Thursday, October 16, 2014


Faux seasonality - it's one of the enduring myths of Japanese cuisine. All too often one is reminded of the Japanese obsession with its 4 seasons and its concern for preparing and serving food at its perfect time. Just like most other nations on earth. There's nothing special here. Especially when it's mixed up and mediated by the forces of industrial food. Japanese food in reality isn't particularly seasonal. You can get bad apples here all year, whether they're in season in Yamagata, imported from China or Australia. Sanma, which once truly was a fall fish, is now on grocery store shelves all year. Of course, they do lots of promotions for it in the autumn, but who's to know when that fish was caught - and frozen. Coulda been any time.

So, here's a little something from Fujipan, a particularly awful corporate baking concern, that hit the market about a month or so ago - Wマロンのクリームホーン. That's your W (meaning double) cream marron (chestnut) horn - a particularly nasty vienniose-style pastry. God know what they did to create this simulacra of pastry. In the double-ended "horn," one side had some sort of sham "whipped cream." The other a brown-died version of the same "whipped cream" that had the vaguest hint of sour chestnuts. Not at all a pleasant thing to eat.

But, in addition to the just plain badness of it, there was the package and the timing that made the whole thing even worse. Here it is, early September - this year mercifully temperate, but still not really fall. The package in an array of fall colors - oranges, yellows, browns - with bursting chestnut pods and bright maple leaves carrying all the appropriate signifiers. So when did they harvest these chestnuts? Not this year. When was the pastry made? Probably not this year either. At least it didn't taste like it.

This and other products of its ilk suddenly appear on convenience store shelves, pretending to be seasonal products. Bullshit. They merely take advantage of peoples' senses of nostalgia - if even that. Perhaps they become more insidious - blind markers of what you're supposed to be consuming and when.  Eating up every season like clockwork, marking off the years until you die.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Here's your ジャンボむしケーキベイクドチーズ. That's the jumbo mushicake baked cheese. Mushicake meaning steamed cake. Baked cheese meaning baked cheese. How these two processes reconcile, I can't fathom. They actually don't. There are specific words in Japanese that refer to cooking processes. 焼く(やく- yaku) is a little slippery as it mainly means to grill, but also to bake. And then there's 蒸らす (むらす - murasu) - to cook by steam. These are different things. Looking at this package, first there's the image of what looks like cheesecake, mostly a baked item. And the image makes it looked like it's a baked item. In English, there it is, the words, all caps, BAKED CHEESE. However, the first descriptor line says "jumbo mushicake" - mushicake meaning steamed cake. The cake itself, revealed through the transparent wrapper - definitely a steamed cake, no evidence of baking. And what the hell do they mean by BAKED CHEESE anyway. Is this a good thing? Especially considering the basic quality of basic quality Japanese cheese. Does this idea of BAKED CHEESE send some signal to the Japanese consumer that this is a good thing, something desirable? I realize that there's often a disconnect between image/idea and product itself in this world of late-stage hyper-capitalism. But there is a point where one says, "Enough!" These fictive products, these faux foods, at a certain point make no sense whatsoever. What is this thing they're trying to sell me? I have no time for such linguistic conundrums. I may eat my words, but why would I eat yours. The mendacity gets caught in my throat. The company that makes this thing is Kimuraya. These people claim to have invented the anpan, the classic azuki bean filled bun that was originally stolen from China and probably developed with the input of a mess of forgotten Japanese home and professional bakers. There's no reason whatsoever to believe anything Kimuraya says. Ergo, they didn't invent the anpan and this thing, this BAKED CHEEZE whatever - it's a lie.