Snacking in Japan, because Vacation Calories DON'T Count! (Now who am I kidding?)

Sunday, 5 June 2016

All right. I want to quickly finish this up so that I can get started on editing those Kyushu photos.
In the previous post, I had written about Pocky and Kit Kat, both of which are snacks that are enjoyed by many. Today, I'm going to write about other family favourites whenever me and/or my family visits Japan. And I'm going to start with another Japanese brand that is well-known and well-loved by many: Calbee.

For those uninitiated (which I don't believe there are many), Calbee is the brand that's famous for their potato chips and prawn crackers. Again, these are easily available in our local supermarkets, convenience stores, mama-shops, etc.

However, in Japan, you'll be mesmerized not just by the array of flavours available but also by the variety. Don't believe me? Just do a Google image search. Type in Calbee and the name of any Japanese region, and check out the images that pop up. They have everything from pumpkin chips to sweet potato chips, to flavoured potato sticks, and now even granola!
Again, remember to watch out for those key Chinese characters that I showed you in my previous post! Yup, you've got it! There are limited edition flavours when it comes to Calbee too!
So all those 期间限定 (time limited), 地区限定 (regional specialties) or 季限定 (seasonal specialties) that I had explained to you in the previous post is applicable here too! I remembered trying sakura flavoured chips when I visited in spring, choking on a regional wasabi specialty pack and hauling back onion chips which I thought was da bomb!
While my parents and I were in Kyushu this round for 9 days, everytime we popped into a convenience store, we'll leave with at least a packet of Calbee potato chips or prawn crackers. I think between me and my mom, we demonlished about 4 packets of prawn crackers and 3 packets of potato chips. That's quite a bit considering I was actually sick and should have been staying away from such snacks!
So if you're headed to Japan soon and you're a fan of potato chips and/or prawn crackers, make sure to pop into any of their supermarkets or convenience stores (Lawsons, Family Mart or 7-11) to check out the many flavours available.
Personally, I think Calbee products are also great as gifts, particularly those limited edition types. In my picture above (it's cropped to just highlight the Calbee), we bought home the mentaiko flavoured potato sticks (box on top) that's a regional specialty. While I love my mentaiko, I didn't particularly enjoy this one. The potato sticks are way harder than usual! However, my family and I loved the sweet potato chips (box in the bottom of picture). If I don't remember wrongly, there were only 6 small packs in the box and they were gone pretty quick over a couple of days. Because these are often individually packed, it's also easy to just distribute them out amongst family and friends.
By the way, Calbee also has boutique stores in Japan! If you're headed towards Tokyo or Hokkaido, please try to visit the Calbee boutique stores! Tokyo station, Harujuku station in Tokyo and the Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. Imagine fresh potato crisps (literally out of the fryer!) drizzled with your choice of toppings such as Royce chocolate or cheese and topped with a soft serve. It really doesn't get any better (or more decadent) than that!

Right, since soft serve is now mentioned, that'd flow nicely into the next recommendation I have for those of you visiting Japan: soft-serve, ice lollies and ice-cream. Eat all that you can!
Yup, this is another every-time-I-visit-Japan-must-eat item. There's just something that's simply amazingly yummy about the soft-serve in Japan. Maybe because they have an abundance of fresh milk? Or perhaps it's some secret ingredient or manufacturing process? Whichever, I usually find their soft-serve nicely creamy without the over-powering taste of milk.
But perhaps the most awesome thing is (again) the variety of flavours that's available! The soft-serve in my photo above is a pretty standard vanilla and grape mix. Yup, that's right. Grape flavoured soft-serve is considered mild. It's also one of the more common flavours around in Japan. Others in this mild/common category include strawberry, green tea, melon (which is absolutely delicious), milk, chocolate.
Now, if you're one of those who's up for exotic flavours or if you don't mind a culinary adventure, soft-serve flavours in Japan also come in unique ones such as miso, squid ink, asparagus, wasabi, tofu, etc. It all depends on where you are at. Yeah, I've done all of the above that I've listed. Culinary exploration. Plus, I'm already there so why not? But let's just say I'll still prefer the safer of the exotic such as hoji-cha. Now that's a seriously awesome unique soft-serve. Try it if you ever spot one, especially if you like hoji-cha! I think I had it in Kyoto...

