Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Random Picture #173

This picture is courtesy of Coca-Cola and it's not a product announcement because the contents are nothing new. This is a limited edition design for cans sold only in Okinawa. It's a limited edition, so it won't be around forever. The illustration is of hibiscus flowers and they are apparently quite popular in the region as part of gardens and parks. They are not originally from the area as the plants were brought over from China and transplanted there.

I'm not using this picture because I want to give botany lessons. The truth is that the only thing I've ever successfully grown is green onions which pretty much thrive if you put them in a glass of water and leave them alone. I'm using this picture because the can is pretty. :-)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Family Mart Bububu Curry (product information)

People love to show rarely eaten and even more rarely offered food monstrosities in the U.S. and say, "this is why Americans are fat!" They hold up these foods as if they were commonplace in the Western diet. Similarly, we often see weird Japanese food that is quite uncommon offered as an indication that those wacky Japanese are so strange from the rest of the world.

I say this because I want to be sure that my offering this picture and information is not misconstrued as saying this food is common in Japan in any way, but it is, nonetheless, being marketed by convenience store "Family Mart". The item pictured above is a curry which features bacon, sausage and lunch meat. As a serving suggestion, crushed potato chips are placed on top of it. The information on the left tells you that the chips are not included, but this curry dish is only 530 yen ($5.30), so you can probably afford to buy a bag of chips for 100 yen ($1.00) and perform a do-it-yourself garnish.

I had to search a little hard to find out how many calories are in this. Without the chips, it's 1400 calories, so this is really good if you plan on skipping dinner or have to run a marathon. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Denroku Kaki Pika Ultra Mini

Image from Denroku's web site.

I wonder how many companies out there make variations on what appears to be Japan's most available, if not favorite, sembei (rice cracker). That would be, "kaki no tane" or "persimmon seed" crackers. They seem to be sold everywhere I go, even in mixes at Walmart here in California. Most Japanese markets regularly carry both a "regular" (soy sauce and slightly hot and spicy version) and wasabi. I think of these as the Japanese version of popcorn. It's something tiny that you can cram into your mouth by small handfuls and it provides salt, crunch, and a certain satisfaction to compulsively eat without getting your mouth terribly full.

The problem with this type of thing as well as our venerable popcorn, is that it is too easy to overdo it. It's all so small. I couldn't possibly have eaten that much, could I? Well, yeah, you could, but it doesn't feel like it. The calorie pile up is insidious with kaki no tane, much as it is with M & Ms or other deceptive tiny candies that beckon you to shovel mounds of them into your yob. Denroku has figured out a way to help you take control by putting portions into a tiny little "ultra mini" package. The contents are enough for a small handful. If you want to put away a lot, you'll have to rip open little bag after little bag of them.

As a fan of portion control, I approve of this choice. As a fan of reducing waste, I'm not so happy about it. As someone who lives in a country in which portions are out of control, I'm thinking that recycling can handle the waste and such packaging really does encourage us all to eat less. You can see, I'm clearly torn... over a packet of sembei. I live a complex emotional life, a dumb complex emotional life, but a complex one at that.

The little crackers in kaki no tane mixes come with different degrees of saltiness and heat. These fall more to the salty side and less to the hot. This is not a bad thing. They are very savory with a deep soy sauce flavor, a satisfying crunch, and a generous number of peanuts to provide a balance both in terms of protein and rich fattiness. In fact, this is definitely one of the more balanced mixes of nuts with sembei and that's a good thing. It means they're not going on the cheap, though, if you aren't a fan of peanuts, you might not be especially happy with the distribution. I also believe that these have a better and more developed flavor depth than the Sweetbox version that I reviewed previously.

I received my samples of these kaki pika ultra minis as part of the Skoshbox that I was sent gratis and I'm very pleased that it was a part of it. It's not only that I enjoyed the salty snack itself, and I did, but also that it was a trip down memory lane for me.

Denroku offers some adorable downloadable stationary with their mascot for download for those who want to print out some envelopes (top ones are for New Year's) or note paper for date books.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Artek Chocolate Wafers

From my extremely limited experience with Russina sweets--that is, two whole reviews--I have already learned something. If there is a "P" in their writing, it means an "R" in English. That being said, you'll note that the picture of the package shown above does say "Artek". The sides, however, say "Aptek" as does the Russian product information. Look ma! I'm learning Russia through junk food! Who ever said that this stuff is bad for you?

I found this 130 g./4.6 oz. packet of chocolate wafers at Crossroads Specialty Foods. This was the same place at which I procured the tasty Russian butter and cream cookies. Like those cookies, these were very cheap at 99 cents (about 100 yen). Compared to cheap store brand wafers which you can buy seemingly by the pound for about a buck, these might seem a little expensive, but they are cheap compared to other European wafers. The question is about quality.

