Archive for the ‘Food & drink’ Category

Japan by the numbers (07.11.13)

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

A Tale of Two Limited-Edition Burgers: Lotteria’s Twin and McD’s Gold Ring

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Limited-edition fast food campaigns are made to lure in people exactly like me. I just don’t really eat all that much McDonald’s. I’m not the kind of person who would rather starve than eat a flimsy cheeseburger, but I also need to avoid putting my system into salt shock by eating — what I admit — are pretty tasty fries.

The point for me is, when it comes to fast food, pursuing the novelty is the pleasure. Last week there were two very different novelties to pursue: Lotteria’s Twin Burger and the Gold Ring at McDonald’s.

It takes two

“Lotteria’s new Twin Burger is not to be confused with a double burger.” Rocketnews 24’s headline issued what to me was a clear challenge. “Not to be confused”? Why confuse a double burger with a sandwich that aligns a tartar-sauced, deep-fried shrimp patty with a two-tone cheeseburger on a long bun . . .  when you can make it a double burger.

Here is the curious oblong package you are handed at the register when you order the Twin Burger:

The partly unsheathed twin

The sheathed Twin

You could eat it like this and get the same 801 calories, but what fun would that be?

The unsheathed Twin

The unsheathed Twin

And so, armed with a straw, I began the dismantling process:

L2.5

Soon, a new, more formidable burger emerged:

photo-1

Quite frankly, I was intimidated. For starters, it was going to be hard to get it in my mouth without getting tartar sauce and cheddar grease everywhere. And then even once I managed to do that, what would it taste like?

“It has flavors,” I managed, after the first bite.

photo-2

“Actually, it works fine. Surprisingly edible.”

And that’s when it dawned on me I had basically created a fast food surf  ‘n’ turf burger. In a way, it was anti-climatic.

The worst part was the aftertaste, but that has zero to do with whether you eat it horizontally or vertically. Unlike our next contender, the Twin is available through the end of the month (July 31), and for one coin (¥500) at that, so if you feel inspired to try this union of two popular Lotteria burgers, head on over. However, it would be a mistake to take this post as a recommendation.

Put a ring on it

On July 6, McDonald’s launched its one-day-only premium Quarter Pounder “Jewelry” series with the Gold Ring: a kaiser roll just barely wrangling two colossal slabs of smoky bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, a quarter pound of beef, and the gold ring itself, a round of pineapple. The slathering of BBQ sauce, featuring over 10 spices, makes this stack a slick mess. That said, it was quite the production number.

McDonald’s president Eiko Harada was quoted, “Other companies might be able to develop the same quality of food, but they can’t offer it at the price, scale or speed that McDonald’s can.”

Regardless of your thoughts on the rest of that statement, when ever-ready intern Eric and I descended on my local McDonald’s on Saturday we laid a flavor foundation picking at our fries for well over 10 minutes before our burgers finally came, so I’m not entirely sure if that was the speed he is referring to. In any case, they did  arrive (two of the 24 the location was prepared to purvey) with a bow and a prompt to examine the included documentation. The illustration on the card below was probably the best part of the whole meal.

The invitation

The invitation

Out of the bags, into the boxes. First slide obi-like wrapper off, then life the box lid up, remove the inner wrap:

The deboxing

The deboxing

The bacon made us shudder in terror. Neither of us were able to eat it all.

photo-9

Thick enough?

I had Eric take the first bite:

Digging in.

“My first impression of the thing was pretty good,” he said. “The smoky bacon, soft Monterrey Jack and tangy BBQ sauce combined well. A few bites in, however, and certain ingredients got overwhelming. Notably, the bacon and pineapple. The former was just way too thick. I had to remove several pieces to get through the sandwich. And the pineapple made the burger tough to eat and was too sweet alongside the already sugary sauce.”

photo-11

Inside the Ring

Allow me to loudly proclaim ditto on the bacon. These shields of pork can only be called such since they come from the same area of the pig’s belly. It’s really too bad, because I think the sandwich could have benefited from the crisp that (what many would argue) “properly” fried bacon would have brought. The sauce was less sweet than feared and even had a bit of kick thanks to those 10+ spices.

As Eric walked away, he said, “I’m a little disappointed in the Golden Arches,” but I felt nothing. The utter lack of necessity, combined with a flavor that ended up still tasting somehow like McDonald’s despite being completely new, bred neither love nor hate.

This food was not only fast but fleeting. July 6 was supposedly the only day the Gold Ring would be available, but Black Diamond day is coming up fast. Adventurous eaters ready for McDonald’s spin on a truffle burger should mark their calendars for this Saturday, July 13.

Watch this space.

Soymilk cream to give dairy cream a run for its money?

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Press conference to launch soymilk cream

Various company reps stand proud at a news conference to launch soymilk cream

Soymilk drinks have been trending in recent years in Japan. Increasingly thought of as a healthier alternative to milk, soymilk is also a convenient substitute for those who are lactose intolerant. But have you heard of soymilk cream? Created by Osaka based Fuji Oil, this new ingredient was introduced with great fanfare onto the Japanese market in April this year and since then, products containing the ingredient have been appearing on the market.