Soft-serves are probably the most common of the ice-cream family that you'll find in Japan. In fact, each time you step into a major tourist attraction spot, there will definitely be at least one stall selling them. I was seriously amused when even boating down a river-canal, we had the option of stopping for soft-serve at stalls set up along the canal!
What's less common but still equally yummy are ice-lollies or ice-sticks like the one in the picture above. I simply love the fruit-based ones. I think because Japan is an agricultural country, these lollies often use fresh fruit as their ingredients. Just pick whichever fruit is currently in season, and enjoy them the ice-cold way. Another flavour that I often enjoy are the ones that uses Calpis. What can I say, I'm just a major Calpis fan. It's a good thing that they're not as readily available in Singapore, otherwise I'm sure I'd have overdosed on them.
And if store bought ice-cream is your to-go-to, you'd be delighted to know that these are also pretty awesome. Once in a while, I'd pop into their convenience store to try their local Japanese store brands. So far, they've been decent. Still prefer my soft-serves though.
But if you're a Haagen Dazs fan, then it's a must to get to the convenience stores! You'd be delighted to know that Haagen Dazs comes in limited edition flavours too in Japan! What did I say before, Japan really is the land of limited edition flavours! Now can you spot the 4 Chinese characters in the picture by now?
The picture above features the Haagen Dazs that my dad and I tried this time round: Alphonso Mango and Cream, and Caramel Truffle. Both were pretty good. I got a photo of the Alphonso Mango and Cream one below. A wee bit melted as the hotel fridge isn't the most powerful of all fridges.

Now, the next item I'm going to write about is something I don't often read about in travel blogs or notes. Jelly cups, in particular, fruit-based jelly cups. These jelly cups are my mom's favourite and it's not difficult to understand why. Oftentimes, these cups are sweet. Not the overwhelming artificial sugar sweet kind of taste that you'd find in some. Instead, my mom likes that she can taste the fruit-like sweetness. Now, whether artificial sugar or fresh fruit sweetness, I'm not talking about the ingredients that's going into the cups here. What I'm saying instead, is that at the very least, they taste great and not like artificial sugar.
Like I mentioned earlier, these are my mom's favourite. Yes, she loves them even more than her beloved Pockys. Each time I bring her to a Japanese convenience store, that's the first stop she makes. It's not uncommon to see us hauling her bag of jellies (it's been a minimum of 3 cups each visit thus far) onto the car or bus.
While these are occasionally available in some of our local supermarkets like NTUC and Cold Storage, each palm-sized cup has been known to retail at anywhere between SGD$5 to $7. So while my mom loves them, it's her occasional indulgence if purchased in Singapore. In contrast, each cup we've bought in Japan is only between SGD$1 to $3. I guess that's why mom goes jelly-crazy in Japan.
Loquat was in season this time round when we visited Kyushu, so we bought home quite a number of loquat jelly cups for the mom (see picture above).
Since you read that I'm a major Calpis fan, it be remiss if I were to write such a post and say nothing at all about my favourite drink in Japan. Now Calpis (aka Calpico in some other countries since it apparently sounds like cow piss) is a sugary soft-drink that is reminiscent in taste of yogurt or Yakult. There's milk and lactic acid featured as ingredients so those of you who are allergic or intolerant, please be mindful.
Now, the common Calpis drink in Japan usually comes packaged in a plastic bottle with a blue and white label. You can google for that since I obviously didn't grab any pictures of the common one. Just be mindful that Calpis comes as Calpis soda or Calpis concentrate. Both packagings look pretty similar so please be careful that you don't buy the concentrate and start glugging it down.
In Japan, Calpis also comes in fruit flavours and that's often what I love looking out for. My picture above just portrays some samples from the collection of the flavours available. It's what I had this time round in Kyushu, with the lemon flavour one being a first-time trying it. That one tastes like yogurt mixed with lemonade - the refreshing sort. I quite enjoyed it.
These bottles of Calpis can be easily bought in supermarkets and convenience stores. Also, there are tons of vending machines around that can dispense these drinks. If you're headed to a pub or bar, you may also wish to try Calpis sour. That's a cocktail usually made from mixing shochu and Calpis concentrate. Some places will offer Calpis concentrate mixed with vodka or choya as well. Some restaurants offer this too, just check the drink menu. In some places, Calpis concentrate is also mixed with shaved ice for a refreshing dessert.
Now here's something that commonly written about. When in Japan, eat ramen!
Hahaha, of course you should! You're in ramen land! It's easily found everywhere, from ramen shops to stalls to the instant versions. Japan even holds ramen competitions and they're prestigious titles too! So it's really a big deal if a ramen store you patronise had won one of these competitions.
There are a few big-name ramen stores around in Japan. By that, I mean stores with established ramen reputation in ramen land. Some well-known ones include Ippudo, Ichiran, Santouka, etc. Picture above is a tonkatsu ramen bowl from Ichiran. We had the opportunity to visit its original store in Fukuoka this time round.

