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

Wチーズケーキタルト

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

すいかソーダ 

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

PUWATER(ピューウォーター)

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?


牛肉のおいしい カレーパン

Who doesn't like a karepan. This trusty variation on a piroshky is one of the better crossover foods ever made. I likes myself a good piroshky. I grew up on them. Mom would set up production, fry up some ground beef and onions, add some hard-boiled eggs, plenny of salt, then wrap 'em up in a yeasty homemade dough and deep fry huge batches of 'em. I'd eat them hot or cold, sometimes with a spear of dill pickle piercing the meaty filling or a drizzle of soy sauce (Mom was born in China). A perfect snack, meal, what-have-you on the run.

So, I come to Japan and here are these things - and man, some of them are better than plain old piroshky. Here they got this specifically Japanese variation of curry (カレー) that's got this fruitiness and a dark roux to thicken the whole thing up. Deep fried, often studded with crispy panko (my mom occasionally would roll her piroshky in corn flakes), they can be a beautiful thing.

And they can be shite. Case in point, the Beef Tasty Karepan from Kobeya. Kobeya is actually a fairly trustworthy bakery chain that can be found all over Kanto. Buying stuff from their bakery outlets can be just fine. However, I found this one at nearby convenience store. Apart from the general lack of freshness, which is not unexpected in these packaged products, the beef, the curry and the complete pretentiousness of the whole package left much to be desired.

I mean, what the hell is European Beef Curry, proudly emblazoned on the package, supposed to mean anyway? I know that there's still a bit of a throwback thought in Japan that things "European" hold a bit more class than the lowly "Japanese" brand. But it's the 21st century ferchrisakes! And when you think of curry or kare do your thoughts immediately go to the canals of Venice, the streets of Paris, Rome? I think not. You're forgiven if you've got some fond memories of currywurst or the vindaloos of London.

The package shows an image of a silver gravy boat streaming lovely brown curry into a beautiful bun. And old fashioned image of service à la russe, which nobody, I mean nobody does anymore. An image of some sort of nostalgia that rings hollower and hollower. Garçon, je voudrais un petit karepan pour commencer, et puis ...  et puis... forget it! Get some real karepan at a creditable outlet where they make in on the premises. You'll be glad you did.

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?