It should be noted that I am an enormous fan of wafers of all sorts. I like bad ones, sweet ones, bad ones, high quality ones, vanilla, chocolate, fruit flavors, etc. Because of the light, crisp texture and my being a texture junkie, it's hard for a wafer to go wrong with me, though there is absolutely a threshold at which the calories are not worth the experience. If I didn't have the metabolism of a moderately active middle-aged white lady, I'd eat whole packages of wafers no matter how flavorless they were. I can say that with confidence because I had more than my share of experiences in Japan with said types of wafers and making a package of them "dinner". I'm just too old for that now. Neither my metabolic rate nor my digestive system would tolerate such happy nonsense anymore.

Fortunately, these wafers are well worth the 115 calories per half wafer. That may sound stingy, but this package only contains three very big wafers. If you were to divide them into more standard size ones, they'd probably each make three or possibly four more American or Japanese size ones. These shine above the conventional in a few ways. First, the ratio of filling to wafer is very good. Japanese ones were often too stingy on the filling. The filling is flavorful, fatty, and even creamy. It's a bit closer to ganache than your average wafer filling American ones are too sweet and chalky in their filling. The wafers themselves are fresh, crispy and satisfying.

These remind me of the venerable Loacker variety, though those are much more airy than these. There's more heft to these, but they aren't especially dense. The thicker, creamier filling stops them from being too hard. 

I thought these were excellent for a consumer level wafer. If you gave me a selection of all of the wafer cookies I've ever had, including all of the sugar wafers I can try in the U.S., I'd choose these. considering my appetite for wafers, that's a pretty ringing endorsement. That being said, I'm judging these as a wafer among wafers, not as a snack among all other snacks. I'd still take a mont blanc or a good bit of cheesecake over something like this, but it's unfair to hold a cheap consumer level shelf stable sweet up to freshly made pastry.

This line of wafers, though not this particular presentation, is available online from the Russian Table

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Morinaga Summer Amazake (product information)

One of my former coworkers, a British woman prone to stealing our German potatoes when we went out to restaurants to eat with her, told me that her grandmother was sick and likely to pass away soon. I told her how sorry I was, but she said that there was no reason to be sad because her grandmother was "ready" to shuffle off this mortal coil. She said that her grandmother, who was in her late 80's, had seen the world change so much since she was born that it exhausted her. When her granny was born, there were no airplanes and her son ended up being a pilot. The world had come so far so relatively fast that she felt out of place and ready to move on.

We often don't think about how fast things have changed because they do so seemingly gradually within the span of our lifetimes. However, even within my 48 years, lifestyles have dramatically changed. If a person could live to be 300, I'm sure that their 20-year-old self would find the world that their 299-year-old self would mundane was amazingly different.

When we think about such changes, we usually focus on technology - computers, internet, cell phones, locks that no longer require keys and shopping that no longer requires cash. However, there are other ways which take a little more attention to detail and one of those is seasonal food. When I was a kid, we could only get oranges "in season". These days, you can get nearly any food year-round (though location does matter to some extent), but the price is affected by availability. The world has grown smaller in such a way that produce that can be grown somewhere far away can make it to our local stores before it spoils, at least with the help of some chemicals.

I thought about this when I discovered that Morinaga is selling summer amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink with a low alcohol level). Usually, amazake is sold as a warm drink in winter and is fairly common at shrines during New Year's celebrations. It's a winter seasonal thing, but not Morinaga is offering it chilled, freeze-dried, and frozen for summer enjoyment.

The question I thought about was why this drink hasn't been positioned this way regularly for decades. Why limit it to winter consumption? Well, the reason is that we get into habits and forget to change. We build a little mental box that says there is a time and a place for such things even when there is no longer a reason. Frankly, I like it when companies do things like this because I think that thinking outside of that unnecessary box is good for us. I know they just want to sell more drinks, but, if it gets people thinking about doing something outside of routine, it's all for the good. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Random Picture #172

Meiji's kinoko and takenoko no sato (mushroom and bamboo shoot) lines of cookie snacks is one of the most venerable in Japan. While I always thought that they were fine as a nice little morsel of cookie with some sort of chocolate, they were never the sort of thing I strongly gravitated toward. There were always bigger fish to fry than the generic combination of buttery biscuit and chocolate. For jaded sorts like me, Meiji has upped their game and released Bergamot Milk Tea and Honey Cafe Latte flavors of these snacks. If I were in Japan and could locate these for the usual price of around 150 yen ($1.50), I'd probably give them a try. Here in the U.S., as you can see, they're more than double that price. Since I don't expect a premium chocolate experience, I was unwilling to pay a premium price for them.

If any of my readers has a bigger wallet than me and popped for these, I'd be curious to hear what you thought of them and if they were worth the scratch.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Frito Lay Shuwa Shuwa Cola Corn Snacks (product information)

Picture courtesy of Frito-Lay Japan.

This product was actually brought to my attention by way of The Impulsive Buy, which I'm sure will actually review it. I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole, even if I was still in Japan and could saunter down to the local 7-11 and pick one up for a reasonable price.