Friends of mine usually am well-aware of my instant noodle addiction. In fact, many times, my friends would travel overseas and bring me back instant noodles, particularly if its some unique flavour found in the country they've visited. Of course then, it's no surprise for me to feature instant noodles here. When in Japan with friends, we often buy back cup noodles to the hotels as snacks. (Yeah, not meals but snacks). Ok, for supper too. Basically, for those times when we suddenly feel hungry. And given how much we would have already snacked on in the day, that's quite amazing. With my parents around, I'm a lot more restrained since they've always nagged at my instant noodle intake.
Nissin is a favourite instant noodle brand of mine. Of course, I'll also get other brands to try but every trip, Nissin is a must. And please, likewise, don't just buy the ones you already often eat in Singapore. I love the cheese curry (in the picture above) and the chilli tomato flavour is pretty decent too. Nissin also has those awesome BIG cup noodles. Because how can 1 tiny cup fill you up? I just haven't gotten around to trying some other (in my opinion, weirder) cup noodles flavours such as milk seafood.
By the way, those famous big-name ramen stores that I mentioned 3 paragraphs above? Even they have decided to cash in on the instant ramen popularity. Yup, I've hauled instant bowls (well, they're nowhere near cup shapes) from Ippudo and Santouka back to Singapore before. In case you're wondering, yes, I'm one hell of a luggage-packer. I've never had an issue with crushed cups. My cup noodles have all arrived in Singapore safely in my luggage.

And I definitely do not limit myself to just the cup/bowl noodles. I go for the packet ones too! By the way, I just cooked the black-coloured packet of ramen (2 photos above, on the left) for lunch. Kagoshima pork broth ramen, that's the picture above. Kagoshima's is supposedly famous for their pork. Yummy to the max! Now I'm regretting only getting 1 pack!

Now, it's not all unhealthy snacking k. When in Japan, eat all the fruits too! Especially fruits that are in season. And yes, I hauled these clementines, apples, peaches and loquats back from Kyushu this round. I did tell you I'm an awesome luggage-packer, didn't I.

By the way, my parents and I have since learnt to pack a plastic knife along with our luggage solely for the purpose of enjoying our fruits in Japan. When in season, these fruits are seriously sweet and yummy. Plus, they're a great source of natural fibre. Best way to avoid holiday constipation. In some parts of Japan, you may even wish to visit a fruit farm/orchard for some fruit-picking fun.

