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.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
When I was in New York earlier this year I took a trip down to Chinatown where I prowled the aisles of several grocers in search of candy. Much of it was familiar stuff I’d seen before ... and stuff you’ve seen too like M&Ms and the occasional plain UK KitKat.
But one of the thigns that I was compelled to buy was this package from Chocolat NY called Feel Envy. They look like the Kitten Tongues I’ve seen before. These are packaged in a rather tacky-but-trying-to-be-upscale and I pretty much dig it.
The one I picked out (there are several varieties in the line) that said it was rich milk chocolate featuring a blend of Vanilla and coconut flavor.
Most of the front of the package was in English, with all of the reverse in Japanese.
The top of the box flips up to reveal more of the embossed faux-croc cardboard in the oh-so-lovely purple and the acid green matte texture inside. Four little compartments hold three pieces each.
There little paddles of chocolate, each is individually wrapped, in clear cellophane with more of the black butterflies on it. The little paddle is all milk chocolate with a little swirl of white/coconut chocolate on one half.
The milk chocolate is pleasant, but has a strong flavor of dried milk (the second ingredient is whole milk powder). You’d think it would have more than a trace of calcium for all that milk! After getting over that there is a distinct coconut flavor it the chocolate and a few little coconut bits.
The packaging is cute, if a little bulky, but keeps the candy fresh and makes it easy share. It’s a bit expensive as well for the product quality (about $16 a pound) but a nice novelty item or stocking stuffer.
Monday, May 15, 2006
I couldn’t resist picking this Pocky up last week when I was in Little Tokyo. I promised myself that I wouldn’t buy any candy because I already have a huge backlog, but everyone kept saying how good the Almond Crush Pocky is.
Each of the four little silver/clear pouches hold six sticks, which is a nice portion size - a little under 3/4 of an ounce. The nutrition label says that three packets is a portion, but I’ve been pretty happy with a single packet at a time.
The snack smells like freshly made waffle cones. Sweet, a little caramelized, a little nutty and thoroughly chocolatey. The chocolate is rich and dark and has a nice glossy sheen. The almond bits aren’t really that noticeable as a distinct crunch, but they provide a good bit of texture (and a whallop of protein - there are 2.5 grams of protein per ounce). The slight sweetness and crisp of the biscuit stick pulls it all together and keeps me munching all the way down to the uncoated nubbin.
The ingredients on these don’t list any hydrogenated fish oils, but the last ingredient on the list is MSG (monosodium glutamate), which is a little disappointing, but caused me no ill effects. The sodium content overall for this snack is high though - at about 220 mgs per ounce.
All that aside, it’s not too sweet, it’s not too dry, it’s not too bland. It’s just right.
See all the other Pocky posts here.
Monday, May 1, 2006
Like KitKats and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, there are a lot of different versions of Pocky, and I’ll probably never get through all of them. Luckily this one came in a smaller package.
This petite sized box is about one third the size of a regular box of Pocky, which is fine for me when I’m still experimenting. Pocky Caramel is the same bland cookie/pretzel stick this time dipped in a white-chocolate-style caramel-flavored coating.
What was oddest about the flavor of these was not that it tasted like caramel, and it did, but that it tasted rather like orange. Like a nice orange creme brulee. I have no idea how this was achieved, but I found it rather nice. Even though there was a strong powdered milk flavor to the whole thing it didn’t feel grainy or fake-tasting. They were rather sweet through and probably too sweet for my tastes as Pocky goes, but I’m starting to think that Pocky should make a combo pack that has little packets of different flavors in it so you can mix it up. Maybe eating a Chocolate Pocky and Caramel Pocky together would be tasty.
Friday, April 7, 2006
While I’m partial to Pocky, I’m trying to open up and try a few of the other dipped cookie sticks from Japan. Last week it was Yan Yan, this week I bring you Lucky Mini Almond Black.
These petite little sticks of chocolate flavored biscuit stucks are covered with a mix of dark chocolate and crushed almonds. Like Pocky, there’s a little bit of uncovered stick so you can grab it and not worry about melting the chocolate as you nibble.
