Saturday, May 31, 2014

Singapore Food Round-Up, part 1

Back from Singapore, and boy was I terrified for my life! Sure, Singapore Airlines has a great safety record, but I'd like to see the stats on the number of muttered prayers & moments of mortal terror.

 Number one, you don't need to alert me every single time there is a little turbulence - considering how bad it was sometimes, every announcement had me clenching my jaw and thinking back on the last things I said to people. Say it when it's bad, which it was, plenty of times. It's probably not the airline's fault, but I think I was silently reflecting on my life over the entirety of Russia, and had even come to peace with my imminent death by the time we were over Poland. I'd never seen the plane go dark and the exit signs light up before, nor had I previously seen a flight attendant jog by with a mysterious satchel over her shoulder. So glad I didn't know until we touched down in London that it was the same model Boeing as Malaysian Flight 370. At least I would've gone down with a belly full of pretty good food & Curb Your Enthusiasm season 6 fresh in my mind.

That's the worst part of the journey, and I've gotten it out of the way right at the beginning! Everything else was just dandy. Singapore is a cool place for my husband and I - it meets our standards of comfort & has lots of things to do such as food, sightseeing & shopping. I know lots of people aren't really big fans of Singapore, for vacations at least, and I reckon that has to do with a perceived lack of authenticity. Fair enough, but I really enjoyed it and would like to go back for another trip someday! Next vacation is Japan in August though - and that's even more fun.

Also, as a PS - Singapore has incredibly cheap public transport that was fully air-conditioned and clean. Really makes you resent paying the rates you get here in the UK - wassup with that, anyway? Is it because the Underground is so old? Is there a tax that the mole people levy so that we can use their tunnels - is it how we got out of having to pay them in flesh? I'd happily pay if I knew that was the case.

Ha, sorry - this is a special post so pardon my digression. My last special post was from my trip to Berlin.

Let's start with the very first thing I ate there! A mochi doughnut from Dunkin' Doughnuts in the airport and one of the biggest iced lattes I've ever seen. It was even topped with whipped cream & caramel! Maybe I've been in Europe for too long, but I was surprised to see that. After a 12 hour flight it was a welcome sight.

The solid sugarfood accompaniment to my sugardrink came in the form of this region-specific mochi-style doughnut. I think these can be found in quite a few of the region's Dunkin' Doughnuts, like the Philippines & Malaysia. I believe it's a takeoff of a popular doughnut found in Mister Donut shops in Japan. As you can probably guess, the mochi element of this is that it is a far bit chewier than your average doughnut.

We opted for the glazed variety, but there was also a chocolate one. I wish I could illustrate better how chewy this doughnut was, but this bleary-eyed post 12-hour flight iPhone photo will have to do.

Sure, it might look like a regular doughnut, but believe me, the stretchiness of a mochi is there. It's just not illustrated by my crummy photo! Still tasted like a regular glazed doughnut, so I'm sure it would've been a bit tastier of it was warm - but it was a nice chewy treat that felt more substantial than a regular doughnut due to the chew factor. I'd like for something with this stretchy, chewy texture to be readily available in doughnut shops in the UK, but the unlikeliness of that isn't keeping me up at night. It was a nice first thing to try and Singapore, and probably a good symbol of the East meets West vibe of the entire country.

So, check into the hotel, it's nice - what's for lunch? Pepper Lunch!

Sounds like the beginning of a "What's the word? Thunderbird!" type jingle...Well, what it actually was is a chain called Pepper Lunch that we spotted in the mall, and not wanting to stumble around confused & jet lagged for too long, we went with it. Good choice too! It comes out with raw meat on a sizzling hot bowl, with rice, corn, sauce, and optional toppings like cheese & egg - I opted for just cheese. It was super tasty, but seeing the chicken actually be raw in the bowl made me just a bit nervous - the surface is most definitely hot enough to cook it, and it did and it was fine, but still - just goes to show a bit of the difference between cultures maybe, as I feel like raw chicken in the USA is regarded as quite terrifying. Undercooked chicken is 100x worse than undercooked beef in my estimation - it's just how I was brought up. Might even be seen as different here in Europe! Either way, the plate was hot, cooked it up, and the whole thing tasted great.

Also included was a special 'honey brown sauce' you could apply yourself, and it was very delicious indeed. Sweet, a bit of soy, and a bit of worcester - hard to find fault with it, I'd happily eat it with plain rice if the sauce was available bottled. Who knows, maybe it is! I did find a recipe for the whole kit 'n' kaboodle if you'd like to try making it - I know I would.

Our next meal was split that day - my husband went for laksa, as pictured here:

Too many cockles for my taste. I like laksa alright, but I wasn't in a very fishy mood and it was quite fishy & disappointingly non-spicy considering the abundance of floating chili oil. So I went for 'Korean Fried Chicken' at 4 Fingers, but I didn't go for traditional drumlets & wings, I went with the Katsu sandwich - Japanese inspired, I presume. There was...some sort of sauce, seemed a bit like a spicy mayo so perhaps gochujang mayo?

Most interestingly, however...the bun was deep fried. Why, I don't know. Except for that it was incredibly delicious. They were shaped like open clams, similar to the baos you can get at... Bao, Flesh & Buns, and Yum Bun. I think they might've been steamed like those, just deep fried after. It was so soft and chewy on the inside, but with a nice buttery crisp outside. The filling was chicken, a sort of slaw type vegetable assortment (cabbage, onion, creamy sauce) and that nice spicy creaminess. It came with a side of your choice of kimchi or seaweed fries, and I went with kimchi. It was just kimchi flavored powder covering the fries, and there was a delicate sweet pickle taste from them, but it wasn't actually that strong.

