In the battle between chocolate "mushroom cap" and biscuit "mushroom stem" snacks, how does the imitator stand up to the original? Pretty well.
'Japanese snacks' on Serious Eats
It's what I like to call the gummy candy rule: things taste better when shaped like adorable animals. And who knows that rule, apart from gummy candy makers? Well, almost all of Japan (case in point) but specifically bakers of taiyaki, the fish-shaped cakes you see above. Because this sweet is essentially just imagawayaki, (a type of red bean cake), but shaped like fish, which makes them oh, 200 times more awesome.
Tohato's Caramel Corn is a Japanese snack made since 1971 that more resembles cheese puffs than the caramel corn anyone in America knows (and loves). We tried four flavors: Choco Crunch, Almond, Peanut, and Milk.
I've seen Meiji's Almond Chocolate snack on Asian supermarket shelves since I was a kid, but it didn't entice me until I recently set my eyes on a new flavor: Crispy Puff. More searching revealed that there were four varieties of Almond Chocolate. Naturally, I tried them all.
Pocky Milk Chocolate Salty featuring a salt-speckled milk chocolate coating. It does what it says on the tin: It tastes slightly salty. Eating it side-by-side with regular Pocky, there's no question that Salty tastes better.
After a long day of eating tacos in Columbus, OH last week, the last thing on our minds in the late afternoon was yet more food, but our awesome guides from Columbus Food Adventures insisted that we stop at Fresh Street for some Japanese-style crepes. Knowing we were in good hands, we did.
What's the best part of candy-coated gum? The candy, of course, and the way the crunchy shell gets pushed into the chewy elastic center. Meiji's hip to this and came up with bubble gum in pieces so small that it's almost all candy shell with just a bit of gum in the center, giving you the perfect excuse to down way more of the little guys than any healthy child or adult should.
If you're used to Western-style soft drinks, you'll be surprised at what you taste in Japan, where flavors are radically different. But we'll get to all that. Today, instead, we're gonna share some meta-drinks. Candies that are meant to taste like soft drinks. Is there really a big difference between grape candy and grape soda candy?
The savory, creamless version of Pocky, Pretz are also made by Glico, presumably in the exact same long-skinny-cylindrical biscuit factory. Like many of the Japanese snacks, they come in fairly idiosyncratic flavors.
The Japanese are known for cute cartoon-based packaging on decidedly adult products (Hello Kitty wine, anyone?), but they're equally good at redesigning kids' foods to give them a more adult spin. Nowhere is this more apparent than with their chocolate, which, unlike typical American or UK chocolates, come in classy, adult-oriented packaging (not to mention often having unintentionally funny names). Click through the slideshow to check out some Japanese chocolates.
Growing up, Milky, the soft, chewy, milk-flavored candy featuring a lip-smacking girl was probably my favorite candy (apologies if I've already said that about a different candy). It's got the chew and slow melt of good caramel, but with a clean, fresh milk flavor. You don't see many (or any?) straight-up milk-flavored candies in the U.S., but the Japanese seem obsessed with them.
As far as gummy candies go, Kasugai sets the standard in Japan, if not the world, with a dozen varieties (we had strawberry, kiwi, mango, mangosteen, lychee, grape, muscat, pineapple, peach, musk melon, orange, and apple), each one with a distinct, juicy flavor. (The kiwi even has little kiwi seeds in it!) There are a few other competitors in the market, but none of them really come close to the Kasugai either flavor- or texture-wise.
The Japanese figured it all out: what makes a kid want that box of cereal? It's the toy, right? I could see a box of Blistered Snarglepuffs, but as long as it came with a Star Wars action figure, I couldn't care less about how good the cereal tasted. It had to be mine.
Pocky may be the king of the Japanese choco/biscuit snack world, but they're by no means the only option. After a shopping spree at Mitsuwa in Edgewater, New Jersey—the largest Japanese supermarket in the United States—we bought every single candy they have on sale. Here is a round-up of the chocolatey biscuity snacks. Shapes range from bamboo shoots to koalas to mini burgers.
Like monster movies, martial arts, and cartoon pornography, the Japanese are the only ones in the world who have managed to refine and re-imagine snack foods in a way that can only be described as art. Whether they're wacky, cute, insane, or just plain delicious, we've got a major thing for Japanese snacks at SEHQ. Over the next few weeks, we'll be eating our way through our giant Japanese snack box. First up: Pocky.