Thursday, October 16, 2014


Faux seasonality - it's one of the enduring myths of Japanese cuisine. All too often one is reminded of the Japanese obsession with its 4 seasons and its concern for preparing and serving food at its perfect time. Just like most other nations on earth. There's nothing special here. Especially when it's mixed up and mediated by the forces of industrial food. Japanese food in reality isn't particularly seasonal. You can get bad apples here all year, whether they're in season in Yamagata, imported from China or Australia. Sanma, which once truly was a fall fish, is now on grocery store shelves all year. Of course, they do lots of promotions for it in the autumn, but who's to know when that fish was caught - and frozen. Coulda been any time.

So, here's a little something from Fujipan, a particularly awful corporate baking concern, that hit the market about a month or so ago - Wマロンのクリームホーン. That's your W (meaning double) cream marron (chestnut) horn - a particularly nasty vienniose-style pastry. God know what they did to create this simulacra of pastry. In the double-ended "horn," one side had some sort of sham "whipped cream." The other a brown-died version of the same "whipped cream" that had the vaguest hint of sour chestnuts. Not at all a pleasant thing to eat.

But, in addition to the just plain badness of it, there was the package and the timing that made the whole thing even worse. Here it is, early September - this year mercifully temperate, but still not really fall. The package in an array of fall colors - oranges, yellows, browns - with bursting chestnut pods and bright maple leaves carrying all the appropriate signifiers. So when did they harvest these chestnuts? Not this year. When was the pastry made? Probably not this year either. At least it didn't taste like it.

This and other products of its ilk suddenly appear on convenience store shelves, pretending to be seasonal products. Bullshit. They merely take advantage of peoples' senses of nostalgia - if even that. Perhaps they become more insidious - blind markers of what you're supposed to be consuming and when.  Eating up every season like clockwork, marking off the years until you die.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Here's your ジャンボむしケーキベイクドチーズ. That's the jumbo mushicake baked cheese. Mushicake meaning steamed cake. Baked cheese meaning baked cheese. How these two processes reconcile, I can't fathom. They actually don't. There are specific words in Japanese that refer to cooking processes. 焼く(やく- yaku) is a little slippery as it mainly means to grill, but also to bake. And then there's 蒸らす (むらす - murasu) - to cook by steam. These are different things. Looking at this package, first there's the image of what looks like cheesecake, mostly a baked item. And the image makes it looked like it's a baked item. In English, there it is, the words, all caps, BAKED CHEESE. However, the first descriptor line says "jumbo mushicake" - mushicake meaning steamed cake. The cake itself, revealed through the transparent wrapper - definitely a steamed cake, no evidence of baking. And what the hell do they mean by BAKED CHEESE anyway. Is this a good thing? Especially considering the basic quality of basic quality Japanese cheese. Does this idea of BAKED CHEESE send some signal to the Japanese consumer that this is a good thing, something desirable? I realize that there's often a disconnect between image/idea and product itself in this world of late-stage hyper-capitalism. But there is a point where one says, "Enough!" These fictive products, these faux foods, at a certain point make no sense whatsoever. What is this thing they're trying to sell me? I have no time for such linguistic conundrums. I may eat my words, but why would I eat yours. The mendacity gets caught in my throat. The company that makes this thing is Kimuraya. These people claim to have invented the anpan, the classic azuki bean filled bun that was originally stolen from China and probably developed with the input of a mess of forgotten Japanese home and professional bakers. There's no reason whatsoever to believe anything Kimuraya says. Ergo, they didn't invent the anpan and this thing, this BAKED CHEEZE whatever - it's a lie.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Diabolo Ginger

Diabolo Ginger. A sort of Deleuzian soda for a public trying to find some engagement with commerce. Like all such products, manufactured from fragments of the imagination. A bit here. A bit there. The final conclusion, specious at best, baldly manipulative and misinforming at its heart. Here's a soda, manufactured under the rubric of its Sekai no Kitchen (世界のKitchen) - the "world kitchen" line of soft drinks. It's important to note that the very name of this product is written with Japanese kanji and English orthography, hinting at an almost Hegelian synthesis of meaning. In this promotion, Hungarian grandmothers make yogurt drinks with mangoes and the old ladies of Provence boil down ginger, spices and grapefruits, mix them with soda to make this new-fangled ginger ale. Diabolo - a French slang that sounds almost Spanish - used mainly for describing soda drinks made with either mint, grenadine or raspberries - and Ginger (again in English, not in French) are the exact words they use to describe this thing. This thing, where exactly is it from? This thing springs from the imagination of those food scientists at Kirin, that they market as something traditional, yet not, something ultimately fictive. Do you buy this fiction? Do you buy the story it tells?