This is supposed to provide a sense of "swooshing" in the mouth - like cola swishing in a glass, I imagine - when you eat it. I'm not sure how a flavor delivered in a sweet and sour Cheeto is supposed to provide a tactile sensation, but that's what it's supposed to accomplish. Frankly, if this has chemicals that can do that, I wouldn't want anything to do with them. It sounds frightening.

There's a Japanese fellow on YouTube who videos himself sampling this snack. You don't have to understand any Japanese to know what he thinks of it. His facial expressions and wracking sobs tell the tale without words as he forces himself to eat them and gives them a final score of "minus 20".

Monday, July 22, 2013

Nittou Relay Plum Kombu Soup/Tea with Red Pepper

Sorry for the big label residue. There was an English label that was stubborn about being torn off.

There's an old SNL commercial spoof in which a couple argue over whether or not a product, Shimmer, is a floor wax or a dessert topping. Someone appears to be similarly confused about this packet of powdered foodstuff. It's referred to both as a soup and as a tea. The manufacturer's press information says that it has ume (plum) tea to refresh, but the package calls it "soup".

This actually raises a question that I've had come up recently in another context. It's the sort of question that only someone who reviews food for fun (not really "for a living", as the only living I could make would be sleeping over sewer grates and begging for pennies in front of Peet's Coffee based on my blogging income). That question is, "what makes "tea" tea?" This comes up because I have been sampling Numi's savory tea for review and those flavors include tomato mint, carrot curry, and broccoli cilantro. The Numi includes actual tea leaves as well as dehydrated vegetables, and, it's frankly, dreadful, but clearly there is no doubt that it can call itself a "tea". It may be horrible to drink, but there's no identity crisis to complicate the discussion.

This product is different because it includes no actual tea leaves. It has powdered kelp, red pepper, salt, sugar, plum, labiate leaf, MSG, citric acid, and labiate flavor. Techically, I guess this is a tisane, but it's not like we call anything which does not include tea leaves a tisane. Much herbal tea does not contain tea leaves, but nobody will call it anything but "tea".

So, semantics aside, let's get to this product. And, incidentally, it's actually soup, not tea of any sort. It looks like a soup, tastes like a soup, and has the savory properties of soup (Numi savory tea be damned!). What is more, it's a very tasty, low calorie soup which I wish I could pick up regularly at any old American market. 

The preparation method is to take 1/2 cup of hot water and then stir the powder into it. This produces something like looks like water from your fish tank that has not been cleaned for far too long. After stirring, the cloudy bits of kombu (kelp) move around the glass like a murky lava lamp. Mind you, I generally don't make my soup in a clear drinking glass, but did so to get a picture for my readers. I wouldn't recommend doing this in anything which doesn't have a handle unless you want to burn your fingers.

The soup mainly smells like the plum. When I say "plum", don't think of American sweet plums, but Japanese umeboshi (pickled plum). It lends a piquant acidic flavor that is the first thing that hits your tongue when you taste the soup. This is quickly followed up by the red pepper, which is just hot enough to add spice and heat the back of your throat, but not burn a hole through your tongue. The balance of these two major elements is perfect. I couldn't taste the kelp at all. I'm sure it was there adding flavor depth to a limited extent, but it was pretty overwhelmed by the plum, pepper, and salt. In fact, salt is the first ingredient.

For the serving size, this is pretty salty, unsurprisingly. A 2-gram packet provides 360 mg. of sodium. Even though sugar is an ingredient (the second one), this is listed as having zero calories. I'm guessing it's one of those deals where there are few enough calories per serving that they don't have to measure them. If you're on a diet which allows lots of salt, this makes for a pretty handy option when you're craving salty food or, as the package suggests, might want to spice up your pasta or rice. You can stir a packet into pasta or dump the soup over rice for a tasty variation.

I bought this at Daiso Japan for $1.50. There are 7 packets so that's a pretty reasonable price per serving. I would warn anyone who decides to try this not only that it is salty, but also spicy in a way which may not suit just everyone. If you're a fan of umeboshi and don't mind a little heat though, I think this is absolutely worth a try.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Korovka Butter and Cream Cookies

Cream is in blue and butter is in yellow, as suits the color of butter.

Back when I first started learning to use computers, I felt completely overwhelmed by the volume of things that I did not know how to accomplish. It may seem inconceivable to people who could use a PC before they could make potty somewhere other than their pants, but I didn't even know how to change the sound. In fact, I recall taking my new black and white Powerbook 145b to work and having a Star Trek screen saver installed that kept making sounds. I went into a pure panic when I couldn't work out how to stop the noises that might alert my Japanese coworkers to the fact that I had my own computer there and that it was playing the equivalent of little sci-fi cartoons when it as idle.

