Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Gari Gari-kun Napolitan


OK, I couldn't help myself. My better angels said, "No!" but the draw, the absurdity of it all, made me lose all reason and I bought it. Napolitan flavor. It says it all. Here's a frozen confection by Akagi, done under their Gari Gari label - largely  a creditable producer of popsicle-like snacks. This one, though, is ostensibly savory. It's all part of a promotion to keep things on the absurd side - remember Jones' Soda Turkey and Gravy flavor? They've made beef stew popsicles and corn potage-flavored ones, which were very popular. However with Napolitan, they actually suffered bad press and pulled them pretty quickly.

The Gari Gari-kun Napolitan bar is based on the classic yoshuku favorite, Napolitan spaghetti. This spaghetti is basically ketchup with homeopathic amount of vegetables. A taste acquired from childhood, for millions of Japanese it's a natsukashi (nostalgic) taste. For those introduced to it in later life… well… like TastyKakes, I guess you had to grow up with it. All that aside, the popsicle version is what happens when you let some particularly transgressive food technologists the go-ahead with their most aggressive ideas.

So, here's what it was. A molded quiescently frozen pop. The outside, a mildly sweetened tomato flavor. The bit of milk analog that bound it would have made one think of tomato soup - frozen - but it had more of a cheap canned-tomato funk. The taste itself was marvelously unpalatable. Neither having any tomato freshness nor sweet summery-ness, it left a lingering bitterness that tickled the partoid glands in particularly annoying fashion.  Like in the I-wanna-puke way.

Beneath that layer lay crushed ice with tiny bits of tomato gelatin. I suppose it was to give a bit of pasta-like texture, but also to continue the questionable tomato goodness at the essence of the experience.

I give it up to Gari Gari. They make a nice nashi-flavored pop that's about as close as one can get to a paleta in this neck of the woods. But with the Napolitan bar, they've crossed the line. I wonder what's next? Tonkotsu ramen bars?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Crunky Ball Nude

In the darker areas of my imagination, Crunky Ball Nude plays itself over and over. Myriad variations on some sort exotic Eastern sex thing. Like the three second blow job or thrusting buttocks loop going over and over and over and over and over the crunk takes hold.

The Crunky Ball disrobed, naked, revealed, stripped bare by bachelors even, all in it's obscene glory. The porn reel continues. A crunky ball is inserted by shining chrome mechanical fingers, the thick wet labia hungrily devouring it. Cut to a woman's face, eyes clamped shut, her red lips grimacing in both pleasure and pain, in mock ecstasy. "Oooh, baby, give me more!" she demands. The ancient mysterious (inscrutable) Chinese pleasure orb. So simple, yet so... magical! Undreamed of sexual pleasure are to be had with the clunky ball. A mandarin robed man with a Fu Manchu moustache observes discreetly from behind a silk curtain.

Or maybe... Crunky Ball is the pseudonym of a devilish or maybe churlish little fellow, like Willy, the unassuming 1920's Brooklynite stumbling into the ladys' bath or Ron Jeremy, that hairy pot-bellied shmoe who manages to peg all the right porn star babes. Hey he's just like me. Wait, I'm better lookin'! Why don't I get the babes? Like he does! Crunky Ball, whew, you look nasty, dude. All naked and shit! I hate you! What you got that I don't? And why can't I stop watching your fuckin' movies? You fucker!

Or maybe... Crunky Ball is a new high. Better than even bath salts. You take wallboard, crunch it up, mix it with Boraxo, spray it with Raid (use the whole can) and boil it in bleach until goo rises to the top. Then you take that goo, form it into balls about an inch around. Cut with baby powder to make it keep its shape. Take the ball and shove it up your ass. Be sure to take off all your clothes or you'll soil them with bodily secretions as the effect takes hold. The high is insane! The addiction immediate. It's a drug that knows what it's about. Oh Crunky Ball, you beguiling master. I will do anything for you! I would even kill for you. Even myself.

But no... I go to the darkest place of all. With the certainty of death - lungs crushed by pressure, water seeping in through all orifices, numbness and then collapse of all bodily functions. And that's what the Crunky Ball Nude makes me think of. Like little underwater mines, these confections are an inside out chocolate ball. Studded with crunchy rice puffs over a soupcon of a chocolate layer over some undefinable cereal center (something like dried white bread). Stripped of any pretense of flavor beyond sweet, likable textures beyond styrofoam, or even candy-ness, they're afterthoughts become objects. The scrapings off the candy room floor turned into another product to sell. A bitter and cynical vision of the future - now - hiding in a layer of sugar. And as I succumb to the deep dark I ask, "Can I have another Crunky Ball? And can you make it nude?"



Saturday, July 23, 2011

三角蒸しぱん

In the tradition of spotted dick and Boston brown bread Japan has its own steamed cakes. Appearing recently in my local (Walmart-owned) Seiyu was this thick and big wedge from our friends at Daily Yamazaki (the baking and convenience store concern). The 三角蒸しぱん (Three-Cornered Steamed Bread), the 黒 (dark) version is a spongy trifle flavored with brown sugar and rum-soaked raisins. Leavened with baking soda, it has that slightly acrid taste that actually complements the mild sweetness. The packaging markets in nostalgia with a simple drawing of the furusato in the corner. And the flavor, even for gaijin like me, takes one back to simpler times and tastes.