It's actually a rather nice ginger ale. Certainly better than the Schweppes or Canada Dry or Wilkeson products that in their pure artificiality signify "ginger ale," rather than actually taste like ginger ale. Which brings up a certain conundrum around the nexus of the taste imprinted on the imagination vs. the actual taste of things. If you expect the taste of ginger to be what's in your basic commercial ginger ale, what happens when you taste real ginger? Which is why Diabolo Ginger, which tastes like the more artisanal and real ginger sodas that began hitting the US market about 15 or 20 years ago, will probably always live in some niche market. It just doesn't taste like ginger ale. Even though, objectively, it tastes better. And what does Provence have to do with it anyway? Nothing, if you're being objective. And as a postmodern marketing strategy it's totally laughable. Choose your Deleuzion.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

不二家 ミルキードリンク

I knew there was a reason I can't stop suckin' down this stuff. It says so on the label. ミルキーはママの味. Miruki wa mama no aji. Milky is the taste of mom. Yes! Japanese food technologists have been working for a long time, studying lactating mothers to reproduce that truly natsukashi flavor - mom's milk!

What can I say? They did it. Here's a potent mix of oligosaccharides, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, milk, etc., skim milk powder, whole milk powder, syrup, dextrin, salt, carbonate Ca, stabilizer (cellulose, xanthan), flavoring (milk, soy-derived), emulsifier ( derived from soybean), casein Na (from milk), vitamin B2, and vitamin D that will take you back to those long lost days when cognition was all about a warm breast and free-flowing milk. Granted, a cold hard can is a long way from soft warm mammary. but thank you ma'am or sir or whoever for coming up with this sweet mix that takes you back. Back to just out of the womb. I think it's those protective and nurturing oligosaccharides that really do the trick.

It makes me imagine of all those milk donors, lining up in florescent white sterile halls, waiting for particularly nerdy researchers - pocket protectors and black thick-rimmed coke-bottle glasses - finally having their wet dream come true, to harvest their fresh milk. These beautiful beautiful young mothers, all giving up a little of their child's sustenance to these pervy doctors in search of lower truths. Damn human kindness! The dystopia of food-technological will not be thwarted! The milk is rushed in pre-cooled thermoses to be either centrifuged, freeze-dried, boiled, held at a slow simmer, brushed onto microscope slides, analyzed, tasted, observed over several weeks, thrown against the wall, fed to monkey babies, secretly made into cheese, whatever their diabolical minds could imagine. Finally all the cognate chemicals and bovine lactic variations are arranged and rearranged and tasted and tested until... until... the perfect simulacra for sweet mommy's milk is developed. Bravo, you brave bulls.

Monday, August 4, 2014


Somewhere sometime in the 80s, I'd wander the West Village in a cocaine-Boodles-Gin-martini daze, not exactly a daze, it was more strident, more enlivened, but now it's all a daze, and more often than not home in on this little corner cafe famous for its cheesecake and a pretty new wave girl who worked behind the counter. Dark hair spiked with product. Pale white skin, black lipstick and fingernail polish. I wore all black at the time. Now I pepper my wardrobe with some white. And some gray tones.

I'd order the plain cheesecake. I was a purist at the time. All white. All black. No gray tones. She'd serve me up a thick creamy slab of the very best cheesecake I'd ever had. No such thing on the West Coast in those days. Still isn't. I'd smile wanly. The drug-knowingness shrugged off as she went to serve other customers and I was left with the most immense creamy sugary tart ivory-colored intervention to the New York high that accompanied life in those days.

Though I don't remember exactly where the place is/was - and I do generally have a great place-memory (that's how high I was) - it comes back to me as the ur-cheesecake, the one that will always be remembered (beyond the grave, even?), the one that will never be found again. As will the new wave girl, perhaps an amalgam of all those new wave girls, perhaps never existing.

Food, memories, food-memories play tricks on ya. They lie. Except in the case of this cheesecake. It was really the best. And the times themselves, ill-remembered for the details, indelible for the feeling are not forgotten. So when my wife joking asks, "You want some cheesecake for dessert?" - a joke more hurtful for thin-skinned folks in the cheesecake desert of Japan - my mind always shoots directly to those lost years in lower Manhattan.

So, I walk into the convenience store the other day and there it is - the (double)W cheezukekitaruto (Wチーズケーキタルト). This thing actually has the appearance of being somewhat cheesecake-like through the plastic wrap. On the package there's a disturbing little phrase in English that must have been a warning - May there cakes bring you a nice teatime. This here cake or them there cakes? Perhaps it was advising me to buy other (there) cakes, rather than this one.

All in all it was a very sweet, slightly crumbly cake wrapped in a sweet, moderately crust-like crust with little bits of browned process cheese product on the top. At 531 calories, it was a meal in itself. And did I tell you it was sweet?