Being confronted with a new language or writing system is a very similar experience. The first sense you get is of being overwhelmed and like you have no footing from which to start working things out. When I first went to Japan, this was the space I lived in and it was daunting. The truth is that it's still daunting given how many kanji (Chinese characters) there are, but I muddled through. Now, I can manage dealing with researching and writing about Japanese snack foods. I'm far from perfect, and some critics might even say far from even "adequate" at it, but I feel like I can stumble around and figure most things out.

Dealing with food that is of a completely different origin puts me back at square one. If I review a Korean snack, I have a sense of flailing around in foreign waters without a life preserver. I know zero about Korean and the same is so about Russian. I don't even know if this is Russian for certain. It may be some other Eastern European language which looks similar, but is totally different. At any rate, I'm trying to swim here, but don't be surprised if I end up failing to even doggy paddle my way through this review. It may end up being the equivalent of "mmm, cookies" and little else given my illiteracy in the language of this product.

I found these cookies at a cool shop that is called "Crossroads Specialty Foods" in Palo Alto, CA. I was walking around the area near the dealership that was servicing our car, which was having its fluids drained, replaced, or topped off in celebration of its first birthday, when I saw their sign along the street. The sign is kind of weird and not like what it appears to be on the Yelp page that I linked to. It used to have "World Market" written in the middle in big letters and that was simply painted over so there's a big blank in the middle. Also, from outward appearances, it just looks strange because it doesn't have the feel of a market, but rather of a supply store. I approached with caution because I didn't want to walk in and be asked if I wanted help buying 100 lbs. of basmati rice or a drum of olive oil.

That's "cream" on the left and "butter" on the right, but then you could tell by looking, right?

At any rate, after a careful peek through the door revealed shelves full of cookies and candy, I walked in and was greeted to an excellent selection of European and Middle Eastern food and snacks. The selection included a ton of British chocolate as well as Russian cookies and sweets and things like halvah and marzipan. The prices ranged from cheap to reasonable. Since I'm not especially reasonable and quite cheap, I picked up these Russian cookies for a mere 89 cents per 6.3 oz./180 g. packet.

I was intrigued by the fact that the cookies looked absolutely identical, but supposedly were different flavors. Also, I wondered what "cream" flavor was supposed to taste like and if the "butter" flavor would actually taste more buttery. To test this out, I had my husband do a blind taste test to see if he could tell and he could. This was pretty impressive since he doesn't have as keen a sense of taste as I do.

There is a very distinct difference between these cookies, but they are both very good. The butter one has a very discernible butter flavor. In fact, I think it's a fake flavoring since "margarine" is listed as an ingredient, but butter is not. The "cream" version has a cleaner taste, but has a nice plain butter cookie flavor to it overall. Both are "good", but I preferred the cream one.

With all types of plain cookies like these, it's as much about the texture as the taste. These have a great flaky, slightly crumbly texture and they pair extremely well with coffee or tea. They're the type of cookie that is good to have around for guests or times when you just want a little crispy cookie around that's not too sweet.

I really liked these, but I do like butter cookies and fairly simple tasting things that aren't too sweet. Texture is paramount and what I mainly hope for in a cheap consumer-level cookie like this is that it not resemble a cracker. This is absolutely a proper cookie which has a European feel. Is it the end-all and be-all of cookies? It is not, but it's still a pretty nice cookie and I'd definitely buy it again, especially at the price they are currently available.

I checked online for sources of these cookies, and I couldn't find the exact ones online, but there's an interesting online place for Russian food that sells a variety of these as well as many other products.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tirol Green Tea Parfait (product announcement)

Over the weekend, I went to a Japanese market called Marukai. This shop is what I consider the best one in my area for two reasons. First of all, they carry more unique products than most of the other ones. Second, their prices are generally lower. That is not to say that they are akin to shopping in downtown Tokyo in either respect, but they're pretty good for not being where the action is.

During my investigation into Marukai's snack aisles, I noticed that green tea, which is always around, has exploded in popularity. Everything had a green tea version. It was insanely boring with all of those green tea chocolates and cookies. The one green tea option that they did not have and that I would have bought is this new Tirol Premium candy. Tirol says that it was released in "early July", so it may be on shelves in Japan already. 

This candy displays the levels of detail that contribute to potential flavor depth which I've come to expect from many Japanese consumer-level chocolates. The cutaway illustration shows two kinds of chocolate, green tea and white, as well as red bean paste and green tea jelly. For something that sells for 20 yen, that's quite a lot of craft work. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Random Picture #171

There are a lot of completely stupid inside jokes that my husband and I have which are lingering remnants of our time in Japan. I'm guessing that they're funny to us because we know the references, but they'd just be idiotic to other people. Nonetheless, I will tell my readers that this package of Mr. Ito "Mr. Brown" cookies, besides representing double "mister" power (or revealing a secret origin to the creation of Mr. Mister), reminded us of one of those jokes.

