Thursday, July 20, 2006
Aji Ichiban is a chain of stores that sells dried and cured fruits as well as candy by the pound.
I went to the location in Chinatown in New York City while I was there. The store was kind of small and the woman behind the counter barked at me when I took some photos. This one was taken from the street. I actually think they’re doing their customers a disservice when they can’t take photos, because that’s the only reason I know what some of the candy is. It’s marked in the bins, but not on the wrappers.
They have a large selection of bins that contains individually wrapped candies or salted fruits or nuts and rice snacks. There are even samples of the fruits by the bins, but I made the mistake of taking what I thought was dried ginger and it turned out to be a salted plum. Quite a shock and made me parched instantly.
It’s not a huge store, but then again, they don’t have large tubs of everything. A third of the display space is for snacks and dried fruit, the rest is candy. Most of the candy is a mix & match by the pound, but some of it you could buy prepacked.
I liked just about everything in this mix. I chose carefully, so this is a good sign about the way that the packages are marked. Some have English on them, most are just pictures and sometimes the bin they were in at the store had some clues about the contents. Items came from all over Asia, some marked from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan.
I got some super fizzy sours, something called Zour Bomb, which was a cross between a cola flavored hard candy and a Zotz. However, partway through it got a minty flavor to it that kind of turned me off. The outside was dusty looking and super sour, then a hard candy and then the inside had another reservoir of sour. It also came in Lemon which was excellent.
Another was a little orange packet called Sour + from Lot100. It had little orange faces on it making sour impressions. It was a gummi, soft and about the size of a gumdrop with a sugar sand on it. Whoo, it was sour to start, then the soft gummi had a nice orange flavor to it. I would definitely buy these again. I wonder if they come in pineapple. That’d be cool.
Lot100 also had a nice Cola hard candy. It looked a little odd in that it was a plain red hard candy. It tasted like cola but had a slight hint of cinnamon.
Not everything from Lot100 was a hit - I had a rather promising Mango gummi that just didn’t quite hit the right balance. The texture was fantastic, plump and moist with a nice tart note but the mango “flavor” was less “pine meets melon” and more “burnt rubber.” Too bad.
Kasugai had a good assortment of fruit gummis, which I’ve reviewed before. I picked up Litchi and Muscat this time. They’re called super juicy on the label and they are plenty soft, but the litchi was a little flavorless and almost like a Turkish Delight. Muscat smelled wonderful and had a bit more complex flavor, something like white grape and orange blossom.
There was also a line of Milk candies that had calcium in them that came in interesting flavors like chocolate, vanilla and also red bean. They had an odd, firm, fluffed latexy quality to them, kind of like Hi-CHEW. I have no idea how much calcium is actually in it, but they were super soft and very satisfying. The vanilla was a little bland and the chocolate was kind of like a bouncy Tootsie roll, but I really liked the red bean. I mean, I really liked it. I’m sorry they’re gone now.
I picked up a few tea flavored candies, one from Thailand called Didi Honey Lemon Tea Candy was particularly nice. Only slightly tart, there was a nice play between tea and honey in there. The other brand was Cister from Malaysia wasn’t as pleasant looking (brown) but had a much stronger tea flavor and some mint thrown in (which made it taste more like a Ricola drop).
Another assortment were called S’Creams and were just hard candies with a milky swirl to them, kind of like Lifesaver’s Creamsavers. They were pleasant enough, with a Werther’s-like crunch if you bit them but a good tangy hit too to keep them interesting and satisfying. I picked up Orange, Strawberry and Melon.
There were a few flavors of these, I picked up Pudding Marshmallow, Grape Marshmallow, Mango Marshmallow and then two that have no English text on them - one has purple on its wrapper and the other has pink.
Mango Marshmallow - shown above - sucked royally. I had two of them, I at that bite of one and I gave the other to Amy, who promptly spit it out in my trash can. Why is it bad? It just is ... don’t make me think about it.
Pudding Marshmallow - it looks suspiciously like Mango, but thankfully is quite nice. It’s a marshmallow with a little lump of creamy, dulce de leche tasting filling in the middle. Not quite fudge, not quite creme, but pleasant and a little artificially vanilla tasting but with a tasty hit of salt.
Chocolate Marshmallow - there was no indication what this was, just a pink wrapper. The chocolate was a cross between frosting and a Tootsie roll. Not as good as the pudding one, but I liked it.
Grape Marshmallow - hmm, it was okay, but the grape filling was like cheap jelly and it just didn’t appeal much to me.
Basically, Aji Ichiban is as much of an adventure as you want it to be. You can grab a pound of simple mixed candies that you know and love or you can push the boundaries of your taste experiences and just shovel them into your bag blindly and see what happens.
I think the candy is horribly expensive for pure sugar stuff - $10 a pound is way up there even for the fancy fruit candies from Italy that I see at Zabars or something. But the variety is pretty special and with no minimums and the ability to mix and match is a huge plus. You can also order online, but there’s a half-pound minimum with most candies and of course the selection is limited. They have stores in several large cities across the edges of the United States, but they don’t have the addresses on their site.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.