The package holds a brown plastic tray with two sections filled with the sticks. Each stick is about 2.5” long. There are plenty of almonds and it’s got a good mellow crunch to the biscuit without being too sweet.
The ingredients have some oddities, including things like “cheese powder” and “cream powder” but these definitely have no hint of the cheesiness of the Yan Yan.
Overall, as a nuttier version of Pocky, this is pretty good. I actually like the high ratio of chocolate and nuts and the slightly flavored biscuit. It’s no Men’s Pocky, but it’s a great afternoon snack that doesn’t feel too decadent.
Friday, March 31, 2006
On one of my recent visits to Mitsuwa, the local Japanese grocery chain, I found this. Even the woman at the checkout thought it was cool.
Basically it’s a blister pack of M&M-style candies. The disc is the size of a regular CD with a larger hole in the middle. The candy coated treats aren’t quite real chocolate, there’s a large amount of vegetable oil in there in addition to the cocoa butter, so I knew before I even got them home that they wouldn’t really rival M&Ms or the fantastic seasonal Hershey’s Candy Coated Eggs.
Still, the sherbet colored candies and super-sealed individuality was compelling. My low expectations were completely met. The candies are well made, the shells are smooth and consistent but freakishly slippery. The taste is sweet and crunchy with a mild chocolatey taste, but of course the texture of the actual chocolate is rather lost.
I suppose blister packs for little candies is extra-hygienic, but I found that just as many of the candies wound up bouncing around and onto the floor as I tried to pop them out through the foil. It’s a fun novelty item, but in my mind if you’re going to go through the trouble of wrapping them up like this, at least do it with something of value.
Note: There are 26 candies in the disc.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
What’s truly baffling in the whole confectionery world is that most sweets are made from the same ingredients. Yet the processes applied to them and the combinations can yield vastly different results. The Bunny Basket Eggs reviewed last week are an excellent example of sugar done wrong.
Konpeito (or Kompeito) is just sugar, and done so well. These little rocks, about the size of a pea and simply rock sugar with a little food coloring. And when you compare iit to those awful marshmallow Easter eggs, it makes no sense.
If you ever saw Spirited Away, you may have seen this candy. They’re little multi-faceted sugar crystal lumps that look like three dimensional stars.
There’s not much else to say about them except that they’re sweet and cute. If you’re looking for a special little something exotic for an Easter basket, these might fit the bill, the packaging is pink and pretty and of course the little pastel morsels of sugar are, well, rock candy. And rock candy rocks. You can even pick up a package and use it when you serve tea or coffee as a cuter version of the old sugar cubes.
See also: CandyAddict.com review, JunkFoodBlog has more on the cultural significance and limited edition versions and Wikipedia has a full entry including the references to Kompeito in media.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
As is often the case when I’m buying Japanese candy at Mitsuwa, I wasn’t quite sure what these were. Some good pictures on the package are always helpful and I figured that these were just coffee flavored chocolate shaped like coffee beans. They are, and so much more.
The candies come in a sassy cardboard tube (wrapped in plastic to keep them fresh). The name, coffeebeat is in English, as I believe that the word ‘coffee’ is pretty recognizable in the Japanese market. The font is funky and reminds me of the ‘70s. Inside the tube are little coffee bean shaped (but slightly larger) chocolate candies with a hard candy shell like an M&M. They even have the little crease on the flat side like a real coffee bean.
The shell is sweet and crunchy and very thin. The center is chocolate with strong milky flavor to it and of course a hit of coffee. It tastes like a mocha. Sweet, smooth, milky and with an excellent coffee flavor that doesn’t feel like a “flavor.” In fact, it’s less chocolate than it is coffee - the chocolate is just a medium to deliver the milky coffee flavor. If you’re a black coffee person, I can see that this might not be the coffee candy for you.
The package is cute, makes it easy to share and the quality is very good. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the Meiji brand. The products are well priced, use quality ingredients, have logical yet innovative packaging and of course they all taste great. The website seems to indicate they’re for kids, but maybe I’m just a kid at heart.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.