Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Glico Cafe Au Lait Collon

My brain works super fast. In fact, it makes lightning leaps over stepping stones that often see me starting in one place and ending up in a completely different one such that I can greatly confuse my husband with my leaps from one topic to another. This cafe au lait collon set off just such a sequence of thoughts. I will ask you to bear with me as I insanely hopscotch from point to point.

First, there is the obvious wordplay joke about "Collon" and "colon" that makes all of us foreign folks snicker like the juveniles that we are inside every time we see "Collon" for sale in a Japanese store. That made me think about coffee being used in colonics and how silly that seemed. Then it made me think about food stuffs being used for colonics which brought on a recollection of something that I read in the book Awakenings. That book, for those who don't know it, was made into a movie of the same name starring Robin Williams. 

In the book, there is mention of one of the comatose patients, a very overweight woman whose head had gone completely bald during her prolonged state of unconsciousness making certain demands upon her awakening. She wanted a quart of chocolate ice cream and an olive oil enema. I remember wondering why on earth anyone would want any sort of enema, let alone one with olive oil. 

At any rate, every time I think of the book or movie Awakenings, I remember one of my first experiences in Japan with movie titles that were different there than they were with America. I went to Japan in spring of 1989 and taught at Nova for two years. The movie was released in 1990 and I remember talking about the movie with student's in the conversation lounge ("Voice") that Nova offered. It was impossible for the students to understand the title as I said it, but I learned that the reason was not an issue with the vocabulary, but the fact that the Japanese title was "Leonard no Asa" or "Leonard's Morning".

So, you can see that this product brought about a lot of links in a chain which set me off on the idea of coffee enemas and ended in Japan. You can see where my husband's confusion is based after that sort of jumping about. Add the fact that this all happens in about three seconds (seriously), and you can see that I'm off like a shot and headed in a strange and unknown direction. I guess I'm lucky that he hasn't had me institutionalized yet (which brings me right back to Awakenings as that is set in an institution).

Getting to the matter at hand - which is neither institutions nor colonic irrigation - I found these at an Asian market for $1.19 for an itty bitty box. I'm pretty sure that they had broken up and were selling a pack that was not meant for individual sale, but I wasn't interested in six or eight of these so I wasn't going to turn them in to whatever retail authority is responsible for prosecuting such infractions.

For those who don't know Collon, it's a delicate crispy shell which is layered and flaky filled with a sweet, dense, cream-like filling that is reminiscent of that which is sandwiched between sugar wafers. The textural contrast is a delight, but they are often far too sweet. This one carries an extremely mild coffee flavor as well as little coffee particles in the cream (those are the black spots that you see in the picture). It's tasty and the filling is nice and fatty, but it's just a little too sweet. There is no calorie information on my box, but Collon generally packs a wallop for each small morsel. It's the sort of thing which you have to exercise restraint with, so getting one small box isn't a bad idea.

I like this quite a lot. I think the coffee added some depth to the flavor and off-set the sometimes one-note sense of the sweet filling. I don't think these are better than the basic Collon, but they certainly are just as good and just tad more interesting.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

KitKat "Starter Kit" (promotional information)

Nestle Japan started a KitKat cafe some time ago at which you can get your chocolate and wafer fix. They're looking to expand the menu with a little help from their friends. It would actually be more accurate to say they're hoping to do it with help from their customers who run restaurants or cafes. The whole baked KitKat business is one that they're investing more in as time goes by and they want to see recipes featured on menus and are willing to reward people with a starter kit if they fulfill certain criteria. Among those are providing links to their establishment's web site and posting the recipe on Facebook for Nestle to inspect. They'll send qualifying businesses a KitKat toaster oven and some KitKats to work with (as shown in the picture above).

This is a very interesting promotional choice. My guess is that this is to spread the possibilities one can explore with the idea of baked candy... well, besides setting your kitchen on fire or charring sugar until it sets your smoke alarm off. ;-)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A-sha Prince Katsu Snack Noodles

A long time ago, in an island nation not too terribly far away by galactic standards, I sampled a ramen snack. That snack tasted a lot like regular ramen, only without all of the messy watery part and the need to actually cook. One of the things which I actually am not a fan of is noodles in watery broth and I only had a noodle dish in a restaurant in Japan once, and that wasn't even Japanese, it was Vietnamese. I got a pho-based set there because it came with a ton of other stuff and was super cheap. While I'm sure it was good pho, I wasn't terribly drawn in. So, despite my general apathy toward ramen, I was curious to try this snack.

Previously, I reviewed A-sha's delicious spicy vegetarian noodles which were sent to me gratis from A-sha. After I posted the review, I discovered that I had been sent the wrong product. What they really wanted me to review was today's item as it is, after all, a snack product rather than a "food" product. This was all the better for me, of course, as it meant more free stuff for me. This snack is currently on sale for $3.49 on A-sha's site and it is a freaking enormous bag of individual packets of ramen snack. There are twenty packets per bag and each has 70 calories worth of carbohydrate and sodium.

