Monday, June 25, 2007


The French Bread Atelier chip is an odd little snack from Oyatsu, maker of many an interesting snack food. A very thin baked crouton - or is it? It seems more of a slurry poured into toast-round shapes, cleverly dyed around the edges to produce the illusion of crust, baked crisp. Nonetheless, it has the feel and taste of, for lack of a better descriptor, a French bread chip. There are two versions - one buttered, the other with butter and sugar. The butter/sugar chip (in the yellow plaid package) has a slight rancid butter overtone that finishes with a soupçon of sweetness. A bit like French toast in a chip. For their marketing they have transvestite torch singer (and ex-lover of Yukio Mishima), Akahiro Miwa as the spokesmodel, phoning it in in a series of commercials. Muro-san, as Miwa is also known, cashed in early on transgressiveness and has had a long career being the Milton Berle, or perhaps Flip Wilson, of Japan. Muro-san's chip commercials can be seen at this link -

Sunday, June 24, 2007

ランチパック - ツナマヨネーズ

If it looks like a pillow, is it comfort food? These Lunchpack* sandwiches are a ubiquitous konbini treat. Found in the section with other bread products, these strange little pillows are usually two to a pack. Crustless** shokupan (Japanese white bread) with fillings savory or sweet is crimped on all sides. They remind me of the old carny treat, the spaceburger – a sloppy Joe mixture, dumped onto a hamburger bun and then smashed into a device that cooked, crimped, and compressed the whole mess into a flying saucer shape***. Imagine a spongy ravioli filled with such fillings as strawberry jam and cream, macha paste, chicken salad, katsu, or in the case of the item sampled, ツナマヨネーズ (tuna mayonnaise) – and you’ve got the Lunchpack sandwich. The tuna salad in question was totally serviceable, with mild pickle and onion overtones in a very mayonnaise-y tuna schmear. Definitely in the kids’ food genre - hand-holdable, undemanding on the tastebuds, gooey on the inside yet soft and dry on the outside. Daily Yamazaki boasts having introduced (at last count) 266 flavors of these little sandwiches. Wow!

* Lunchpack is the brand name for the ones produced by Daily Yamazaki.
** The sealed crustless sandwich was at the center of a specious patent infringement suit brought on by Smuckers Corporation in regard to their "Uncrustable "sandwich.
* **There’s still a spaceburger restaurant/stand in Pocatello, ID.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Tokachi-Nomu-Yogurt is a mildly melony slightly yogurty cooler that hit the Family Mart stores in late June. A seasonal refresher found in the cartoned juice and milk section, it has a nice milky mouthfeel and a generally pleasant and undemanding taste. All in all, the thing that the doctor sometimes orders. It comes from the York food division of Nissin Corporation, a mega-investment industry that spends much of its time and money on branding. The package itself has a strong word-graphic that simply says "melon." A farmer's hat, a melon, and the Sapporo Clock Tower complete the image of simple old-fashioned tastes and values (even though yogurt drinks are a quite modern addition to the Japanese food landscape and the clock tower was designed by Americans in 1878). The bold and straightforward package stands out amongst the rest of the noise on the shelf. Tokachi is a region of Hokkaido that is particularly famous for its melons, the Yuubari melon (夕張メロン), being a treasured treat from the area*. Whether the melons used in this drink come from there is unimportant. By making the relation in the consumer's mind, you've got them at least thinking that they are partaking in a gourmet experience.

*In summer, at Tokyo department stores, a single melon can sometimes cost up to 20,000JPY.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


This frozen confection from Sentan is a variation on on the shiratamai miruki uji kintoki (白玉ミルク宇治金時), a Kyoto specialty. In the original cafe version, shaved ice, served over a bed of sweetened azuki beans is doused with Uji tea and sweetened condensed milk. A couple of mochi balls are thrown in for fun. In this version, a mochi ice cream layer covers a macha ice. Azuki beans are liberally suspended in the crunchy ice. At the center is melty condensed milk. It all works together quite brilliantly. The creamy outer layer surrounds a beautifully textured and flavored tea ice - and then - surprise! Sweet milk oozing from the center. Yum! Uji is a famous tea area near Kyoto, perhaps now more famous for marketing tea, rather than producing it. Yet it is still considered the tea capital of Japan, hosting an annual tea festival on the first Sunday in October and boasting the oldest tea shop in Japan, perhaps the world - the Tsuen Tea Shop, founded in 1160.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Flan in a can! This amazing product from Pokka is not really available at the konbinis, but at Pokka vending machines. Vending machines lurk on nearly every corner in Tokyo - self-contained sites on the landscape of consumption proffering coffee, juices, soups, sodas, alcohol and more. The Pokka company revolutionized the vending machine paradigm in 1973 by offering the first hot coffee in a can via machine. The Japanese food industry has never looked back. But the プリンシェイク (Pudding Shake) may be the ultimate in fun and quite delicious street corner delicacies. Give the container 5 hard shakes (following the instructions printed on the can) and the canned flan goes all thixotropic, turning into a liquid caramel milk with small chunks of custard suspended therein. The ultimate treat for a hot afternoon at the laundromat.