Made with the USS (Ultra Soy Separation Technology) invented by Fuji Oil, soymilk cream is created using a centrifuge that separates a mixture of pounded soybeans and water out into soymilk cream and low fat soymilk; a process that closely resembles the way dairy cream is created. Just like regular cream, soymilk cream can be used to thicken and give a creamy taste to soups or sauces and can even be whipped. It can also be used to make mayonnaise (by adding salt and vinegar) or cakes, acting as a replacement for egg whites.

The catch is that, though it has been released for sale to food manufacturers and restaurants, it’s not yet available as a basic ingredient in stores. But the fact that both Nikkei Trendy and Tokyo Keizai picked up on the launch  indicates that this latest novelty ingredient has the potential to have a big impact on Japan’s food industry. Nikkei Trendy reported that though the product officially went on sale in April, they’d already sold out due to pre-orders from food manufacturers.

So where can you get a taste of this miraculous new ingredient. Well, expre-su cafe in Tokyo Station sells a weird and wonderful sounding strawberry vinegar soymilk cream concoction to passing commuters. Furthermore, just last month Cold Stone Creamery launched an acai and soy gelato containing the stuff. With a healthy, organic image and a slightly inflated price, the product looks to be aimed at the high-end health conscious market.

Fuji Oil might do well to concentrate on selling the ingredient to manufacturers marketing luxury products. Tokyo Keizai has pointed out that a drought last year pushed up the price of soy beans and that the falling value of the yen has the potential to do further damage to companies producing soy products. It’s not all doom and gloom though, currently the market for dairy products in Japan is worth two trillion yen, while the soy product market is worth ¥300 billion, meaning there’s huge room for expansion.

The latest funky food flavors, coming soon to a konbini near you

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Japan is known for its seasonally flavored foods. Swing by your local konbini in the fall and you’re likely to encounter limited-edition beverages, snacks and candies that weren’t on the shelves a few months earlier.  Some companies pump out more flavors than others, with Nestle’s Kit Kat chocolates alone having dozens of varieties. This summer, manufacturers are debuting a number of interesting flavors to entice convenience store shoppers.

  • As if summer needs to be any hotter, Tohato will begin selling habanero pepper and lemon-flavored corn chips in late July. We’re excited about this one, despite the sinister face on the bag. The company will also be debuting yogurt-honey Caramel Corn and arrabbiata-flavored chips, which arrive in Japan this month.
  • A few weeks ago, we reported on our taste test of the Pepsi-flavored cheetos, which hit the shelves Monday.
  • More directly on the beverage front is Suntory’s Boss Black Sparkling. Best served cold, this carbonated coffee hopes to refresh and awaken those gulping it down on a hot summer afternoon. (Note: If you preferred your fizzy coffee hand-poured, Excelsior Caffé has begun offering a “Perriespresso,” which combines Perrier sparkling water with the chain’s espresso over ice.)
  • The average konbini has a pretty impressive array of instant noodles, but how many of them would satisfy a hankering for Italian? Maruka Foods is now selling peperoncino-flavored instant yakisoba, which combines the convenience of instant noodles with the Italian pasta sauce made form garlic, oil and chillies.
  • A few weeks back, Luna began selling its mint-flavored yogurt. This seems like it could be a crowd-pleaser, with the soothing mint and cooling yogurt making for a perfect way to fend off afternoon drowsiness during the dog days.
  • For dessert, check out Kabaya’s ramune-flavored chocolate  that fizzes just like the soda pop.

Euglena — the little single-celled organism that could save the world

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Euglena, a simple, single-celled organism that grows in fresh water, trumpeted as a solution to food shortages, a potential replacement for fossil fuels and a way to reduce CO2 emissions, has been making headlines lately in Japan. Stock in Euglena Co., a company founded at Tokyo University in 2005, has soared 10-fold this year and the announcement made last month by Osaka University in collaboration with Euglena Co. that a film made from a carbohydrate found in euglena called paramylon is effective in healing wounds, is bound to further boost the huge buzz around this rapidly expanding bio-tech company.

A euglena smoothie available at Juice Zone in Shibuya

A euglena smoothie available at Juice Zone in Shibuya

Euglena, which are also known in Japanese as midorimushi, are 1mm long thin organisms that give water a greenish hue when they multiply in ponds. Though often classified as algae, they are in fact a curious mix of plant and animal, able to both photosynthesize like a plant and consume food like an animal. Incredibly, these slightly fishy-tasting oddities are teaming with almost all the nutrients humans need to stay alive, including vitamins C and B2, calcium and iron. It’s not hard to see why Mitsuru Izumo, co-founder of Euglena Co., saw its potential as an ingredient capable of solving the world’s hunger problems.

Euglena Co. has been mass cultivating the stuff since 2005 and euglena is now not only available to buy as a vitamin supplement, but has also been successfully marketed as an ingredient in confectionery.

Fancy a euglena cookie? There’s even green-tinted euglena ramen sold at a restaurant adjacent to the University of Tokyo campus. Just last month, euglena lattes and euglena smoothies were introduced to the market.

