Posts Tagged ‘sakura’

Hanami! Sakura! Spring snacks have also sprung

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

I am not one to require too much of a reason to throw a mini cream puff party in the office, but Beard Papa‘s announcement of karintō cream puffs was a good one; so, I take the liberty of starting this spring snack write-up with our impressions.

If you’re not familiar, karintō are those things in the snack aisle or local dagashi-ya (sweet shop) that look like dirty twigs. The dirt, however, is brown sugar and the twig is best explained as “fried.” Not fried “something” but just . . . fried. The main ingredient besides sugar is flour, and they’re crunchy like cookies despite being cooked like doughnuts. By the time you get that far, it’s only a couple leaps to the cream-puff idea.

Beard Papa‘s surprisingly delicious karintō cream puffs

Beard Papa‘s surprisingly delicious karintō cream puffs

The website copy calls it a “masterpiece confection that can be confidently recommended to karintō fans since it captures the flavor of the real thing.” Here are some comments from our tasting panel . . .

Mark: “The mega sugar hit is almost too much, but the consistency of the cream — not too light or gooey — is perfect. What makes them great is the crunch of the karintō, and I doubt they’ll get soggy and limp like the regular cream puffs.”

Rina: “It was really tasty! The outside is crunchy, but inside it’s smooth and creamy, so it’s a good combination.”

Andrew: “These are bound to be a hit with Japanese folks nostalgic for a corner-store sugar rush.”

Mizuho: “There wasn’t enough. I want to eat more! If you eat a couple karintō, you’ll want to keep eating and be unable to stop. In that way, this was very true to [the real thing].”

Alan: “This cream puff is full of yumz!”

Kate: “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be a guinea pig! I was a little bit concerned with the aesthetics of its look, since my mind drew a parallel with a certain brown substance, but the taste was worth ‘the risk’!”

By the way, if you are wondering what the flecks are in the cream, they’re azuki (red beans)! An appropriate extra, but hardly noticeable in the overall caramel-y sweetness. For me, the overwhelming impression was the nostalgic taste of pancakes with syrup. The cream gives it that buttery finish. I wonder if eating karintō themselves dipped in whipped cream would produce a similar effect . . .

Beard Papa will pack your puffs with cooling pouches, so they are definitely transportable to your favorite blossom viewing location.

Here are some other snacks that might be fun under the cherry trees:

Two great tastes ... but do they belong together?

Two great tastes … but do they belong together?

Ghana chocolate-covered Kappa Ebisen? These limited-time-only shrimp chips are not new, but they are rather elusive in the konbini wild. It’s possible that someone in your hanami party might be impressed with your hunting and purchasing skills if you bring them, but it’s also possible that you open the bag and no one takes a bite. The shrimp flavor is mostly eclipsed by the chocolate coating at first, but there is a bit of a hazy aftertaste.

Who or what is The PotericanKoikeya‘s latest potato chips boast “American taste” and a wavy shape. Don’t let the hokey, red-nosed sheriff mascot stand between you and the “Sour Cream Onion” and “Cheddar Cheese” flavors, if they’re your kind of thing. Before that, though, take a moment to place your tongue firmly in cheek to applaud the website copy (an example of which can only be fully appreciated in Japanese): サワークリームの濃厚なコクと、さっぱり酸味がオニオンの香りとマッチしてSOOOO GOOOOD!!! MyワイフもFAVORITE(大好き)さ!(Translation: “The depth of the rich sour cream and acidity of the onion flavor match and are so good! My wife loves them!”) At least, they will go better with hanami booze than candy.

But speaking of candy, if there are kids to sugar up entertain, Kracie Foods has a couple new items that might keep them busy for more than a minute. One is Pazuru Choko (“Puzzle Chocolate”). Don’t expect anything so fun as a solution featuring all the jigsaw-y pieces in the bag, but “You’ll find yourself wanting to put them together.”

Secondly, the Petitte [sic] series has grown. These tiny soft candies come bunched together so little fingers can enjoy ripping them apart and sharing. With flavors mainly consisting of fruit, it makes you wonder if a bunch of actual grapes or bananas wouldn’t accomplish the rip-and-share goal just as well.

Another new snack under the “Why not just eat real food?” umbrella is Calbee‘s asparagus-bacon Jagariko. If you were really serious about hanami, you might undertake the challenge of actually wrapping some asparagus in bacon, but in a pinch, this flavor of potato stick snack might be interesting to try since it’s the result of a Jagariko fan brainstorming session.

OK, OK, enough with the random munchies. It’s cherry blossom season for crying out loud, so we know what you’re here for . . .

Sakura-themed food and drink 2014 (an in-no-way exhaustive list)

Craft beer made using cherry blossom petals from SanktGallen Brewery

•Spring Blossom sakura-flavored peach tea from Kirin

•”Melty” Sakura royal milk tea from Coca-Cola

•Sakura amazake from Morinaga

•Sakura Häagen-Dazs

•Sakura tea latte and sakura cream doughnut from Krispy Kreme

•Will the Sakuranbo (Cherry) Mocha and Sakuranbo Frappe replace the Sakura Cherry Mc -Float and -Fizz at McDonald’s? Either way, they’re pink. Don’t forget the Sakura Teritama.

•Nihonbashi Sweets sakura pudding with chunky red bean paste from Meito

If store-bought items don’t quite do it for you, take a tip from Higuccini (in Japanese) and make your own sakura-maple mixed nuts!