Steamed buns and cakes have a long tradition in this neck of the woods, but there's a more modern variation that, again, plucks on the heartstrings of Japanese of a certain age. Seems that in the 20's, some clever entrepreneurs in Kansai had the idea of baking up steamed cakes and sending small armies of underpaid workers out on donkey-drawn carts with strict orders not to return until all the cakes were sold. Fast forward a bit to the post-war years and these same baking concerns revived the ass carts. Even then it was banking on the nostalgia factor.

1955 - A clever songwriting team, Minoru Toyoda and Akira Yano, with hit-making King Records wrote a song, パン売りのロバさん (Bread-selling Mr. Donkey). With the treacly voiced Keiko Kondo, the loping rhythm and hee-hawing horn, they not only had a hit, but a cultural signifier to boot. The song, played loudly, as sellers blanketed the neighborhoods of Osaka and Kyoto, made a mark, probably stronger than Hound Dog (recorded and released the same year), on a young generation of Japanese.

The donkey carts are long gone. A handful of trucks still make the rounds in a few neighborhood in Kansai. But now, sans song, you can buy a much more limited and staler selection of steamed buns at your major grocery chains. Not to celebrate the exploitation of the sorry steamed bun sellers by their baking bosses, but a certain quality, a particularity of the Japanese landscape has truly been lost, replaced with a new marketing scheme that exists solely upon nostalgia and not a single new idea. I wasn't even around for the song and the street sellers, but I kind of miss 'em. But I guess I'll just have to settle for listening to the tune on youtube while munching on a mushipan with a glass of milk. And it I want to really wallow in yet another slice of nostalgia, there's Keiko-san's thick 1960's hit, Song of the Southern Cross to indulge in.



パン売りのロバさん (Bread-selling Mr. Donkey)

1.

ロバのおじさん チンカラリン
チンカラリンロン やってくる
ジャムパン ロールパン
できたて やきたて いかがです
チョコレートパンも あんパンも
なんでもあります チンカラリン

2.

赤い車は チンカラリン
チンカラリンロン ひいてくる
ジャムパン ロールパン
甘くて おいしい いかがです
チョコレートパンに あんパンに
どちらにしましょう チンカラリン

3.

いつもにこにこ チンカラリン
チンカラリンロン こんにちは
ジャムパン ロールパン
さあさあ みなさん いかがです
チョコレートパンと あんパンと
はいはいありがと チンカラリン

4.

晴れたお空に チンカラリン
チンカラリンロン 鈴がなる
ジャムパン ロールパン
よい子のおやつは いかがです
チョコレートパンも あんパンも
なんでもあります チンカラリン




Song of the Southern Cross

Friday, July 22, 2011

復刻堂 森永ホットケーキ ミルクセーキ

Sometimes the idea is so grotesque, so faux retro and so insanely clever and good that you can only gape in wonder, shove your 120 yen into the vending machine slot, grab that can just as it drops and pop it open and go ohmygod this is so amazing because it smells and tastes so much like butter and syrup - even though it really doesn't have any of that stuff in it - and it takes you back to an ur-pancake state of bliss. You close your eyes and all those Krusteaz dreams, short stacks at IHOP after all night drinking binges, Mom lovingly servin' 'em up before sending you off to school with a kiss on your forehead, early morning breakfasts - we're talking before the sun comes up - with Dad filppin' flapjacks over the fire during car camping fishing trips, leisurely mornings - with lots of sweet sticky syrup - and your lover, it all comes back. The only thing missing is sausage. So here we're presented with Morinaga's "Reprint Hall" hotcake flavor milk shake. It's not a milk shake in the North American sense. Not so thick and ice creamy, but this baby's packed with enough different milk powders, cream, eggs, caramel color and emulsifiers to pack a mighty diary wallop of a casein rush. Coupled with a perfectly attuned Aunt Jemima flavor simulacra - no maple here, we're talkin' caramel colored sugar syrup - who needs to go to Denny's or any other places in Japan that sell pancakes - at a tremendous cost, I might add, since I'm adding endless clauses to all my sentences anyway. Morinaga's made the claim that by reprinting a nostalgic Showa era image of pancakes on the can they're bringing back something of the good old days, but pancakes just kind of remain timeless and nostalgic no matter when they've been photographed. It's all signification. On a box, on a poster, on a can, on a T-shrit, a pic of three (it's always three) pancakes with thick golden wedges of butter and molten bronze cascades of luscious syrup, as Pavlov suggests, just kinda makes you go all soft and gooey. Don't it? So this crazy hotcake essence in a can showed up about a year ago and still remains in a few choice vending machines around Tokyo. I've made a note of them, but I'm keeping 'em secret. This stuff is like pancake crack and I want it all for myself.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ブラックメロンパン

I did a double-take when I first saw the Afro Tanaka Black Melon Pan (ブラックメロンパン) in the packaged bread and pastry section of my local Mini Mart. The cellophane sleeve had an illustrated image of a moderately Afro-Japanese man sporting a very big afro. There was no printed ink in the afro section so the roughly textured surface of the black pastry below filled in the color, shape and feel of retro hairstyle. A hairstyle that occasionally makes its comebacks.