Again, let down, burned, bummed by the complete misunderstanding of the meaning of cheesecake in Japan. Just like the way this place tricks you with French, Spanish, or Italian cuisine. Where's the bread? Where's the abondanza? Where's the nicely cooked seafood? Where's the garlic? Like the bagels. Like the Mexican food. They just don't get it here. Could be not having the right ingredients - Mexican food. But they got the stuff for most other things. Of course the quality for the likes of Mediterranean food is lacking.

So, I'm left with fading memories. Things I'm making up. Things that I wish for. Unfulfilled. What do I expect, relying on convenience stores? There's no memory-making or remembrance there. Find what you need. Make what you need. And remember... remember.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Bears! It's all about bears. See, the watermelons come from Kumamoto. These are the little ones that (and I quote)"contain a lot of citrulline which has a diuretic effect, and lycopene which has antioxidant properties. Why don’ you get through the hot summer vigorously eating delicious watermelons grown in Kumamoto Prefecture?" 'Cause you see, kuma means "bear" in Japanese and moto means "origin" or something like that and this is where the bears come from or rather, started out. And as for the watermelon - the suica - here where they promote these little sweet ones or these heart-shaped ones that have this "diuretic effect" that you should "vigorously eat..." rather than just enjoy for the fact that summers here are ridiculously hot and watermelons are kinda perfect on hot days, but the ones from Kumamoto, like much Japanese produce and fruit, are promoted to a fare-the-well as something extremely special (and they probably are) and ridiculously expensive, which is all because of the promotion, and... well, you see where this all goes. So you're stuck with a watermelon soda, Suica Soda (すいかソーダ), which will do on yet another extremely hot day in Tokyo and is about all you can afford. You spy that happy bear (nicely designed can, by the way) smiling at you from the vending machine, pop in your 120 yen and "vigourously" suck down your first gulp. And it's good. It's cold it's watermelon-y and soda-y, but still it's not quite the same as you imagine a big slice of a real Kumamoto watermelon, which you've never tried because they're so damn expensive and you don't trust the hype anyway. Anyway certainly not as good a Hermiston melon, which you have tried and lives up to the hype and at the height of summer you can probably buy for a buck or two - and they're big! Bigger than those puny Kumamotos! So you make do with a can of cold soda, refreshing, slightly watermelon-y, fine for a sweltering day. And you dream of bears.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


There are a couple of double entendres from this bottled water's name, PUWATER. The first is in the obvious quick English reading of the label. The other is in the intended pronunciation - PEE-yu-water - signified by the umlauts over the u. The ostensible intent of the marketers naming it was the idea of mixing the words "pure" with "water" and thus, PUWATER. Methinks they were savvy enough about how English speakers would look at it all and buy it for novelty value alone.

The shtick behind this stuff is they get it from Lake Yamanaka, one of the Fuji Five Lakes. It's supposedly sluiced up from 100 meters below the lake's surface. This reminds me of old WWII movies where crack allied troops try to stop Nazi shipments of "heavy water," from alpine lakes used to make top secret weapons. We had to stop them before they developed their own bomb.

PUWATER's supposed to be soft and mellow, suiting the Japanese taste - whatever that is. And also it includes vanandium.

Vanandium - Number 23 on the periodic table of elements is a metal. Its main application is as a strengthening agent added to steel and titanium. And it's also used medically for treating diabetes, low blood sugar, high cholesterol, heart disease, tuberculosis, syphilis, a form of “tired blood” (anemia), and water retention (edema). It's apparently wormed its way into the athletic world as an aid to weight training. Oh, and it's used in homeopathy.

From WebMD

Vanadium is LIKELY SAFE in adults, if less than 1.8 mg per day is taken. At higher doses, such as those used to treat diabetes, vanadium frequently causes unwanted side effects including abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, nausea, and gas. It can also cause a greenish tongue, loss of energy, and problems with the nervous system.

Vanadium is UNSAFE when used in large amounts and for a long time. This increases the risk of serious side effects including kidney damage. Vanadium might lower blood sugar. People with diabetes should check their blood sugar carefully and watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Vanadium is LIKELY SAFE in children when taken in amounts found in foods. Don’t give children supplements. Not enough is known about the safety of these larger doses in children.

Special Precautions;

Warnings: Pregnancy and breast-feeding: If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, limit your intake of vanadium to the amount found in food. Not enough is known about the safety of taking larger doses. 

Diabetes: The vanadyl sulfate form of vanadium might lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar carefully.

PUUWATER seems to only contain trace elements of Vandium, as do some of the foods we eat.  I'm not one to go overboard on things that naturally happen. However, I generally don't like shit in my water. And I am alway suspect when a product speciously promotes something that probably shouldn't be promoted without some serious research as to the effects it may have. About half a century before the krauts were on to the potentially world-destroying effects of heavy water, radium water was a bit of rage in the U.S. Where's it now?