Finally, before you head to the park, check you local Don Quijote for the latest seasonal party wear . . .

hanami costumes

Decisions, decisions: Cho! O-hanami Afro or the Sakura Ranger?

 

J-blip: Google Street View Cherry Blossom Edition

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Google Street View

People come from all over the world to get a short glimpse of Japan’s blooming cherry blossoms. Google is taking advantage of this worldwide sakura passion to show off their virtual-tour map feature with Street View Sakura Edition, which shows cherry blossom scenes not only in normal pictures but also as 360-degree panoramas. It’s actually more like Path View, as in most of the scenes you can navigate off the main roads.

While you don’t get to see petals actually scattering to the ground, it’s always warm and sunny on Street View, even as clouds and rain are subduing some of the peak viewing days in the real world this spring. The Blossom Edition features sites from Kyushu all the way up to Aomori, including about 50 different spots, and gives information such as the number of cherry blossom trees, the area they cover and, in some cases, the history of the locations. Even someone in Japan wouldn’t be likely to have the luxury of seeing all these locations without this technology.

If you are in Japan and looking for spots to look at the blossoms, check out our post on hanami technology. But hurry! The blossoms came out ahead of schedule this year and won’t last long. For more virtual cherry blossom viewing, check out our page of reader  cherry blossom photos and hanami experiences from last year.

Crowd-sourcing sakura viewers

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

sakura3

Crowds in Ueno Park view ‘em while they last. (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

Everyone’s talking about the unpredictable weather, and this year they’re doing something about it. Crowd-sourced cherry blossom reports are taking the place of the official announcements that were put out by the Japan Meteorological Agency every year since 1955. This year, the agency declared the beginning of the season by measuring a tree at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine and ended the official predictions. This opened up the blossom-predicting business to private weather companies and Web sites.

Several companies are competing to replace the official JMA blossom report, giving office-bound nature lovers plenty of options for desktop tree-tracking. Weathermap Sakura takes a scientific approach, with charts, graphs and indoorsy-looking columnists predicting peak bloom times.  Weathermap’s sakura Twitter feed sends status reports on viewing spots, comparing this year’s full-bloom date to the historical average and last year’s date.

Not to be confused with competing private forecaster, Weathernews, which also has an interactive map. Its main selling point is photos and “My Sakura” reports from some 20,000 users keeping tabs on the state of the blooms. The site’s “SakuraSimulator” lets armchair forecasters slide a time bar to track the daily cherry blossom front as it spreads across a satellite image of Japan.  (Those who really like to plan ahead can have a go at the 100-year simulation.)

Japanese portals Excite and Yahoo! both launched sakura sites this spring. Excite has info on 500 flower viewing spots around the country, and Yahoo! ups the ante with 1000. They have similar searchable information that includes the number of trees at each spot and supplements like picnic recipes, cherry blossom crafts and sweet shops near popular parks. Maps and data can be sent from a PC right to a cell phone from a one-click email box or QR code on each page.

Both portals are packed with the one item more indispensable than portable hand warmers: user-generated content. Both have galleries of thousands of photos submitted by registered site members and blog posts about their blossom viewing experiences.

The blossom information on Idoldog is also crowd-sourced — by dogs. Well, by their proud owners. Hover over the cherry blossom icons on the map to see photos of pets amid petals uploaded by users.

These galleries may or may not lead to better blossom predictions, but they do provide an outlet for the millions of photos of the flowers people snap every year, macro lenses and tripods in tow. It kind of makes us wonder what people did with all the lovingly crafted pictures before there were so many places to upload and share them.

Tools you can trust for the perfect hanami

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

No surprise why Naka-Meguro is a popular hanami spot in Tokyo.

No surprise why Naka-Meguro is a popular hanami spot in Tokyo.

In Japan, when the little pale pink cherry blossom petals start appearing in late March to early April, it’s a cause for celebration, organized celebration. So what could be so hard about having a party under the snowy branches with friends or coworkers? Plenty. A pre-season hanami “fail” survey this year by goo Research found 10 ways a hanami can go wrong.  It can be hard to get the timing right. You can get rained on, end up at a place with no toilets, or pick a place with few trees. Even a best-case scenario can have you and your friends starting out sprawled in the sun and ending up a freezing mass, huddled and hungry on your cold, blue tarp in the unpredictable spring weather.

iSakura app gives weather and bloom information

iSakura app gives weather and bloom information

The survey,  translated by What Japan Thinks, found that the number one problem hanami party organizers have had was finding and keeping a good spot. With more Japanese people carrying smart phones, sophisticated applications are coming to the rescue, including new iPhone apps from AAA, Weathernews and iSakura.

The iSakura app, from BayardNetwork Co., appears to be one of the most popular. It has info on 1,000 cherry blossom-viewing sites across Japan and has been hovering in the top 10 free downloads in the Japanese iTunes store. It can search for flower-viewing venues by name, area, train line or highway exit or by using GPS to find the nearest spot. The database is also searchable via specific conditions, such as night viewing, free entry, availability of parking and public toilets, and whether beer, sake or snacks are sold on site. For each location, in addition to those details and the venue phone number, it tells how open the blossoms are on a 10-degree scale from budding to full and offers the capability to jot down digital notes.

The second most common problem blossom party organizers reported was running out of food and drinks. The Domino’s delivery iPhone app, also featured in the Apple store as a hot item, uses GPS to deliver right to wherever you are, even when you’ve lost track of where in the sea of tarps that is. It also has 20% off coupons within the app until April 25.

Continue reading about hanami-friendly apps →

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