Saturday, September 6, 2014

Japan Food Round-Up, part 1 - Japanese Vending Machines

I've already covered one Japanese snack from my last trip, and these articles will be more like quick snaps of the meals I ate, the snacks I had while there, and my general musings about this vacation.

To start - I was anticipating less "weird" food & drink this time around, as that has been the trend in Japan for at least a year or so. There have been way less 'wacky' KitKats (exception being bakeable custard pudding, which was very innovative but I'd already tried it), and no 'strange' Pepsis released since Pepsi White of last year, reviewed here. Who knows why, I can also tell you that there is a bit of a shift in fashion as well; even though I don't follow fashion as strongly as I do snacks, I did recognize way more "Americana" influence there than before - lots of J Crew. Disappointingly, the women's fashion was very Tumblr/blogger influenced, same as it is here in the UK. That means a lot of the same sorts of things that you can find in a Next or Topshop, which isn't very good for me as I like the more bright/pastel color palettes & 'cute' clothes that used to be easy to find in Japan. Oh well, times they are a changing, and maybe I should too!

I'll never compromise on snacks, though. Never. So it was with some regret that I report back that yes, there were much less wild & wooly snacks than there were last time I was there. Now, some of this might have to do with the fact that I now have pretty easy access to Japanese snacks, whenever I want, thanks to NapaJapan, Candysan, and OyatsuCafe. If I see something I want, generally I can get it online now - not necessarily the case 3 years ago, due to some sites not being around and me having less of a snack budget, haha.

So, all that being said there was still plenty of interesting and tasty things on this trip to report back on!

Vending machines were still a very common sight - I was mentioning on Twitter how it would be nice if there were more of these in London, but I think even more than the machines themselves I want the options. These were just in the airport, for example:

You can't make out very well what's here (even zoomed in, sorry!) but it's a combination of hot and cold drinks of varying types. Fruit drinks, coffee, hot chocolate, teas, et cetera. 

Here's a little more detail - as you can see there is an almond drink of some sort, either hot chocolate or a coffee beverage. Lots of coffee options, and even more in the zoomed out pic. You can see a couple examples of juices too, including an intriguing Orange Julius type drink at the bottom left.

I regret never trying anything from this ice cream machine - not only was it at Narita Airport, I also spotted them frequently in arcades and on the street. It was so steaming hot, it's crazy that I didn't have even one! The most interesting flavors available in this one are green tea & red beans, watermelon with funny black specks, shirokuma (condensed milk, bits of fruit and mochi), and two 'squeezy' looking tubes of soda flavored sorbet, cider & orange. They look like they might be slushie-style. 

These Van Houten Cocoas are very nice - I had them often when I was in Japan a few years ago, and never got around to trying one while I was there this time around. I had a few other cold chocolate drinks though, and in the same way they were strongly flavored - unlike chocolate milk elsewhere. I think since they're geared more for 'adult' tastes there is just a bit more an actual cold hot chocolate, not just a chocolate milk. What a distinction, only a goober like me would even think there was a difference. But there is!

The canned coffees seen are just two examples out of dozens upon dozens seen in Japan. The differences, I feel, are generally pretty minute. The ones labelled 'black' are generally just that, black coffee without sugar. The ones I usually drink are any that aren't labelled black, because they're almost always quite milky, sweet, and easy to drink. They have a caffeine kick, but I think your average coffee aficionado would see little resemblance between these and their favorite flat white. I like both, personally. Coffee culture is making some inroads in Japan, I noticed quite a few sweet little European looking cafes, but I think it's still not as common as tea, for instance. Or these canned coffees. While we were there, the weather was so incomprehensibly hot that a steaming cup of joe would've been a nightmare.

This was a cool machine in the airport that was all Disney themed snacks and little bits. I think there was a row of little metal jewelry boxes. There were also very well-boxed Minnie Mouse truffles, and little cookies & Toppo snacks, all Disney-decorated.

You know Japan is truly the land of vending machines: here are a few more from the trip.

This is a pretty standard entry - big cans of Coke, water in both flavored & vitamin enhanced varieties, plain waiter, a selection of canned coffees, 'Real Gold' which tastes like boiled sweets & is very nice (allegedly also vitamin enriched) and my personal favorite - Grape Fanta. I so wish that this would come out in the UK - grape soda is delicious, and yeah, I know you can get it through Ka so not all is lost - but considering how many weird varieties of 'red fruits' Fanta comes out with here in England you'd think they'd at least toss one grape in the mix. It's a standard flavor elsewhere, after all.

Here's a slightly more exotic machine, not a real familiar brand in sight. I can't believe I never tried that green can on the top row, furthest right: I think it was meant to be a guarana Brazilian style soda with an 'ice cream float' texture. I did however try one of these 'soda float' pre-mixed drinks, and I'll talk about it in my drinks round-up...later. The rest of the machine is full of juices, tea drinks, vitamin drinks, water and of course, more canned coffee. This one struck me as particularly strange - like a lot of them sort of have a theme: this one is mostly soda, this one is mostly coffee, this one is mostly water & 'healthier' drinks...that's nearly what this one is, but Power Squash and the guarana one don't seem healthy? If anyone has any insight, I'd love to hear it!

I wish I would've gotten more pictures of vending machines - after awhile it just felt a bit conspicuous, like I was a particularly weird tourist. I don't mind being a tourist, I just don't like being a weird one that obsessively documents what is otherwise daily, normal life. The most exciting ones were also in the busiest & 'coolest' areas, like Harajuku and Akihabara, so I didn't want to be backing up trying to get the perfect shot & getting in the way of another person's 'perfect shot', haha.

The true question on everyone's lips - what was my favorite find in the vending machines? CC Grape, of course! Yep, it was like CC Lemon (which is lightly carbonated in Japan, at least it seems most varieties are - the imported bottles in the UK are always flat & more juice-like) but grape flavored! So a bit tangy, not too sweet, and very refreshing. The best part is that we share initials.

My husband's favorite was the Pepsi Refresh Shot, which you can buy at NapaJapan. It was just a short can of slightly sweeter tasting Pepsi, but he loved it. It doubled the caffeine of regular Pepsi, so maybe it was more of an addiction than a love.

My next round-up is coming soon, but I'm not sure what to write about next! so, tell me - what would you like to see first?
  • Savory snacks
  • Drinks
  • Sweets (might have to be 2 posts, haha)
  • Meals
  • Final Fantasy Cafe Eorzea

They'll all get written, but what's the most exciting? 


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