The small size is nice because this is the sort of thing you don't want too much of at once. It's salty, but not over-bearing, and mainly carries the flavor of chicken with a back note of subtle garlic. The flavor depth is made up mainly of those three notes, but that's two notes more than a lot of salted snacks give you, particularly ramen-based ones.

Since I'm not an enormous fan of ramen, it's hard for me to settle on a rating for these. If I loved ramen, I think I'd be all over this to get a fix without the mess or time involved. Since I'm not, I feel like it's a pleasant enough experience, but not one that I'd actively seek out again. So, I think someone other than me would be really happy with these. They'd go especially well as a little salty bite with a drink. However, me being me, I don't think I'd get them again, but I am happy for having had a chance to try them.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kanro Penguin Candy (product information)

Kanro is selling a hard candy which is supposed to appeal to people who are starting to droop that they can pep up a bit by having their candy. Apparently, one is supposed to identify with the image of the penguin as illustrated. Usually, companies choose to show an aspirational image - what you want to look like - rather than what you already look like. This seems like it would have been a better choice than this somewhat sleep, unhappy, and indifferent penguin.

The candy is available at 7-11 and, while Kanro doesn't provide flavor information, you can see four colors on the front of the package that will give you a bit of a clue, though I'd wager on green being melon or apple rather than lime. Personally, I think having this in my desk drawer would tend to make me feel sleepy and depressed rather than make me think this was the place for a sugary pick-me-up. To each their own though. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Burger King Garlic Meat Beast and Garlic Quatro Cheese (product information)

Click this image to load a bigger one.

Sometimes, I'd see a funky shirt in Japan and I'd think the person who wrote the Engrish on it just had to know that it was on the pervy side. Can someone name anything "meat beast" and not know what it sounds like? I don't like burgers and I don't eat fast food, but I'd have my husband buy this burger and try it (as he likes both garlic and meat) for no other reason than its name. I guess that makes this pretty good marketing whether they are aware of the connotations the English carries or not.

The beast has a chicken patty in addition to the beef and the quattro cheese has beef, a hash brown patty and four types of cheese - colby jack, two kinds of cheese sauce, and cheddar. All in all, they sound pretty decadent. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sanko Seika Yuzu Koshoo Sembei

There's an episode of the Simpsons in which Ralph Wiggum says, "Sleep, that's where I'm a Viking!" In this spirit, Sanko Seika would like you to consider yourself a samurai at sembei (rice crackers). Both of these notions inflame my inner cynic. We seem to be gravitating toward a world that both rewards people for trying (but not necessarily succeeding) at difficult tasks and allows them to have a lofty sense of achievement for succeeding at extremely easy and mundane tasks like eating and sleeping.

If one could be a samurai at eating sembei and if samurai could be women (they can't), then I might actually qualify, though probably not by eating these crackers. For those who don't know or remember, yuzu is Japanese citron. It is tangy like lemon and sometimes slightly bitter like grapefruit. The flavor is fuller-bodied and less mouth-puckeringly sour than lemon and mixes very well with savory, chili flavors (though it works in sweets as well). These crackers are the Japanese equivalent of "lemon pepper", but they don't exactly taste the same as that flavor combo.

Yuzu koshoo is my favorite savory flavor combination for salty snacks. It's unique but approachable for Western palates. For this reason, I was very excited to see this in Marukai supermarket, especially for the very reasonable price of $2.20. That being said, this contains four individual serving packets (around 70 calories each, so not a lot in each one). It's a decent value for an import, but nothing like the volume most Americans are used to getting for their buck when they approach snack treats.

These are what the Japanese often translate as "hard" sembei. They are thin and brittle instead of puffy and airy. I prefer the puffy style, but these are okay as well. I always find the hard sembei to be a bit tough as rice doesn't seem to fry up in the same manner as potatoes. The shellac-like outer coating can also be a bit sticky or tacky to the touch, though these did not have that quality.

The first bite yielded the nice, zesty flavor of yuzu followed by a strong hit of the cooked rice flavor that I've come to know in all forms of sembei. I waited for the peppery chili flavors to hit, and then I waited some more. I thought that there may need to be a build-up of heat and flavor to find the "koshoo" part, but it never came along. The yuzu flavor was nice and quite present, but the pepper was missing in action.

This is the kind of food that I find it difficult to rate. While these are perfectly serviceable and even reasonably tasty, they are far from the best of this type of sembei I've had. The lack of a "bite" from the pepper in a product that is sold as having that flavor is disappointing. While I was perfectly happy to finish the bag and didn't regret buying these, I don't see myself having them again.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Random Picture #219

I used to get irritated when I was in Japan and the Japanese perception of American food and culture was limited to hamburgers, steak, fries, and bread. It was as if they couldn't accept that Americans ate a broader range of foods than those available on the McDonald's menu.

