Archive for the ‘Food & drink’ Category

Pulsations (07.19.13)

Friday, July 19th, 2013

What’s in a Japanese Woman’s Purse? Let’s Look Inside! (from Tofugu): Phone, check. Day planner, check. Face-blotting paper, check. Shout-out to Tofogu’s intern, Rachel, for a great read on what lies in the depths of a Japanese woman’s bag.

On Getting by in Japan (Without Speaking Japanese) (from This Japanese Life): The author of this post wishes he could have read this upon arriving in Japan two months back. Plenty of helpful tips for the less fluent among us gaijin.

Japanese Tattoo Stockings (from Spoon & Tamago): Tattoo taboo is notrious in Japan, so several companies have rolled out a new variety of temporary ink. Designs of origami cranes, mirror frames and other images can give you the edgy look without the all the pain and shame.

Is Sushi ‘Healthy’? (from Just Hungry): A lunch set from your favorite sushi joint could cost you ¥1,000 and nearly as many calories.

Shigeru Ban Wins Competition to Design ‘Cite Musicale’ in Paris (from DesignBoom): Japanese architect Shigeru Ban just won the design competition for a revitalization project in southwest Paris. The compelling design is slated for completion in 2016.

SDF: Looking for a Few Good Women — to Date (from Japan Real Time): The nation’s Self-Defense Force has plenty of bachelors who are single and ready to mingle. Finding that man in uniform may not be so tough, after all.

Google Tour of Hashima Island (from Google Street View): A coal-mining facility for nearly a century, the haunting haikyo of Hashima was made famous with the release of last year’s mega-hit “Skyfall,” which used the island as locational inspiration for several scenes.

Visual Pulse

This vibrant music video for pop artist Cuushe’s “Airy Me” comes to life through 3,000 hand-drawn sketches. (Don’t watch if you’re disturbed by illustrated entrails.)

Konbini Raiders: The lesser-known cousins of Popin’ Cookin’ Sushi

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Japan is known as one of the culinary capitals of the world, but at the opposite end of Michelin stars you get dagashi (da: low quality, gashi: candy). Dagashi has been around since Edo times as an alternative to fancy delicacies and ranging from the traditional (dried persimmon) to modern (fizzy cotton candy), and is marketed directly to children who have a few pennies to burn. The kiddier, the better.

Kracie, a company that produces food, as well as toiletry, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products, excels at creating what they call “Educational Candy,” the just-add-water type creations that tickle children and adults alike. The line boasts the YouTube-infamous candy sushi and many other creepy concoctions.

In March this year they renewed one such candy, Dodotto Tsubupyon, a jelly-ball candy that’s dispensed from an octopus-shaped device, complete with a fizzing dipping foam. The climax of the process, documented in the video above, was the creation of the jelly balls, which looked a bit like pink frog eggs, if such a thing existed.

Although all these odd treats may seem like a fad, Kracie’s freaky foods are not that recent of a development. Nerunerunerune, a sugary foam candy that makes you wonder if they developed it in the same lab as their shampoos, was first sold in 1986 and is considered a classic for Japanese kids today. To introduce you to the granddaddy of the frankenfood family and its popular descendant, we rustled up a batch and fed it to our colleagues.

Intern Eric grimaced after tasting the foam and uttered a single “Uh-uh” while shaking his head. “I didn’t enjoy the texture or the taste,’’ he said later. ”The purple concoction was foamy and supersweet, with some sort of unidentifiable fake flavor. When combined with the crystals in the other compartment, the sugar factor became way over the top. I’d say I have a sweet tooth, but this one was too much for me to handle.”

Another fellow intern, Natasha, took a nervous bite and immediately exclaimed, “It hurts! This is acid! I thought Japanese people were health-conscious. Why do they put this in their systems?”

Being the responsible person that I am, I too sampled the shaving cream-like foam. The verdict on the purple blob is that it’s a flavor you’ll never miss.

Finally, we cooked up the cute little “Popin’ Cookin’” sushi, a modern candy classic. When we did a taste test however, we learned that the only thing that’s cute and little about them is the way they look.

Editor Shaun took a bite of the maguro sushi and, after a long thoughtful pause, said, “Because the sushi looked so real, I was expecting a maguro flavor. When it tasted sweet instead, I felt betrayed.”

Eric, who tried the tamagoyaki (cooked egg) sushi, said, “On first bite, the taste wasn’t bad. It was a lot like any other artificial, gummy candy. The texture is what got to me. The ‘rice’ wasn’t bad, but the ‘fish’ on top was a gooey, bizarre mess. I also couldn’t tell if the accompanying ‘soy sauce’ made a difference.”

Editor Andrew weighed in on the ikura (fish roe) sushi: “The ikura were like little bubbles of jelly and the nori had the texture of a stick of bubble gum. Tasted like gummy bears, but less chewy. Would have been more interesting if it did actually taste of sushi!”

If you want a glimpse of the Japanese childhood you never had, you can head to any convenience store or supermarket to find candy from the Kracie family (or outside Japan, try White Rabbit Japan‘s snack section). The packages say no preservatives or artificial coloring added, but bigger questions came to mind when the purple foam started fizzing in our mouths . . . If it’s not artificial, what’s in it? Because I’ve never seen that stuff on a farm.

Limited-edition burgers, ep. deux

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

For the second edition of McDonald’s “Jewelry” burger series, the company released the Black Diamond Quarter Pounder. While last week’s Gold Ring left us somewhat unimpressed, the Golden Arches’ latest was a different story. This time, a beef patty was sandwiched between two brioche buns, grilled onions and mushrooms, Emmental cheese and black truffle sauce. As before, the burger arrived gussied up in an oversize, ribbon-adorned bag. I could already smell that unmistakable truffle aroma. Inside, there were two pamphlets explaining the contents of this deluxe sandwich. The burger itself came in a foil-trimmed box.

The arrival

Uncovering the burger from its elaborate serving arrangement revealed a surprisingly appetizing aesthetic: melty cheese, symmetrical mushrooms and a nearly spherical bun. We’re talking darn close to the advertisements we’ve seen nearly everywhere with Mr. Honda encouraging us to “BITE!” Continue reading about the Black Diamond →

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.

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