Saturday, 11 January 2014

The strange flavors of Japan

Today I will introduce you to some of the strange flavors of Japan. Or maybe not so strange? I guess it all depends on where you are in the world. What might be strange to you, could be quite common on the other side of the globe. Like, for example, purple sweet potato (murasaki imo) flavored snacks in Japan. It's on the left, you can see the words "murasaki imo" on the package.

Sounds quite unusual, but, in reality, it's a very usual seasonal flavor here. Every autumn the stores are full of purple sweet potato chocolates, cookies, chips and candies.

If you live in the West, I bet every so often you hear about some bizarre flavor of something or the other they supposedly eat in Japan. However, what you don't hear about is that those "bizarre" flavors are most likely either seasonal (like the sweet potato in autumn), or regional (like zunda in Sendai), or simply released as one-time novelty gimmicks for promotional purposes (like all the weird Pepsi flavors a few years back, my hosts say that strawberry milk Pepsi was delicious).

Wait a minute! What's zunda?

Do you know what edamame is? It's green soybean. Zunda is ground edamame and in Miyagi prefecture (Tohoku region, north of Tokyo), it's used to flavor cakes, cookies, mochi, and even milk. Yes, milk! That's what you see on the left in the photo above - zunda flavored milk drink. My hosts make zunda flavored bread, and let me tell you, it's delicious.

And just like Tohoku with its zunda, every region of Japan has its own unique speciality. The easiest way to find out what they are is to look at all the different regional KitKat varieties at Narita Airport.

Can you believe it? Wasabi KitKats, chili KitKats, apple Kitkats, green tea and cherry blossoms KitKats, rum raisin Kitkats, purple sweet potato KitKats, strawberry cheesecake KitKats, and the list goes on … However, most of these flavors are not available in typical supermarkets. If you want to buy these unusual KitKats, you need to look for them in places frequented by tourists. Such as Narita Airport, for example.

What you can get in typical supermarkets is a myriad of Hello Kitty branded sweets. Sweet Kitty-chan is perfect for sweet sweets. Especially if those sweets are apple flavored. Because, as any child can tell you, miss Kitty is as heavy as 3 apples.

And now, if you excuse me, I have a cheese flavored cake (not to be confused with cheesecake) to eat. Because Nasu in Tochigi prefecture is famous for its milk, dairy products and cheeses. Yes, Japan and cheese - who would have thought!

And what shall I drink with my cake? Green tea of course!!! I prefer my green tea cold. It's simple and it's delicious.

And what to do if you don't have a sweet tooth? You can always munch on a more traditional (and a lot more healthy) snack.

Yes, dried fish. Trust me, it's quite tasty! Bon apetite!

PS. And if you are on a diet and don't like fish, you can always go shopping for anime costumes. They tell me that visitors to Japan like to do that a lot. Because, really, kimonos are so last season!

I'd look great in that wig. Sadly, they didn't have it in my size.

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