Ok, I'm getting to the end of my post. But first, onto Starbucks. I have to admit, I first started popping into Starbucks in Japan because I wasn't getting my coffee fix all the time. By the way, Japan's great for teas, but it's hard to find a good cup of coffee. And Starbucks isn't exactly great with the coffee either.
But anyway, that's how I found out that Starbucks Japan does seasonal stuff too! Spring 2 years ago, I tried a Sakura drink. This time round, its Cantaloupe melons for summer. I didn't get around to the other brownie matcha one. They were also advertising that a strawberry option was the next offering coming up. So if you're thirsty and you spy a Starbucks nearby, no harm popping in to see what they have on offer.
Now this is something that I don't always enjoy, but always receive requests from friends for. Japanese crackers. Japanese crackers can be in the form of rice crackers (on the left in my picture above) or the biscuit-like types (on the right in the picture above). So far, I tend to prefer the latter and my favourites rice crackers are the ones from Kitakaro in Otaru, Hokkaido.
Usually, when purchasing crackers, most stalls would have samples out for you to try. You can then make your choice based on your favourites. Like I said, I'm not a fan but my friends seem to love them quite a bit, so it's here too on the blog.

Next on the post (which is becoming extremely lengthy), are my bakeries and pastry shops. I love to visit these in Japan. The breads are soft and the Japanese often experiment with fillings. Mentaiko bread? Give it to me. Garlic sesame buns? Yums in the tums! And their cheese breads or cheese pies or cheesecakes? Oh lord. It's melt-in-your-mouth cheese heaven.
Of course, likewise, there are famous ones in different areas. Just do your homework before you go to find out. But I've also learnt to rely on my sense of smell and the sight of queues.
I'm finally coming to the end. These here (ok, the ones that I'm writing about) are what I call my buy-at-the-airport goodies. Simply because, they can always be found at the airports. Let's start with the photo above:
Top row from the left, are 2 boxes from Potato Farm. The first box is something new that Potato Farm put out while the 2nd box is what I traditionally would always get. There's always a limit placed on the number of boxes of Potato Farm that each visitor is allowed to purchase and it varies from place to place. I been told that I can get anywhere from 2 to 5 boxes in various places and airports. Now that in itself, should give you an indication as to how popular this awesome box of potato sticks is. They're good.
3rd box from left, top row: Tokyo Banana.
Do I need to introduce this anymore? Its famous. Again not a personal favourite of mine, but I know of many (and I do mean MANY) who seem to love this banana-cream filled sponge cake. By the way, there are variations now when it comes to Tokyo Banana, e.g. caramel-banana cream, etc. I've been told too that there's even a sakura one for spring!
Box below Tokyo Banana: The Strawberry Cake from Ginza.
My mom has resorted to calling this Tokyo Strawberry (after Tokyo Banana). Firstly, the name The Strawberry Cake from Ginza is just simply too long a mouthful. Secondly, it's almost like Tokyo Banana, except it's strawberry filled. I actually prefer this to Tokyo Banana. Less sweet.
Ignore the others in the photo. They're just random stuff I picked up for friends.
Here's a picture of how "Tokyo Strawberry" looks like. You'll have to give the Japs points for packaging, they're really good at stuff like that.

And here's what an individual pack of Potato Farm looks like. My 2 boxes were gone in less than a week.

Now, the next thing to watch out for in the Japan airports are the wonderful Royce chocolates. Seriously yummy chocolates. They've also got liquor filled ones but my favourites are the darks. So sinfully awesome. And they even have chocolate coated potato chips and popcorn. I bought the chips this time. Love the white chocolate ones much more though.


And finally, the last thing that I can recall to put into this post. Hori melon jellies. Ok, I know I wrote about jellies already. But these ones can be easily found at most airports. So if you don't have the opportunity to visit supermarkets or convenience stores, you'll know that there's this option at the airports as a last resort.
Except I still find the others nicer. These Hori Melon jellies are good, but the ones at the supermarkets and convenience stores are sometimes nicer.
All right. I hope this post helps those going to Japan soon, especially if it's going to be your first time there. Enjoy yourself snacking on these Japan goodies! Just don't blame me for the weight you put on k!

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