Last year, I picked up a "Christmas Pack" at the local 99 yen store to see what sort of goodies are peddled to Japanese children at this time of year. Though I had no intention of "taking the bullet" again in terms of trying another and reporting on its contents, time heals all wounds or at least allows the palate to forget. In the holiday spirit of giving (in this case, information) and self-sacrifice (my taste buds), I picked up another Christmas pack this year.
There was actually an increased variety at my local QQ (99 yen convenience store) this time around. One featured the same spastic Santa design from last year though it appeared to have different contents. Another was in an opaque bag and I couldn't see what sort of things were in it at all. I went for the bag pictured above because I didn't want to buy the one with the scary looking mochi disc since the mochi choco from last year's bag was exceptionally vile. In fact, I'm feeling queasy just remembering it.
This bag also included a relatively inoffensive-looking item, a castella doughnut, right in the front. "Castella" is all over the place in Japan both as slabs of cake and as doughnuts. I've had the cake before because it had been offered as a souvenir at my former office. The cake has a coarse texture and is oddly tacky because it has a slight stickiness. It's quite sweet though not in the same way as western cakes which have an intense processed sugar quality. It's more of a honey sweetness quality. The cake itself has a nice flavor but the texture is not as fine as western sponge cakes. Like many other sweets (konpeito) and bread (pan) in Japan, castella is adapted from original Portuguese recipes (hence the un-Japanese name).
Though I've seen both the cake and doughnuts everywhere, I've never purchased either so this doughnut was my first sampling of a "castella doughnut". Keep in mind that I've never seen what one might consider a high quality castella doughnut. They seem to be sold in large bags for a low price by and large. I've never seen one in a bakery, for instance, so I think they're a low rent food regardless of whether they're in a cheap ass bag of goodies or in a big family-pack at Inageya supermarket.
The donut in this packet didn't seem to resemble castella cake in any fashion. It smelled vaguely of vanilla and oil. In fact, it was pretty much a somewhat dry cake donut with an exceptionally greasy exterior that left a sticky coating on my fingers which didn't easily come off. The strongest taste I got from it was one of old cooking oil and this compelled me to check the expiration date to see if it had been sitting around for a long time. The date was February 26, 2008, so it wasn't as old as the well-aged oil flavor indicated. If I were even moderately curious to try a castella donut before, this pretty much quashed any desire I may have had to eat one.
Choco-Taro..."you will enjoy it's taste". I wasn't sure if that was an order or a promise, but, either way, I wasn't looking forward to finding out. The bar smelled vaguely of something resembling chocolate and was covered in a paper thin coating of mockolate. Though it claims to have peanuts, it seemed only to have microscopic fragments embedded in the (too sweet) coating. If you imagine one of the little puffed rice grains in a Nestlé Crunch expanded to bar size with similarly enlarged air pockets, you pretty much have the center of this thing. It wasn't awful, but it also wasn't appealing. It seems as though the main points in designing this bar were to first, make it crunchy, and second, make it very sweet. There wasn't much flavor in it.
I was pretty sure this ("Fubo-san taro") was the same wheat gluten snack as was in last year's pack with the only difference being the wrapper. A preliminary sniff revealed that it smelled of burnt sugar as last year's did, but it didn't carry the same vague whiff of beef bouillon cubes. The inside had a lighter texture than last year's "fu" snack and biting into it put in mind the notion of chomping into a tenderized Styrofoam packing peanut that had been liberally doused with sugar. This one was more edible than the previous one and I may have considered more than a few tentative bites if it weren't so incredibly sweet that I feared I'd go into diabetic shock. It is absolutely remarkable how sweet it is given that most of the flavor seems to be on the dusting of brown crap on the outside.
This is a salted snack food called "cabbage taro". Apparently, these are favored by frog policemen. That's a bit odd as I figured they'd favor the castella doughnuts (being in reptilian law enforcement and all). These smelled and tasted much like a Japanesse "corn potage" salted snack food I favor (but mainly avoid) in Japan. It's salty, has a bit of a chicken consommé flavor and only the vaguest hint of cabbage. The little specks of green aren't cabbage though. They are bits of nori (dried seaweed). There was so little of it though that it had almost not impact on the taste. These were actually rather tasty and had a nice tangy aftertaste to them. They were very crispy and light and brought to mind (the now defunct) Planter's cheese balls with a different flavor coating. I actually ate the whole (tiny) bag of these. It's the only item I completely consumed its entirety.
This is "morokoshi wa taro" or, essentially, "corn and corm rings". Among the ingredients are corn, taro (a Japanese corm), vegetable oil, and spices. They don't smell like much of anything and taste like an airier, relatively flavorless Chee-to. I'd call these rather inoffensive to mildly pleasant because of the texture.
The last item in the pack ended up being one of the same salted snack foods that I got in the previous year's bag. I couldn't see the front of the pack when I purchased it or I may have gone for the more terrifying spastic Santa bag with the white mochi hockey puck. After all, I do have to suffer if this is to be a true act of gustatory martyrdom. I've pasted my former bit of information as a caption on the photo above in case you don't want to go back and read the old post.
As was the case with last year's bag of "goodies", corn was the first ingredient for everything except the donut which listed flour as the first ingredient. I can see where kids might enjoy a bag of snacks like this, but it's all a bit much on the extremely low-end junk food side for an adult. Fortunately, my consumption was limited to a few tastes per item and then they hit the trash bin. I'm sure my body appreciates the consideration.