My first thought was "this is some sick joke." A little research revealed that the character in question is Afro Tanaka, a manga character invented in 2002 by Masaharu Noritsuke. Afro Tanaka is a disaffected high school student who gets involved relatively boring and mildly funny situations. His afro remains unexplained. It's what makes him different than his peers. Whether this is slightly racist type of negritude or merely observation on the part of Noritsuke also remains unexplained. The manga, like the hairstyle makes its occasional comebacks.

This design and promotion are somehow linked to Mini Mart's 30th anniversary. Is Mini Mart actively working to break down stereotypes and promote acceptance? Japan is notoriously racist even as it consumes and reinvents everything it can from other cultures. One is unsure of Afro Tanaka's racial heritage. Is he mixed blooded? Is he just playing at blackness? Is it natural? And does it matter?

No matter, the cleverness of the packaging is arresting, The product itself less so.

Melon pan, or what one may call melon bread, is a ubiquitous staple of Japanese bakeries. Though it is often melon flavored, the name actually comes from the sugary crunchy cookie-like dough that thinly covers the lump of sweet cake that makes up the melon pan. The surface gets a leathery melon rind look. Black melon pan is merely a pastry of the same sort with a black sugar coating. In the Afro Tanaka version, the black "melon rind" covers a sweet/bland chocolate cake which encloses a standard chocolate custard. All in all, it's sweet, a little chocolatey, and not much else.


The current Mini Mart promotion also includes the Afro Tanaka Onigiri Bomb (アフロ田中ばくだんおにぎり) - a black rice cake, again with a clever package. As to what's inside and what it tastes like... I'm off to the Mini Mart right now!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

北海道チーズ蒸しケーキ

The Daily Yamazaki company (from which this blog gleefully and illegally has stolen its name) really doesn't make very good baked goods. Jumping on to the corporate food bandwagon in the immediate post-war period, they, like Wonder and Langendorf in the USA cornered the market on cheap generic bread products (shokupan and various cakes and sweet breads). As tastes changed over the years and desire for better baked goods claimed the market, their flagship bakery outlets lost even their middle-class glamour and the handful that one can find around Tokyo are best left passed by. Like all good megacorporations, the company has expanded into other areas, and they are even trying to compete against much better chain bakeries with their Vie de France outlets - probably the worst of the semi-French bakeries in Japan.

But their products do show up packaged upon shelves throughout the nation. And one in particular has become a bit of guilty pleasure for me.

The Hokkaido Steamed Cheesecake (北海道チーズ蒸しケーキ) is one of the most beguiling and strange things that pass for normal here. In truth, it's not really that good, but like a bad habit, I crave it.

Here's what it is. The most perplexing sponge cake. It tends to shear when broken or bitten in to. How do they do that? The "branded" reverse outline of Hokkaido on the top has a vaguely cheesy edge to it. Slightly funky. The steaming of the dough tends to make it a bit dense, but not quite as dense as cheesecake as we know it. Yet not quite fluffy. Oh, and it's sweet and filled with calories.

Research has come up goose eggs on whether this is a real variation of something traditionally made in Hokkaido or something made up in the laboratories of Daily Yamazaki in those heady years immediately after the war, when the US was flooding Japan with government cheese, flour and sugar. In my imagination, a certain Japanese ingenuity with the products at hand created this monster that can still be frightening and a friend of children after all these years.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Green Cola

Lifting the logo from the real thing, Asahi Green Cola positions itself in the market as a "natural" product with a sort of "trendy" appeal. Of course when your main barker is a popular, though somewhat long in tooth, J-Pop star, one is convinced that the marketers at Asahi have no idea what the kids are into. Perhaps the marketing is toward boomers, who probably also don't care about Kiyosuke Himoro either.

As for it's green-ness, the bottle states "For you natural life" and a bit below "'Asahi's Green Cola' is made from selected raw materials derived from plants such as fruits, with cola's own dynamism and briskness." What's inside? High fructose grape sugar, sugar, lemon juice, malt extract, and flavors. I suppose in the literal sense, the marketing is somewhat honest. Still, it's a bit of a shill.

As for the taste, it's very light in flavor, high in sugar. In the world of cola, there's the sugary maltiness of Coke, the citrus edge of Pepsi, and the pure kid's sugar fantasy of RC. This one approaches RC.

It just hit the market a couple of days ago. Between the US big boys, Kirin's Cola Shock and god knows what else shoves it's way onto the shelves, Green Cola's got a long row to hoe. Still it's better than Coke Zero. At least it's drinkable. And the big Zero seems to be having a fine shelf life.