Saturday, October 18, 2008


Tohato's Fuwa Maru(ふわ丸)corn snacks are these oddball semi ninja star/fleur de lis shaped thingamabobs, slightly stale feeling in da mouth, but oddly compelling. Especially after a long night of drinking nihonshu. And just as the fleeting feeling of drunkenness will pass, these corn snacks have a very ephemeral quality, almost instantly disappearing at first contact of saliva. In fact, the clever marketers at Tohato are banking on that disappearing act. Promo for the product makes statements to the effect that like a clever ninja, the Fuwa Maru are as quick to disappear as they appear. 

Drawn to this quite insubstantial - even by junk food standards - corn puff by it's admittedly handsome package, a somewhat ukiyo-e-y illustration of a darkly garbed ninja, in the konbini aisles it stood out head and shoulders for eye catchingness. A quick peruse of the Tohato site made me realize that in this big ol' world of packaging and repackaging similar things and calling them different, that the package is where manufacturers make their cases. And Tohato excels in this area of branding.

These are the same folks who market Bokun Habanero chips. A year ago they created a campaign that involved mobile phone multiplayer game playing and a traditional advertising media to determine the winner of the "world's worst war" - Tyrant Habanero Burning Hell Hot or Satan Jorquia Bazooka Deadly Hot. Hmm. You may have thought snack foods were simply about satiating some immediate desires. Looks like the stakes can be pretty high these days.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Marunaga's Kinako Mochi (きなこもち) bar is one of those wonders that tries, somewhat unsuccessfully to mashup a very traditional food to a new technology. Granted, ice cream bars have been around for some time now, but the venerable tradition of kinako covered mochi is, well, ancient. 

A couple of definitions are in order. First, mochi. Cooked rice well beaten, preferably with wooden mallets, until it has become very sticky and glutinous. Kinako? A fine powder ground from roasted soybeans. Often compared in taste to peanut butter, it has a bit more of a caramel-y taste. Fresh mochi covered in kinako is a favorite old-fashioned treat, mildly sweet and chewy with a round nutty taste.

The ice cream bar in question has a thin amber colored fondant redolent with kinako, covering a layer of ice milk which surrounds a core of mochi. It all makes some sense, but on the whole, its mild flavors and textures just don't quite deliver. And there's a fascinating thing that happens when mochi is frozen. It kinda gets like silly putty. If you grab a bite and pull slowly, it stretches. However, if you pull quickly, it breaks! A great idea for some simple childish fun, but as food, it's novelty wears off quickly.  I have yet to experiment, but I wonder if it can transfer comic images, like silly putty does?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

フレンチ セーキ

Tokyo based Kyodo Milk Industry Co., Ltd., under the Meito brand supplies a mess o' milk to the Kanto market. Apart from the usual, seemingly infinite variations on plain ol' milk - they have recently been touting a zero fat milk - they specialize in any number of flan and pudding products.  So it only seems right that they would spin off some of these ideas into drinkable form. The フレンチ セーキ (French Shake) is a quite sweet - sugar, fruit sucrose, and grape sugar are all listed as ingredients - moderately low-fat milk drink. Egg yolk and vanilla Frenchify it.  
From years ago, I recall my first taste of French vanilla when the first Baskin Robbins stores crept out of California and hit the upper west coast.  French vanilla was the exotic premium version of plain ol' boring vanilla ice cream. The cloying egg custard taste was certainly offset by a somewhat real tasting vanilla. Plus it had little brown specs as further proof of its true vanilla roots... or rhizomes... or whatever.  All I really recall, was that despite it all - and that very strange yellow color - it somehow started my love affair with vanilla flavored milk products.
How's Meito's French Shake measure up?  Not bad in that sort of Proustian way that makes me want to write six volumes of filler between the first and last lines.  Sweet it is. It's got a moderately cloying eggy taste. And it reminds me of something from way back. Exactly why egg vanilla custardy things become French, I'm not so sure, mais longtemps, je me suis couche de bonne heure, after a nice glass of vanilla flavored milk.  Never was that much a fan of the egg though.