recommend giving them a try.