Friday, August 18, 2017

Yoneya Lemon Daifuku

As I've mentioned before, I am currently living in a rural area. For the most part, I love it here. Though the local politics don't match my values at all, I'm accustomed to living in a culture with values that aren't in accord with mine. In fact, I feel like living in Japan helped prepare me for being a liberal in a conservative zone. I can accept the culture (which is beyond politics, but that's the biggest "hardship") as something which suits the locals, but doesn't suit me personally and just keep my distance.

At any rate, the biggest aspect of small town life that actually does bother me is the food culture, such as it is. There are about 10 restaurants that aren't chains or fast food places, and most of them offer a limited menu with an emphasis on burgers and sandwiches. I don't like to order anything at a restaurant that I can't make myself at least as well, if not better, than a restaurant can. I rely on Yelp to some extent to make some decisions about which places to try, and, though I've lived here for almost two years, I've not hit all of the places yet because I tend to spend my money at ethnic places about an hour north of where I live (in Oregon, in a city which is big enough to have a wider range of options).

What Yelp has made me realize is just how much ones tastes are conditioned by local experience. People raved about a local steak place and it got high star reviews. My husband and I finally went there on his birthday about a year after living here and both found it extremely disappointing. The "salad bar" was a limited range of canned food options. The chicken I ate was some sort of pressed meat with grill marks. The "dessert" was a scoop of cheap ice cream with Hershey's syrup on it. This helped me see all too clearly that people who haven't had a broad range of experiences can't tell the difference between what is at the low end of the culinary scale and what is at the high end.

As someone who reviews snack foods from another country, I realize that that people may judge the food I'm judging less harshly than I do because some of them haven't lived in a place in which better options exist. And, I'm sure there are sometimes things I review which other people have more experience with that other people would find inadequate, but I really enjoyed. This snack really illustrates to me how spoiled I was to have lived in a place in which fresh confections made with mochi were common. I think someone else might have found this more enjoyable than me, but only if he/she had never had a better version.

This is made by a company called Yoneya which specializes in traditional Japanese confections like yokan (a block of sweet bean gel). They seem to offer a lot of summer gift boxes as well as individually wrapped sweets like the one I'm reviewing. One of their less traditional, but quite interesting looking foods is a peanut monaka. It's actually shaped like a peanut, comes in a peanut-shaped box, but is oddly filled with red bean jam (anko) and not peanut-based filling. Oh well, two out of three ain't bad...

The mochi shell on this wasn't hard, but it also wasn't super soft and pliable. It seemed too thick and, though it was easy to bite into, it was weirdly firm in a way most fresh (non-shelf-stable) mochi is not. That said, the lemon filling in this was nothing short of amazing. It was tangy, sweet, and bright. The flavors were so good that I very much wanted the textures to match and I decided to give it a turn in the microwave to see if warming up the mochi would make the texture more stretchy and pliable, but it didn't change anything. It seemed too thick and overworked/dense. It was very unfortunate that the mochi outside didn't match the lemony bean filling inside.

If you want to try this, and I guessing you don't, I'm afraid you're out of luck as the only place you could have gotten one was from Bokksu and they seem to no longer carry them.

Source: Part of the Bokksu premium summer citrus box

Friday, August 11, 2017

Pocky Orange Peel

I was watching a video on "shows that should never have been made" and one of the abominations that was featured was a show that I had the faintest recollection of from my youth. That show was "Pink Lady (and Jeff)" and I personally never watched it, but saw it advertised. I've watched a little bit of it on YouTube. This is the sacrifice I make for my readers. I fall on the grenade so you don't have to.

It stuns me that any network attempted to sell Japanese pop stars to the American audience in 1980. If you watch the clips that I linked to, and keep in mind that it is #35 on the list of the 50 worst television shows of all time as chosen by "TV Guide" so consider yourself warned, you'll be treated to some incredibly culturally inappropriate material. If you've taught English, you'll also recognize immediately that the singers in Pink Lady can't actually speak English and learned their lines phonetically.

Though this was a disaster in all respects, it is important for people to have foreign cultures stuck in front of their noses on occasion. Small bits and pieces of information prime people to be more open to that culture in the future. In 1980, sushi was just raw fish to Americans. In the present day and age, it's something they're willing to fork over a lot of money for a bastardized version of in places as pedestrian as their local supermarket. That's some cultural infiltration.