Now, I get to turn my irritation toward Americans who think that Japanese food is focused on daily consumption of green tea, sushi, and, apparently, Pocky. In Japanese markets, which tend to cater mainly to Japanese folks, but also want to attract other people interested in all things Japanese as well, I've found that there is an over-abundance of certain types o things and green tea is definitely one of them. The display above was at Marukai market (last week) and shows a heavy concentration of snacks made with green tea. I realize that this is seasonal (and I showed a picture of a strawberry snacks display before), but I've also found that other flavors are rather slim pickings.

It's nice to know that stereotypical and simplified notions of other cultures are one of the things which most cultures will always share. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

CandyGerman and Koala Milch Cookies

Several Asian snack concerns that offer monthly or bi-monthly boxes or snack surprise packages have contacted me and I've reviewed those services. Recently, I was contacted by a similar service coming out of Germany. Since I've expanded the scope of this blog to include the occasional focus on other countries and their junk food, I was delighted when they offered to send me a (free) sample box so that I could get an idea of their service as well as enjoy what I was sure would be German snack treat delights.

If your notions of German treats comes from The Simpsons, in which we've seen (German exchange student) Uder eating "marzipan Joy Joy (mit Iodine)", then you've got the wrong idea. Think chocolate, gummy, caramel, and sugary delights. There was no marzipan in the box (though I would have been delighted if there had been), and, most fortunately, nothing which was fortified with Iodine... that being said, I did get a goiter in Japan so maybe I could use some Iodine in my snacks.

The assortment I was sent was not only broad, but large. CandyGerman, like many such services, chooses a variety of items and sends the box to customers. You don't choose what you get, but it is a good system if you like surprises. I don't generally have access to a lot of German candy, but some of these items or ones similar to them can be purchased at places like CostPlus World Imports. It would cost me about the same as a subscription fee to CandyGerman to buy this many European snacks locally, and I wouldn't be able to get every type of food that they sent in the box (not by a long shot). So, I pronounce this a pretty good deal based on my current shopping options. Of course, any person's shopping mileage may vary. If you've got a cheap German market down the street chock full of goodies - and, if you do, I envy you - then this may not seem like such a sweet package.

I received this package soon after they said it would ship and in very good condition. As you can see by the peanuts, it's packed well. None of the fragile items that were inside (cookies) were damaged in any way. Considering that it also included wafer-based "Happy Hippo" confections and they arrived in beautiful condition, I think that their packing passes any reasonable test.

If you think I was sent a "special" package with more or better items, then you can check on what they normally send by looking at/following their Facebook page. They're relatively new, but have posted some pictures and it looks like every box is as generous as the one that I received. I should note that the people who corresponded with me were polite, friendly, and prompt. I'm confident that if you have questions or problems that they'll work with you to make you happy. Their contact information with an e-mail address is on their site.

My conclusion is that the service is not "cheap", but it's not "expensive" for what you get either. You can have a box for around the price of a couple of decent chain delivery pizzas. However, I guess whether or not that comparison makes sense to you depends on what you believe is "decent" and what part of the world/country you live in. If "Little Caesar's" $5-8 pies are what you're finding fills your belly with fun-to-eat carbs, fat, and meat-like substances, then this may seem steep to you.

Over time, I will be reviewing individual items from the box, but I wanted to start with a curious one that overlaps with a Japanese snack since that is the name of my game most of the time. I was stunned to see a box of Koala cookies which is clearly the German variation on Koala's March (as they are sold as in Japan). I've tried several takes on this cookie (Hello Panda, Pucca, and a few different flavors of Koala's March) and I can say that, hand's down, this is the one that I've liked the best. I don't speak German, but I concluded based on the taste that "milch" is "milk". Also, I'm not a total dumb ass and realized that the two words sound similar long before I opened the package.

The basic look and feel of the cookie is pretty similar to all of the copies and the original, but there is a "cookie" flavor that these have which is much more prominent. The Japanese variation has a rather bland outer shell with super sweet filling. The shell on this German variation carries a sugar-cookie-style flavor and has a sweet milky white chocolate center. I don't like Koala's March enough to buy it most of the time, but I liked these a fair bit. However, be warned that they are quite sweet. Given that they are marketed toward the child market, this is no shock.

The company that makes these is not Lotte, but Kuchenmeister. My guess is that there is some agreement between the Korean/Japanese maker and the German one to allow for the packaging and product design, but the cookies have been modified to suit German tastes. There are two flavors - milk and chocolate - and it seems that they put a toy featuring a version of their mascot inside the boxes. Mine has a vampire motif, but the current one pictured on the web site has an ancient Olympic one featuring the mascot variations in togas. If Kinder Eggs have taught us anything, it's that Europeans aren't nearly as hysterical about toys with food marketed at children as Americans are. I tend to see this as a good thing, but I didn't bother to procreate so my opinion on this matter doesn't carry a lot of weight.

The cookies definitely get a happy rating. If I weren't such a sugar wuss, they might even get a "very happy", but they're a little too sweet for my aging palate. Nonetheless, they are tasty little cookies.