A long time ago, in a life we lived very far away from California, we had an English textbook which talked about "Brown-san" (aka "Mr. Brown") in such a way that it very obviously alluded to poop. Sometimes, the people who write English texts for non-native speakers try to slide in a play on words so that the unsuspecting non-natives go around talking like they've learned from the Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook. References to "cutting cheese" in some texts were good examples of this. The way in which "Brown-san" was talked about in whatever book we used made it clear that this was a similar attempt to make a joke.

So, my husband and I go around sometimes talking about "Brown-san" in the same way that women who are coy about the topic of menstruation talk about Aunt Flo. We're not really shy or avoiding vulgarity (we can be as vulgar as the next sailor), but just messing about with our own little "we-used-to-teach-in-Japan" inside joke. And, now, there are these Japanese caramel chocolate chip cookies ostensibly made by "Mr. Brown" which made us both smirk.

No, we did not buy the cookies. There's just too much unsavory history with that name. ;-)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

McDonald's Precious Quarter Pounders (product information)

McDonald's launched a campaign in which they are offering burgers named after precious gems and metals throughout July. It started with the "gold ring", a burger featuring a ring of pineapple, bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, and barbecue sauce with 10 spices on a kaiser roll. The more recent release was the "black diamond" which features egg yolk, black truffle sauce, Swiss cheese, and grilled onions and mushrooms on brioche-like bread. On July 20, they'll offer the "ruby spark". This one will feature pepper jack cheese, spicy avocado sauce/spread, jalepeno, and chorizo.

While McDonald's doesn't mention why they've decided to release three designer burgers for a week each, my guess is this is to draw attention to their quarter pounder in general, which was recently reissued in Japan as part of their summer fare.

One interesting thing is the FAQ for these burgers. It has questions that reveal something about Japanese food culture and the lack of sophisticated understanding of various types of cheese. In a country that is largely catered to with plastic-wrapped slices of processed cheese, this is no shocker. One of the question is essentially saying, "why are there holes in my cheese?" The answer is that it is Emmental (Swiss) and that is natural. Another is about how the holes are big in their cheese and the consumer is concerned that they're not getting their fair share. The folks at McDonald's mention that the cheese is portioned by weight, so it doesn't matter how big the holes are.

Personally, I think a better answer to the question of why there are holes in the cheese would be that Ronald got confused with his hole punch and just went a little crazy one day. :-)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Glico Apple Custard Pretz

Pretz are to pretzels as Japanese KitKats are to candy bars. They're the bold adventurers of the pretzel flavor world and come up with more provocative flavors than their more popular cousin and rival, Pocky. Pocky is hamstrung to a certain extent by the fact that it's distinguishing feature is a coating of chocolate or chocolate-like substances. That means that it is hard to develop savory flavors for it. Pretz, which is unfettered in this regard, can prance about nakedly in any environment it chooses - sweet, savory, bold, weak, vegetable, fruit, etc.

The naked Pretz in this case comes with sweet flavorings. These options, though possible in the pretzel world, tend to be relatively rare without the inclusion of coatings. Besides this apple custard variety, there is also a strawberry one and the remainder of the family is showing its stuff in meaty, fishy, savory options like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, wasabi, and mentaiko. Those are perhaps their best turns. The more "mundane" options are buttered potato, pizza, tomato, and "salad".

Looking back, I was surprised to see that I had reviewed 10 varieties of Pretz before, and I liked every single one of them. It caught me off guard because I don't really seek it out or consider it all that interesting. Further inspection revealed that most of the flavors I tried were somehow "weird" and no longer available. I should be more impressed with the brand, but like a woman with a great boyfriend that she somehow manages to take for granted, I simply did not notice. I'm sorry Pretz. I will try to do better by you.

I can say that particularly now because this flavor keeps the batting record for the brand intact. I really liked these. Though the smell was slightly funky and off-putting, the taste was surprisingly good. There is a first hit of very faint custard followed by a salty apple flavor. As you crunch your crispy, fresh pretzel stick, the apple gets stronger and it takes on a more astringent apple cider flavor. It fades away just a bit as you finish off a stick.

It's not out of the question that one would find the apple portion of this overbearing or the mix of salt and sweet unappealing. Personally, I sometimes salt apples when I eat them anyway so this is a natural pairing for me. The custard element is relatively subdued and tends to lend a richness and balancing flavor rather than a strong element, so don't expect too much on that front. For me though, this really "worked" and I'd buy it again.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Kopiko Cappucino Hard Candy

There were things that I bought in Japan that I loved and for some reason never reviewed. One of those things was a sugar-free coffee candy. In fact, I was so certain that I'd reviewed it that I went back through my archives looking for a link to that review and found that none existed. And now, due to my aging brain and time away from Japan, I can't recall who made it or what it was called. All I do remember was that the drops were smooth as silk and perfectly balanced in flavors and sweetness. There were two kinds in each bag, a milk and espresso version, and both were delicious. They were the sort of coffee candy that both coffee and non-coffee lovers might find appealing.

