Momiji Manju Kitkat

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KitKat Japan doesn’t only release limited editions of their candy bars, but also regional only products. One of those hails from the island of Miyajima, near historical Hiroshima. A version of KitKat was marketed here based on a local dessert called “momiji manju”. This is a maple leaf shaped pastry filled with red beans.
In the KitKat version red beans were mixed in with the biscuit mix, while the pastry flavorings were paired with the outer shell of white chocolate. With each bite I took I could only taste one thing: red bean. Not the sweet kind I had tasted before, but the roasted, earthy kind. It’s safe to say I didn’t like it all that much. I guess red bean desserts still haven’t fully grown on me.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 4

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Pepsi Special Zero

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Japan likes its special and limited editions. There have been almost 300 different varieties of KitKat alone. Pepsi is another contender for special editions that can’t be found outside of Japan. One of these is Pepsi Special Zero. Pepsi Special was first released in 2012 as a fat-fighting drink. It contains dextrin, a kind of fiber that is said to suppress the bodies absorption of fat.

It seems strange to drink a soda to get healthier, but it seems the dextrin does actually do what it is advertised to do, which is why in Japan it was listed as a “Food for Special Healthy Use”, and which is also why it will not be released in The States, due to health legislation. I tried a bottle of the Zero variety of Pepsi Special, meaning it has no sugar or calories, and I have to say it tastes a lot better – less sweet – than regular Pepsi. I’m not a convert yet, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this on the shelves outside of Japan.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8

Fatty tuna sushi

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One of my favorite fish to eat is tuna. Its meat is so red it’s almost like a steak, and you can treat it that way too. I’ve had it cooked rare, grilled, raw and canned. I had not, however, had a piece of fatty tuna. It had always been dark red and lean. Among my sushi set at the famous Endo Sushi in Osaka, was a tori, or fatty tuna, nigiri. This fatty part of the tuna is harvested from the belly end of the fish.

The piece of fish that was presented to me looked more like salmon than tuna. It was a soft pink rather than the usual deep red I was used to. It definitely looked fattier than normal. When I tasted it, it was almost like eating a stick of butter. You start out with a soft, but firm piece, and slow the fat starts to melt in your mouth. The fat was not at all unpleasant to eat, like some other animal fats can be, and it tasted quite rich, but I still like my meaty tuna more.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7

Deep fried cake

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There are a lot of different Japanese dishes that have become famous around the world such as sushi, sashimi, tempura and ramen. There are still quite a few local dishes that didn’t make it across the pond. One such dish is kushikatsu. Pieces of meat or vegetable are skewered and dipped in a batter before being deep fried.

On one visit to a kushikatsu restaurant I ordered a set of different skewers including chicken and avocado. I was surprised to see a few dessert items on the menu as well, and ordered a deep fried Japanese cake called baumkuchen. They say everything tastes better fried. I don’t know about that, but this cake sure did taste good. Imagine a nice soft-centered cake but with a crunchy outer layer. Too make everything better it was served with a dollop of ice-cream.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8

Pumpkin pudding ice-cream sandwich

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I know that in America pumpkin is often used in sweet dishes such as pumpkin pie, but in Holland it’s still mainly used as a vegetable. I was a bit surprised then to find a pumpkin pudding ice-cream bar in Japan produced by Haagen Dasz. I was expecting there to be a pumpkin ice-cream covered with white chocolate, but there were a few more layers inside.

The outside layers were thin, crisp wafers. Underneath was a shard of crunchy white chocolate. Then followed a thick layer of pumpkin ice-cream and the center was a gooey caramel sauce. It was an almost perfect match of crispy, soft and chewy. The flavors worked very well together too as I didn’t get any savory notes, but I could still distinguish the pumpkin. I think this would go down very well in the rest of the world, at least in America.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 8

Chicken neck skewers

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In the west we’re not that accustomed to nose to tail dining anymore. Of a chicken we usually only eat the breast, legs and wings, and so much goes to waste. Besides the organs, you can of course also eat the feet, neck or cockscomb. I’d never tried any of these, but that changed recently when I had dinner at a bar in Osaka serving grilled chicken.

