Monday, July 20, 2009


You won't find this at your usual konbini - unless you're traveling in Okinawa. I discovered this one in a wonderful little Okinawan store/cafe, Okinawa Souko, along the Pal Center shoutengai south of Asagaya on the west side of Tokyo.

Island Pork Jerky (島豚ジャーキー) is the product at hand. Jerky exists in many traditional cultures. The modern word for it comes from Mexico, from the Quechua. Ethiopia has a version of it made with either lamb or beef. But one of the commonalities of these places is dryness and plenty of sun. Neither of which exist much in Japan. And above all, hot and moist is the catchword for the Japanese islands, particularly the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa Prefecture), the southernmost chain of greater Nippon. Not particularly good or safe weather for drying and preserving meat products.

However, here we are in the 21st century and traditional or not, Japan does have the technology.

Pork jerky makes so much sense. It's surprising that I've never seen it in the US market. This wonderful little package of slightly smokey salty dried pork goodness comes from an Okinawan producer, Asahi. They're a small company that also makes a black pork jerky, pigs' ears jerky, chicken gizzard jerky, among a host of fine products munchable with ice cold Orion beer or awaomori. Perfect for a hot and sweltering summer day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cola Shock

It was only a matter of time. Since its invention, cola has been a favorite mixer with any number of liquors. Note the continuing popularity of Cuba libres, Jack and Coke and the kalimotxo (a favorite of Basque youth - equal parts coke and red wine). Kirin has cut to the quick with premix Cola Shock (コーラショック), a chuggable mix of vodka and cola.

In an ever competitive market for canned liquors, Japanese booze giants are constantly filling the drink aisles of konbinis and grocery stores with the next seasonal brew or chu hai, often competing with their own brands. But in this consumer paradise called Japan, there must be something new all the time. It keeps the economy going and consumer consuming.

Cola Shock is reminiscent of RC. Quite a bit on the sweet side, but with a big cola taste. And with 5% booze a pretty potent little number. Of course, cola fans have their favorites and rarely is there any crossover in brand loyalty. Coke drinkers drink Coke. Pespi folks love their Pepsi. Does anybody still drink RC? No matter, Cola Shock could well become a favorite for underage drinkers and let's-get-drunk-'til-we-puke partiers. It goes down pretty easy and wallops with a potent sugar and alcohol rush.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

エアイン チョコバー バナナ

The somewhat unwieldy name, Air-in-choc bar (エアイン チョコバー) and the design by committee package belie the fact that this frozen confection is one of the best things to be found in the freezer cases of Sunkus and Circle K stores throughout Japan this rainy season.

Chocolate and bananas, a classic combo of New World and Asian flavors, far too often falls a bit flat. Under-ripe bananas coated in insipid chocolate are a staple at matsuri stalls. Even the frozen chocolate bananas on a stick from their supposed birthplace at Newport Beach, CA just aren't that good. So, it's a real pleasure to see theory and praxis come together, revivifying a dwindling belief in what should have been assumed.

It's even made me a bit less skeptical of the uses of food "technology."

Here's what makes this thing so good. A wonderful fondant of dark chocolate wrapping a thin layer of banana sorbet (using real bananas!), all around a core of the air-in-choco - a sort of cocoa-y crumbly frozen confection. There are a brilliant mix of textures, tastes and basically a lot of chocolate. It's great!

The Circle K (name licensed from the Canadian convenience store company, Alimentation Couche-Tarde)/Sunkus empire, a division of UNY Co. LTD, markets it under the UK+KACHIAL brand. It seems to be manufactured by Akagi, though there's no mention of it on their website. And God knows how many other corporate folks have their finger in this ice cream pot. But, God bless 'em this time around.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pepsi Shiso - ペプシ じそ

Pepsi's been trotting out different summer promotions in Japan for the last couple of years. In 2007 they released Pespsi Iced Cucumber (too bad I missed that one!) and last year, Blue Hawiian. They've also been flaunting the genuinely undrinkable Pepsi Nex - a zero calorie soda designed to get market share from Coke Zero. I'm completely down with Chavez in banning Zero from the Venezuelan market. The revolution was not won on asapartame. I hope he does the same if and when Nex tries to conquer Venezuela.

But in a continuing travesty of trying to keep Japanese consumers interested in their market imperialism, Pepsi recently launched Pepsi Shiso on Japan for their summer enjoyment (?).

What it is is an electric green, artificially sweetened and shiso-flavored analog that gives a very strange blast of funky shisoness* and metallic punch at first sip, turning into a heavier and heavier drinking task as one tries to get through the 500 ml pet bottle. As it is, after a couple days, I could only get through about 1/2 the bottle.

I gave up today.

* Known in the west as perilla, shiso is strong herb - a bit minty, with a slight cilantro edge and a long taste. It comes in green or red leaves. It's used as a garnish for sushi, for flavoring sakes and sochus, and is a prime ingredient in umeboshi, the wonderful pickled "plums" that are a staple in the world of Japanese garnishes.