Kopiko, which appear to be available all over the place in the U.S. as well as by mail order from places like Amazon, is made in Indonesia and distributed by a Canadian company. They're available in both regular and sugar-free versions. I have the regular one and each candy is 17.5 calories. My main desire when it comes to coffee candies is that I sometimes want a cup of coffee, but am too full to drink one. In Japan, the candies were my way of satisfying such cravings.

It was with those hard candies in mind and a desire to repeat the experience that I bought these Kopiko coffee candies. I wanted to compare them to those sublime Japanese drops and hope that they'd come up nearly on par. Alas, my hopes were pretty rapidly dashed. It started when I opened the bag and noted that these are not an integrated lozenge, but a split. That means that the textural appeal is undermined to some extent as this was not going to be the slick, smooth experience I'd hoped for. They're also not as "pretty" as the Japanese ones since they have suffered a few bruises and bangs despite being individually wrapped.

I know that hard candies are the red-headed stepchild of the candy world. They're the sort of thing which kids are disappointed to get in their trick-or-treat bags and that grannies keep in their purses until they turn into lumps of goo and crystallized sugar, but they do have their appeal. Unfortunately, they are so often gotten "wrong" that most people have never had one that has been "right". The Japanese seemed to know how to get them "right" and more often than not, that was by adding fat to them and not focusing mainly on corn syrup or sugar. The way in which these failed me are in being just too sweet.

The coffee flavor is fine in these, it's not as bitter or nasty as some can be, but that's easy to accomplish when something is this sweet. This is a two-note candy and that is sweet and the sort of meek coffee flavor that you get from pouring lots of milk and sugar into your drink. It's not bad, but I'm going to keep looking for a substitute for what I had in Japan.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mister Donut Choco and Banana Fair (Product Announcement)

Images from Mister Donut.

There are many things I miss about Mister Donut. Actually, I should pause and reconsider that statement because the truth is that there is mainly one thing that I miss about it and that is the delights of an angel cream. It was the perfect donut for me. In fact, I could wax poetic about the cloud-like creamy filling which was fatty and rich, but not too heavy, the delicate yeast-risen pastry which was sprinkled with just enough granulated sugar to sweeten it without being overbearing, and the absolutely perfect size that offered a little under 200 calories of deliciousness. The closest I can get to that here is Krispy Kreme's nearly 400 calorie "kreme" monstrosity which is too big and too glazed. No one else even sells something with a whipped cream filling. Sigh.

This is an interesting campaign from the fine folks at Misdo, but it's one that I probably wouldn't avail myself of even if I were still in Japan. I love a good banana, but I don't like banana-flavored things. On the other hand, my husband would likely sample his way through most of the donuts that are about to become available for a mere 100 yen on July 10 and go away on July 15.

The flavors include banana and chocolate banana old-fashioned (shaped like bananas), banana whipped cream, pon de ring banana and pon de ring banana cream, banana whip French, and banana chocolate. The picture above shows a variety of chocolate-based donuts as well.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Random Picture #170

The rather unremarkable package of cakes shown here brought back many memories of Japan, and not only because it was made by a Japanese manufacturer and sold in a Japanese store. They're a typical pastry in Japan - a light fluffy cake filled with a light creamy filling, neither of which has much in the way of sweetness or strong taste. It was the saying on the package that brought along a sense of nostalgia.

There are two things that will always remind me of Japan even when I'm reading the words in English. One thing is being told to "enjoy" or "have a good time" with something in a way which is strangely lacking in pushiness. The other thing is when the word "type" is used unnecessarily, especially with the word "new". This is a translation issue, of course, and it's not a big deal or the worst English every. It is quaint and endearing to me when I read such things.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Force is With Glico

All images courtesy of Glico.

Glico has gone all out and has licensed Star Wars imagery for a large number of its products. Now, you can get Yoda curry, or, if you prefer your curry on the dark side, Darth Vader can serve you up some spicy Imperial love.

It's not just the food products that are going all out, but the snacks as well. For the toddlers, there is  Star Wars Bisco and the images have been appropriately "chibified" for the demographic.

If the curry is family-oriented and the Bisco for the baby set, Pocky is going to target pretty much everyone else. This particular type has a bit of extra awesome sauce added for the Star Wars fans. There is a "Star Wars bowling" game included.

The game is made of paper and includes a loop that you roll up to use as a ball. I'm rather dubious of the effectiveness of it, but my guess is that any real fan would never actually play this game anyway. They'd keep it in mint condition as a collector's item.

I'm not sure what brought on this deluge of Star Wars collaboration, but it may have something to do with Disney taking it over. It's not that George Lucas wouldn't license the images to sell curry and pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate, but rather that Disney may be trying to boost the public awareness of the brand in anticipation of producing new movies. I can't say for sure.