Most of the meat served that day was in fact breast or leg, but I did find a chicken neck skewer on the menu. There isn’t much meat to a chicken neck, so this skewer consisted of many quarter sized pieces of meat. The taste wasn’t all that special. It tasted like chicken, obviously. The meat was a lot chewier than chicken breast which . If I hadn’t known it was chicken, I might have thought it to be pork.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 8

Pepsi strong

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You should know by now that I drink Coke, not Pepsi, but I’ll make an exception for some of the more peculiar kinds of Pepsi. And thus I didn’t hesitate to try out a so-called Pepsi Strong in Japan. It’s called strong because of the extra high volume of gas. It is said to contain five times as much gas as a normal bottle of cola, which is why Pepsi had to come up with a new packaging material that could contain it.

I half expected a super fizzy drink that would make me burp as much as Charlie Bucket, but I found Pepsi Strong to bear almost no difference to any normal Pepsi. It might have been a little foamier perhaps, but I didn’t feel any extra bubbles. I should add that when I opened the same bottle again the next morning, as I hadn’t finished it all, it was still fizzy.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 7

Butter Beer

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a big fan of Harry Potter. I’ve read all the books, seen all the movies, visited the film studios, the movie premiere, the exhibition, and now, finally, the Wizard World attraction at Universal Studios in Japan. Being a fan, and a foodie combined I naturally found myself gravitating toward the butter beer stall.

Butter beer is one of, if not the, most famous food and drinks from the Harry Potter world, along with chocolate frogs and pumpkin juice. I ordered a cup of regular butter beer, which by the way is alcohol free, and received a plastic cup of something that looked like iced tea with a healthy dose of foam on top. The foam turned out to be some kind of whipped cream – or at least I thought it was – which gave the drink it’s creamy flavor and texture.

I don’t like butter all that much, hence the slight bump in my Fear Factor, but I felt there was more of a vanilla taste than butter. The juice or iced tea on its own was not all that remarkable, but in combination with the cream topping it worked fairly well. It was great to see all the Harry Potter fans and all the kids laughing when they found out they had a “milk moustache”. That made this cup a little magical after all.

Fear Factor 2 / Taste Test 7

Caramel nachos

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I love Mexican food and hope to go back to Mexico one day, as I only spent one day there during my trip to America. In the mean time I have to make do with Mexican food that I find along my travels. One such occasion presented itself in the form of a newly opened Taco Bell close to my hotel in Osaka. I went there after I had eaten dinner already, so I decided to order dessert.
The Japanese Taco Bell had a crispy fried nacho on sale dusted with sugar and cinnamon and doused in a caramel sauce. The idea may or may not be Mexican, but it’s not that strange a thought as most staple foods can be either sweet or savory depending on what you season it with. I happened to love these little bites. They were crispy and crunchy and there was no salty note whatsoever. It was purely eating a crispy piece of pastry with caramel. If you like caramel cookies, you’ll surely love these sweet nachos.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test 8

Sea urchin sushi

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A couple of months ago I wrote about an uni taco I tried at a food festival in Shanghai. At the time, I couldn’t really get a good sense of what uni is, so I decided to try it again. On my recent trip to Japan I visited renowned sushi restaurant Endo Sushi in Osaka for breakfast. I chose a set of five pieces of nigiri sushi including uni.

This time it was just rice and uni, so I could get a much better taste of what it’s all about. I didn’t find the taste to be that strong actually. It most certainly didn’t taste fishy, which is a good thing. Once again it was a textural thing, as the uni is quite rich and cream like a ripe avocado. Although I liked it, I wasn’t blown away by it. Uni is an expensive ingredient, so I better save my money for something else.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 6