But wait . . . there’s more! Because the organism grows by photosynthesis, it’s capable of reducing CO2 emissions. Euglena Co. carried out a successful experiment in 2009 at a coal-powered thermal power plant in Okinawa. Passing waste emissions through a euglena culture tank, it was observed that the organism thrived, thus demonstrating “an effective and potential solution to the global warming,” according to the company’s website.

If that wasn’t enough, the company is now developing jet fuel, yes, jet fuel, made from euglena and plans to produce a steady supply by 2018, a promise that has boosted speculative trade in Euglena Co. on the stock market. Furthermore it was just announced that the company won the Japan-U.S. Innovation Awards’ Emerging Leader Award, pushing the profile of this high flying bio-tech company even higher.

J-blip: Pepsi-flavored Cheetos

Friday, June 14th, 2013

A new snack about to hit convenience store shelves in Japan might possibly make waves, it could start a buzz, but it will definitely generate . . . fizz. FritoLay’s Shuwa Shuwa is, according to the promotional copy, “a snack that allows you to enjoy the fizziness of a carbonated drink via the pairing of long-seller Cheetos and Pepsi Cola seasoning.”

That’s right: Pepsi. Flavored. Cheetos. The PR claim is that the “refreshing tartness” combined with the bubbly sensation is the perfect taste for summer, but what did the office taste-testers think?

shuwa shuwa

Crunchy bubbles: Shuwa Shuwa

Reformed sugar-holic Mark: “The first crunch packed plenty of  joy and wonder, taking me back to the first time I had Pop Rocks, but by the third or fourth bite, the sugar rush was too much and they just ending up tasted like sickly sweet Cheetos. It was a bit like this.”

Mio, who has been known to hoard imported sweets:  “It smells like cola, tastes like cola and even fizzes like flat cola, but when it comes to texture it’s wrong in absolutely every single way. Oh and there’s this weird corn aftertaste. My verdict: It’s awesome . . . but then you could put fizzy powder on a dog biscuit and I’d probably have said the same thing.”

Shaun, an expert on flavor mechanics: “It tasted like corn chips with — you know cola gummies? They might be coated in kind of cola sugar? It tastes like corn chips coated in cola sugar. The cola flavor wasn’t inside the chips, but it was more like a dressing. It was really sweet, but that didn’t stop me.”

Mayumi, who probably is the only person in the office with fully functioning taste buds: “It was like I had chips and Pepsi at the same time. They were really fizzy though. They smelled sweet and didn’t taste like any chips I’ve had before.”

New kid on the block Eric: “My first taste was surprisingly Pepsi-like. It had that cola flavor and, even more noticeably, the bubbly fizz of a soft drink. After a bit of munching, however, the flavor turned much more corn-like. If I’m looking for refreshment on a hot summer day, I’d prefer an ice-cold soda pop to the chips. Besides, I’m a Coke fan.”

Note that these are not to be confused with China’s Pepsi chicken-flavored chips. No chicken in evidence here, just sweet, sparkling cola corn snacks.

Unfortunately, I was no longer in the office by the time these surfaced, so I’ll have to wait like the rest of Japan until July 1. After conquering convenience stores, Shuwa Shuwa will appear more widely starting July 15. Exchange a cool ¥125 for 414 calories of fizzy sugar high, and then you, too, can say, “Yes, they really do taste like Pepsi.”

J-blip: The secret behind Disney + Gogo no Koucha

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Kirin is currently collaborating with Disney to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Disneyland. Not only are they giving away a grand prize of a 30-night stay for four at the DisneySea Hotel Miracosta, year-long passes to both parks and a resort giftcard worth a million yen, but each flavor of their popular Gogo no Koucha (“Afternoon Tea”) features a different character on the package:  the straight tea has Mickey Mouse; lemon has Winnie the Pooh; and milk has Donald Duck.

Recently, an observant fan noticed there are different numbers on each bottle and decided to investigate. To his delight he found  60 numbers on the the straight tea version and 18 on the lemon tea and milk tea. His interest piqued, he bought all of them and took photos of each in sequence.

Although it is hinted at on Gogo no Koucha’s site, only a clever and dedicated tea drinker would go to all this trouble. By lining up each “frame” in video form, he revealed short animations of each character.

While we’d like to praise this creative campaign, it’s a bit ironic considering Disney just laid off nine veteran hand-animators.

J-blip: Scorpionfish on the menu in Shizuoka

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Fancy a slice of scorpion fish?

Fancy a slice of scorpionfish?

It’s come to our attention that some truly bizarre looking creatures are being served up in seafood restaurants in Shizuoka lately. Ever since a new deep sea aquarium opened up in Numazu just over a year ago, deep sea seafood has been all the rage in the area. Monkfish, scorpionfish, lumpsucker and rosy seabass are being served up as sushi, sashimi or simply on a bed of rice, in local restaurants.

Pioneering this local trend has been Uoshige Shokudou, a restaurant that serves up a weird and wonderful deep sea sashimi platter that varies according to the season. The most expensive item on the menu, costing between ¥10,000 to ¥15,000 ($101 to $151), is the Japanese spider crab that lives at depths of 600 meters.

Photo courtesy of Wikicommons

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