If you'd like to watch the Glico "movies" (i.e., commercials) using Star Wars, you can see four of them at this link. For the time being, the Force is with Glico, though I'm guessing it won't be with them "always". Rather, it'll be with them until their licensing agreement expires.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Tirol #1 Strawberry Assortment

I complained a lot about strawberry chocolates in Japan because there were so many of them constantly being put on the market and most of them tasted the same. I'm sure that that has not changed. The thing that has changed is me and my access to such things. It seems a lot less mundane when you're only seeing about 1/6 of what is coming out in Japan and opens the mind to the possibility of such treats being enjoyable. Of course, reality may serve as a teacher of a lesson I should have already learned. The strawberry chocolates are usually the same old formula with very marginal variations, especially from our good friends at Tirol.

I think the main reason to buy these candies is that they look so cool when you line them up.

Nonetheless, when I discovered a variety pack of strawberry candies at Nijiya market for a mere $2.19, I took the plunge. It's not only that it was relatively economical, but that my love-hate relationships with Tirol has grown more affectionate as I've been absent from their offerings for some time. Absence can make the heart grow fonder, or so the saying goes. However, presence may soon make you long for that absence once again.

The three favors in this are all white chocolate based. The main way in which they differ is in regards to the added "twist" flavor (jam, cream, red beans) and the textural element (marshmallow, cookie, gummi). It doesn't require much of their equipment to make such changes since these are all commom ingredients in Tirol's candies.

Funwari Ichigo Jam (fluffy strawberry): The "fluffy" in this is a tiny little slab of marshmallow that is between the sticky dollop of jam and the semisweet chocolate base. This has the best flavor combination with the strongest strawberry flavor and good contrast between the chocolate base and the berry flavor. The marshmallow also lends a certain sweetness, but mainly it's pillowy texture.

Strawberry Shortcake: In the world of Tirol, anything which is "cake" or "cookie" means the same thing. It means that there is going to be a bland little biscuit inside that is surrounded by some sort of flavored chocolate. This always provides a nice crunch and is there for texture only. The chocolate that surrounds this tiny little crackery biscuit is soft and only mildly sweet with a finish that includes a hint of berry tang. There may even be a small hint of cream flavoring, but it's so faint that I may have imagined it.

Starwberry Daifuku: I already reviewed a "premium" version of this, and this one appears to be little different. There's a little hint of strawberry in the white chocolate coating, but more of it appears to be flavorless and slightly tough gummy with a slightly gamey red bean flavor. I knew when I bought this assortment that this would liekly be the "dud" of the mix, but I wasn't going to allow that to dissuade me from trying.

The daifuku is clearly the loser of the lot. I actually like the jam version a fair bit and am good with the shortcake one as well, mainly because I'm a sucker for crispy additions to candy. On the whole, however, with 1/3 of the mix not being to my liking, I don't think this is on I'd go for again.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fujiya Look Matcha Mousse Chocolates

This box of chocolates came to me courtesy of Skoshbox (gratis).

Fujiya would like to have tea with you. No, really. They're talking about a tea ceremony campaign linked to a pretty swanky-looking tea house in which you can spend 90 minutes experiencing tea culture. If you live in Kyoto, Nagoya, or Tokyo, or are willing to travel to these places, you and your offspring can enjoy yourself some high-falutin' tea, or, you can plant your ass on your sofa, watch some inane T.V., and open up a box of chocolates for a less swanky and elegant, but more comfortable experience. After all, who wants to sit seiza for an hour and a half while people painstakingly prepare tea?

Skoshbox sent me this pretty much on the cusp of the point at which hot weather would have wrecked it. EbiDebby at Snack Love also reviewed it, and her candy fared far worse than mine due to the heat. My box of chocolate suffered more from sitting on my counter during a West coast heat wave than from traveling from Skoshbox's hands to mine.

On the left is green tea and adzuki and on the right is green tea and milk. 

Look has actually been impressing me lately with their candy, and this was no exception. The matcha chocolate has a mild chocolate flavor mixed with a slightly more potent green tea flavor. It's not overbearing in any way and is lightly sweet. Rather than possessing flavor depth, they fuse together to create a single entity which is neither chocolate nor green tea, but a happy combination of both.

The green tea with adzuki is a slightly different experience. The green tea is more prominent. There's something about the adzuki which  makes it emerge. I tried both o these chocolates cold and at room temperature. The cold version of the adzuki was subdued. The room temperature one was much, much stronger and had the strong earthy tones of red bean soup. I, frankly, preferred it cold.

Both of these are nice chocolates. The matcha milk one is more accessible, but both are interesting without being overbearing. I'm not sure if someone who is not a fan of matcha or adzuki would enjoy them, but someone who is should be pleased. I'd certainly have them again.

I don't know if these are still available from Skoshbox as part of their current box because the weather may have become prohibitively hot, but you might be able to get one while they last.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Iyokan Tirol Chocolate (product announcement)

Several months ago, I visited my father-in-law and he showed me a couple of oranges which he said he was going to toss out because they tasted like grapefruit to him. I looked at them, and they looked and sounded like iyokan. That's an orange in Japan which is slightly sour, but still sweeter than a grapefruit. It turned out that those were Mineola oranges, which aren't the same as iyokan, but are probably second cousins to one another on the taste scale.

