Monday, September 1, 2014

Finishing Here

Since stopping my regular posting, I've been coming to terms with the changes in my life and I think I've reached the end of my need to talk about Japan. I knew the time would come eventually when I'd move from being in transition to being "finished". I'm not quite complete, but I think the time has come to let go of my strong attachment to thinking about Japan and my life there. That's my way of saying that the time of comparisons is finished and maybe I don't have as much to say as I used to or just don't care to say it anymore.

I'm going to essentially go away for awhile. I am sure that there is something else I'll be writing about in the future, but I think I'm going to say goodbye to these blogs for awhile, maybe forever. I haven't decided yet. I just know that my impulse to continue has vanished.

I want to sincerely thank my readers for following me as they have. I will say that, if I start a new blog or write in another forum (or when my book is complete), I will likely come back and let readers of these blogs know about it. If you're only here because I talk about Japan, then you may not want to come back once in awhile to see if things have changed. If you're here because you like the way I write, then I'd say pop back once a month or so to see if anything has changed.

Thank you for all your kind support and reading my work. I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Leibniz Pick Up Choco & Caramel

Today's item comes to you (and me) courtesy of Candy German, who included it in a sample box that they sent me (that's my way of saying I got this from them for free).

Recently, I made a British comfort food called a "jam roly poly". I chose this because I encouraged my husband to buy some low sugar jam in a moment of early cognitive failure. You see, I'd forgotten that he likes everything much sweeter than me and I felt that, if I liked the jam, he might, too. While searching for recipes that use up jam, I came across the roly poly recipe which not only uses up jam of substandard sweetness, but it also is fairly simple and uses ingredients that most people who aren't eating out of processed food packages and take out containers would have on hand.

The jam roly poly ended up being a roll of dough which is a cross between a shortbread cookie and pie crust with jam slathered on it. It's not a sophisticated offering, but it has a certain quality to it. British folks tend to eat it with warm custard, but I don't live in a culture which sells Bird's Custard Powder on most shelves so I'd have to go to much greater lengths to produce custard. I figured I'd just put whipped cream on it if all else failed. Incidentally, Bird's Custard Powder doesn't really make custard as it contains no eggs. It's pretty much a type of instant pudding mix stuff. It was invented by a man whose wife was allergic to eggs. When I found this out, I was disappointed in the British for not proving to me that they had invented a way for me to magically whip up a lovely and relatively authentic custard with a powder. I expect more of them than I do from Americans, like the ability to create rich and tasty authentic custard by adding liquid.

I'm not really big into cookies or pie, and I was using strawberry jam which I'm also not keen on. I expected that my husband would like it better than I, but the result was like a giant Pop-tart (at least when it's warm and fresh). The textural element of the crust was an utter delight as it hit the sweet spot between crispy exterior and tender interior in a way I would not have expected. So, while I wasn't crazy about any of the component parts, that texture just lured me in and I ate more than I'd planned. This was a good thing because it turned out that the whole thing failed the sweet test for my husband again and he didn't really want any.

I've mentioned before that I'm a food texture junky and today's item, like the jam roly poly, wins me as much on texture as taste. When I develop a craving, it's often based on wanting the texture of a food rather than the taste. That leads me to this Pick-up cookie. I'm not a fan of caramel, and this doesn't have oodles of chocolate flavor, but the combination of the texture of the crispy biscuit outside, the thick, cool, and somewhat snappy chocolate interior and the sticky caramel comes together for an experience in textures with some depth. Don't get me wrong about the taste. The cookies are sweet, nearly enough for the likes of my husband, but the chocolate filling (which is ample) is milk chocolate so it's smoother and less pronounced than dark or bittersweet options. The caramel is a subtle undertone unless you're eating one of the edge bits that has caramel ooze saturated its corners. That's actually a pretty nice bit because it changes the flavor balance and the buttery caramel notes come through more strongly.

The box that Candy German sent me had a packet of five of these taped together. My guess is that these are usually sold in a bunch rather than individually. I've not seen these sold anywhere locally, so my best advice is to look into Candy German's site and service or shoot them an e-mail or Facbook message if you're interested in them. Overall, I have to say that the German snacks that they send are interesting and worth the investment in a box. These cookies are just one of the delights you can get your hands on with their help.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tyrant Habanero Black Curry (product information)

History has seen its fair share of tyrants - Caligula, Stalin, Pol Pot, and, of course, everybody's low-hanging fruit in the game of "name that maniac", Hitler. A lesser-known tyrant is, of course, Tyrant Habanero. It doesn't commit genocide, but rather attempts to slaughter your taste buds with insanely hot, salty snack treats. Of course, what it does to your mouth is nothing to compared to what it's going to do to the end of your digestive tract on the other way out. Oh, the humanity!

Tohato continues to expand it's line of mouth-burning snack treats with a black curry version of it's salty pressed food-stuff. The chips are shaped as you see them on the illustration. They're supposed to resemble naan bread, but that wasn't the first thing that came to my mind. Black curry is usually dyed with squid ink or some other coloring to make it that color. Word is that Sri Lanka has an actual black curry with unique spices, but I'm betting more on the squid-assisted variety in this snack than the more exotic option. If I can locate this at a Japanese market, I'll certainly give it a try. If any of my readers have sampled it already, I'd be curious to hear your impressions.

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.