Bits of pineapple, white peach and azuki beans suspended in a creamy ice milk bar are the essence of this delightful frozen confection from Marunaga, Tokyo's main milk giant. The Shirokuma (polar bear) Bar is a sticked version of a traditional Kagoshima shaved ice, served with condensed milk, azuki beans and fruit. The origin of the traditional dessert is up to some question. One suggestion is that it was a pre-WWII treat that developed in Kagoshima, named Shirokuma after the polar bear that was on the label of the condensed milk used. Another version puts its invention after WWII, with a certain coffeehouse inventing the snack, shaping the ice into the shape of a polar bear. Whatever its provenance, it is a great combination of flavors and textures, built for taste, and most likely from necessity - yet another wonderful use of condensed milk, Gail Borden's 19th century invention that helped usher in the age of industrial food production.

Monday, June 18, 2007


The O'Zack Gyoza Chip is a somewhat mannerist potato chip that plays with a very basic paradigm of the chip. The pleasure of the snack chip is reductivism in taste sensation. Let's take the potato chip. A good (and popular) one works with the well-rounded blandness of the potato, deep fried to a satisfying, but undemanding crunch. You don't have to masticate too hard to get it down your throat (say, unlike a knäckebrot). Salt, vinegar, nacho cheese, and barbeque flavor are among the classic tastes. And the bigger and more one dimensional the taste is, the more it hits that fast food nerve of satisfaction. The Japanese have added a particular twist to chips with the addition of umami - the taste of savoriness. As the Japanese are not big cheese eaters, the Japanese food technologist looks toward meat and seafoods to create new flavors for chips. There are chips that taste like scallops, beef stew, and more. And that's where the gyoza chip fits in. The O'Zack Gyoza Chip is your pretty standard thin potato crisp. Nothing too special in itself. Ah, but with a bit of sesame oil, a touch of vinegar, and whatever gyoza-analog chemicals you have on hand - and presto - you've added new life to a tired chip. They are a completely addictive chip, in an insidious modern scientific way. A few years ago, Housefoods, who make the chip, were the first Japanese company to get caught importing GM potato flakes from the US. The cutting edge of food technology may be a devil's road lined with gyoza chips. Beware!

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Tongari Corn chips is Bugles! These crunchy little suckers are the pretty much as uninspired and insipid as the marketing idea (I hate to call it food) that hit the USA in late 60s. In fact, they may not be as tasty as the original turd-like cornucopia known as the Bugle. Light and crisp they are - but that's about all. What Tongari Corn chips have, though, is marketing. They have integrated themselves into the market with commercials featuring J-pop stars du jour and relatively uninspired creative production. But the commercials hit a bullseye on big cultural signifiers. A recent set features J-pop star Tsubasa Imai in situations built around American suburbs, beaches and farmlands. Tsubasa is very recognizable by Tongari's target market. The commercials are set in America - ostensibly because corn is an American grain. The imprimeur of American-ness, though, is cool (even though in this case, it's pretty corny) and there is a national myth of Japan as lagging behind in the world, especially against American success - and that's why the Japanese must work so hard! Healing the wounds of losing WWII by sharing Tongari Corn with down-home American farmers and suburban mall rats, enjoying these simple pleasures in a places of pure leisure - all backgrounded with snippets of hit songs - are what have made these snack popular. It certainly is not the taste. A perfect post-modern tidbit - insubstantiality seasoned with easily digestible lies. They still leave a bit of bad taste in one's mouth.

Friday, June 15, 2007


The Bōkun Habanero (Tyrant Habanero) snack from Tohato offers a fine bit of heat on crunchy corrugated potato rings. Good tooth, a building fire the more one consumes, but not exactly the sweet hot bite of habanero that one would expect - more of a one-dimensional arbol or Thai pepper blast. All in all it's an acceptable snack that would go quite well with cold beer. Tohato has posted an amusing webpage of their habanero snacks, including a lo-fi video of the making of Bōkun Habanero. The mascot, Bōkun Habanero, with its distinctive Jack-o-lantern face has sparked a series of popular spinoff characters - Habanero-tan being the most famous - by fan artist Shigatake. So, every time you munch a Bōkun Habanero chip, you're taking a big bite into contemporary Japanese pop culture. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 14, 2007


The big Suika Bar is a prettty damn good frozen confection from Lotte. Lotte started off in the chewing gum market after WWII and expanded horizontally into all things sweet. They are the folks responsible for such things as the Crunky Bar and Koala's March (コアラのマーチ Koara no māchi) - those wonderful little chocolate filled cookies shaped like koala bears. The Suika Bar is a watermelon popsicle, brilliant in its simplicity and ingenuity. Shaped like a watermelon wedge, one can see the pink flesh, the pale green rind and little "seeds" - just like the real thing. The main part of the bar is a fruit ice (only 10% juice) that tastes very watermelon-y, though quite sweet. Little "seeds" are scattered throughout the ice. Don't spit them out. They're individual puffed rice grains covered in chocolate. The have the slight pop and give of real watermelon seed, but taste much better. The rind itself has a slightly different flavor than the rest of the pop - relatively insipid, with a slight citrus edge. Again, just like the real thing. Not quite as fruity and refreshing as a Mexican paleta, but certainly a huge leap from any frozen fruit confections that one would find in the USA.


From Calbee, the granddaddy of Japanese potato chip makers (in fact, they claim to have introduced potato chips to Japan in 1975) comes this seasonal treat. These are a ruffle-style potato chip spotted with little bits of ume ( - Japanese plum*). The ume are from the Wakayama prefecture in the Kansai region - of course, famous for their ume. Bursts of moderately intense sweet/sour plum aglomerate are followed by the nice round potato flavor of the crisp chip. A good balance of novelty within a classic chip.

*OK, they're actually in the apricot family, but everyone calls them plums.