When I returned to the U.S., I was stunned at how ubiquitous Pocky had become. I think the versions I see are from Korea for the most part and not the same as what I had in Japan, but the brand is recognized and consumed as a Japanese product. It started to be sold in Japan in 1966, and a U.S. division of Glico was established in 2003. November 11 is "Pocky" day and this year will be the 4th one that is celebrated in the United States. It took awhile, but it gained some traction. Pink Lady, apparently, was too early for the times.

I've not had as much Pocky as most in my career as a person who consumes food, but I can say that this is unique amount the few handfuls that I've tried. The main point about this is that the little bits of peel are chewy. They are clearly candied bits and they bring a nice, bright, authentic citrus flavor to each bite. The chocolate is milk bordering on semi-sweet. It has enough strength to be present, but not so much as to be bitter. The flavor combination is very well-balanced. I believe part of what helps this is that the organe peel bits appear to be coated in dark chocolate so they carry some of that flavor through as well. If you look at the sticks, you'll see they look more like Oreo cookie parts than orange peel, but orange peel they are indeed.

This snack came with advice to refrigerate it before consuming and I ignored that advice when I ate all but the last packet. So, it was only with my last experience that I had the most optimal one. The lesson here: Do what you are told blindly without question, at least when it comes to Pocky.

When not refrigerated, the coating is a bit too soft and the chewy peels feel as if they are in a slighly greasy chocolate in terms of the textural experience. It's still good, but it is a lot better when the coating is chilled and much firmer. The standard, bland, Pocky pretzel stick seems more orange in color to me on these than what I recall, but my memory could be going. I am getting on in years, after all.

I like the combination of orange and chocolate, but these seemed a tad rich for my tastes as well as having a cumulative sweetness that I found cloying by the 5th and final stick in a packet. I don't regret having these, but I wouldn't go out of my way to have them again. If you're interested, and I would act fast if you are because these are seasonal and likely to vanish at some point, the Asian Food Grocer is currently offering these for $3.58. Yummy Bazaar has them for $3.05 and Economy Candy has them for $2.99. I got mine from Bokksu as part of a premium box, but they are currently sold out. It wouldn't matter anyway since Bokksu was selling them for $4/box and would have pricier than the alternatives anyway.

Source: Part of the Bokksu premium summer citrus box

Friday, August 4, 2017

Aya Usagi White Bean Cakes

One of the big differences between my blogging in Japan about Japanese food as compared to doing so in the U.S. is that it costs me at least 50% more. This sucks, but, as someone accustomed to paying at least 50% more for imported food when I lived in Japan, it's something I'm quite accustomed to.

The other difference is that I feel more like I have to ration my treats because I can't get them as cheaply or easily as I once did. This is one of the reasons that I haven't hoovered up my stack of manju from Nippon-ya like an anteater that has a mental health disorder. I imagine that, for anteaters, having a vacuum cleaner complex is probably similar to having a Napoleon complex among humans. I am all powerful! All ants will be consumed through my magnificence protuberance like Dorothy during a Kansas tornado!

I'm sure nobody comes to my blog to hear me inhabit the reality of anteaters with mental health challenges - well, maybe a few bodies do - so I will get on with talking about bean cakes. I waited until well past the point of reason to eat the last one and savored every little morsel. Unfortunately, though these were quite fresh when I opened the box, holding out on the last one until after the box had been opened for nearly a month meant the last one was a bit stale. This isn't any sort of indictment of the cakes because they held out for a long, long time. However, I do recommend you eat them within three weeks of opening the box. The oxygen absorber can only do so much.

This was, by far, my very favorite of my haul from Nippon-ya. The cakes themselves (when not well-aged)  have a soft, thin, cake covering a good portion of white beans that are generously sweetened, but not cloying. They have a lovely flavor which brings to mind butter, vanilla, and yellow cake, but doesn't really fit any of those descriptions. Sometimes, these types of cakes are a bit bland and mushy, but this definitely has a flavor profile. It's not incredibly deep as it tends to be just that indescribable flavor and sugar, but it's very satisfying.

The beans in these have a slightly fudgey texture to them, especially when they're fresher and moister than my antiquated final cake. I'm guessing this is delivered courtesy of the white adzuki and kidney beans as well as the multiple sugars (as sugar adds moisture)

Where I bought it: Nippon-ya (San Francisco)
Weight: 11.6 oz.
Price: I don't recall exactly, but I think it was $12.95.