Tirol has decided that iyokan, which is the second most widely produced citrus fruit in Japan after mikan (small Japanese oranges which are similar to Clementines), is a good choice for one of their chocolates. Frankly, I concur, and I hope to locate a bag of these beauties at one of the local Japanese markets in the not too distant future.

There are two types of iyokan chocolates in the bag. One is a cookie variety, which I'm sure just has Tirol's trademark bland crispy little biscuit with some orange sauce on it. The other is a marshmallow with orange sauce over it. Even though this is white chocolate, the bitter notes of iyokan show potential for off-setting the cloying nature of it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Random Picture #169

While I was sifting through pictures for my 1000 Things blog, I came across this shot of "Hello Kitty" sumo chocolate crunch candies. Personally, though I think the mouthless cat is so overused that it guts any sense I have of her cuteness, I do think the little handkerchief in a kesho mawashi (ceremonial apron) is really adorable. The chocolate, however, is another matter entirely.

If you look at the sample closely, and I'll put a closer shot here to give you a better look... does not look particularly appetizing. In fact, it resembles what one would fish out of Kitty-chan's litter box. Aesthetics are highly prized in Japan, but sometimes, well, the outer wrapping conceals a failure to refine the image of the product itself. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Burger King Japan Offers More Drinks, Ribs

Burger King Japan has embraced the idea that fast food and liquor go together for quite some time. You could get a Heineken and a high ball there already. From June 28, 2013, select locations will also offer Mojito, Cuba Libre, Long Island Iced Tea, and pink daiquiris. The last one is for the ladies whose discerning dates have decided to wine and dine on a budget, no doubt.

If the idea of getting loaded on exotic drinks isn't enticing enough, you can also order ribs. This will allow you to get drunk and then dribble sauce all over yourself to boot. For 980 yen (about $10), you get the plate pictured above with three ribs on the bone, onion, pickles, and a small salad.

The locations that this deal is currently available at are Ochanomizu, Ebisu Garden Place, and Roppongi. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Careme Quattro Fragrant White Cookies

I recently watched a lecture by a priest on addiction. You might ask yourself, "why is a priest talking about addiction?" You might also say, "this is a Japanese junk food blog, why on earth are you talking about priests giving lectures on serious topics?" This are all good questions and I have a good answer. He was talking about how there are certain things that we are born enjoying and, as children, we like things that are sweet because our genetic heritage has inclined us to do so.

When it comes to things like coffee and booze, we have to actually learn to like them. Part of how we do that is to adulterate them with more pleasant-tasting things like sugar, milk, or juice. We add something we naturally enjoy to something we find less pleasant in order to acclimate ourselves to bitter or harsh flavors. Once you get addicted to caffeine or alcohol, you can let go of those things which make them palatable and focus on what you need to get you high.

As this priest talked about how kids like one thing and adults like another, I thought about adult tastes and how we tend to separate them from those that children enjoy. Alcohol, by virtue of the illegality of consuming it at younger ages, at least outside of ritualistic practices, is something that we associate with adult tastes. However, sometimes, even adults don't enjoy the taste of alcohol. We have to learn to like it.

This cookie is part of an adult tastes line-up of the Quattro cookie line. I'm sure that this is an idea that they ripped off from Nestle Japan with their popular "adult sweetness" line of KitKats. What does "adult" taste like? It appears that it tastes like rum raisin as that is what the goo inside of these little biscuits is highly reminiscent of. One must ask why they didn't simply name them "rum raisin". It could be that I'm wrong about the flavoring or it could be that "mystery meat" sounds more provocative than "meatloaf".

I picked up this box of 6 cookies for $2.29 at one of the many Japanese markets in my general area. This is my second review of one of the Quattro line of cookies. The first one was an orange chocolate one that I loved so much that I sent a box to my sister. I won't be sending a box of these to my sister.

There is really nothing "wrong" with these cookies, but there are several things that they didn't exactly get "right". One was that the chocolate cookie portion is so flavorless as to practically be a plain cookie. I think more chocolate bitterness would have balanced out the almost cloying sweetness of the white chocolate. Sandwiched between the white chocolate and the bland cookie is another layer of slightly off-white chocolate that is supposed to be cheese flavored, but not much of that comes through. The dominant flavor is what I perceive to be the sweet white chocolate and the rum raisin sauce.

I like the textural mix of the crispy cookie, soft-ish chocolate and the jelly-like filling, but that's really not enough to overcome the fact that rum raising is one of those "adult" flavors that I never developed a strong affinity for. I'll finish the box, particularly since, at 43 calories per cookie, these aren't the most calorific sweets in the world, but I wouldn't buy them again.