On this same day, we had a late night snack of Chewy Junior cream puffs. Would you believe that this chain had a UK outlet for about a year? Man, what is it about the UK that makes people so uninterested in new desserts? Beard Papa got ran out of here too. I really don't get it, who wouldn't want to try a new treat that's very popular overseas? Oh well! Could have to do with the quality of desserts & sweets that come just from grocery stores and such - it's pretty easy to find a tasty dessert in the UK, with or without Beard Papa and Chewy Junior - just a shame they can't stick around alongside Waitrose bakeries & Gu.

This particular variety was blueberry, and it had a nice piping of cream cheese frosting on top alongside the blueberry jam & blueberries. My husband wasn't too crazy about the cream cheese on top, he thought it tasted a bit too cheesy and savory - he's normally into cream cheese frosting, but this stuff was admittedly not that sweet. I thought it went nicely with the sugary tart blueberry, but I'm an easy please when it comes to cream cheese. Besides, I was too taken by the creamy vanilla, custardy insides to be too distracted by the top. The cream was firmer and thicker than a Beard Papa, for example, and I think it might've had elements of cream cheese in it as well as it had a slightly tangy taste to the vanilla sweetness. Chewy Junior had a ton of different flavors, but as it was the end of the day most of the premium ones had sold out, leaving us with a few fruit, one almond topped, and one chocolate. Well, looked chocolate - my husband ate that one.

All the fruit topping ones were super nice, with a pie-filling type topping that was sweet with big bits of fruit. The almond was a disappointment, they were just thin slivers with very little nutty taste, and they just sort of were unpleasantly textured. All of them were filled with the same cream, but I think some of the premium flavors have different creams. Unfortunately, as of this writing the website is down so I can't really find some examples - but I do remember that they even had some savory fillings like pork floss & curry.

I'll be continuing on in part 2 - I've got to cover about 6 days worth of 3 meals + snacks, so it may be a few entries!

I hope you also enjoy my reflections on the trip that aren't necessarily food related, but feel free to scroll by 'em next time if you're not into it. Once you get to photos of food, I'll mostly stay on theme, haha.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pure Gummy, Harajuku Honey & Grapefruit

So, I'm off to Singapore tomorrow. What better time to review a Japanese gummy that is heavily cross-promoting one of the districts of Tokyo? Well, clearly the better time is when I'm going to Japan the next day, but they don't have Bugis Junction inspired KitKats yet so I'm making do. Also, I was craving gummies.

Another one of my interests outside of candies both exotic & domestic is Japanese fashion - Harajuku is one of the first places you'll hear about if you have any interest in Japanese clothes or even just cute Japanese stuff. I'm lucky that I was able to shop there a few years ago, and while I didn't come back with a whole trunk load of new clothes or a Pom Pom Purin couch like I would've wanted, I still enjoyed it immensely. So, what does this have to do with gummies? Well look down Columbo: they're 'Harajuku Honey & Grapefruit'.

What does honey & grapefruit have to do with Harajuku? Now that I'm less sure of. They released another flavor in the same line of Peach & Passionfruit, and I don't see the connection there either. I know that lemon & honey is a popular flavor combo in Japan, and grapefruit & honey is similar to that.

There might be something more to it, or else it was just a tasty flavor that tested well with the sort of people who were going to buy these JOL collaboration gummies. JOL looks to be a lifestyle website for Japanese teenagers, so I'm sure partnering up one of the more youthful and fashionable areas of Tokyo with sweet, sweet gummies was like shooting fish in a barrel for their audience.

Turns out it was also shooting me in a barrel, because I ordered these when they were released ages ago and stared at the package in my snack drawer every week or so. I think part of me didn't want to eat them and have them out of my life - listen, I really liked that bear and the colors, okay? Once they're eaten, I've got to toss the packaging. The only thing I vowed to myself when I started this blog was that I wouldn't keep a bunch of old candy wrappers.

So when I finally bit the bullet (shot into my barrel) was it worth it? Yep! To me they tasted just lovely, a nice hint of sweet, deep floral honey with a tart & slightly bitter grapefruit taste. If the sound of honey & grapefruit appeals to you, I'm sure you'd be quite happy with these gummies.

Meanwhile my husband who grew up in the UK took one or two and said they weren't for him. I was quite surprised until he reminded me that lemon & honey is a very common flavor for medicine in the UK. See, in the USA most of our medicines are either cherry or mint - so those flavors to me can sometimes be a bit medicinal. For him the thick honey flavor coupled with the sour bitterness of the grapefruit just brought back memories of being ill. Understandable, but to me they were delightful.

The only problem I have with these is after the initial taste of honey wears off, the tart grapefruit will also wear a bit, then you're left with a sort of plainly sweet gummy with just a hint of honey depth. Still not bad, but it would've been nicer if the flavor was consistently the same strength. Hey, it's a minor complaint.

I don't think these are available anywhere online anymore, it was last year that they came out and I believe they sold out faster than other limited edition Pures because of the Harajuku connection. If they re-release the flavor I'd recommend it, whether it has cute pastel packaging or not.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Watapachi Grape Candy

My husband was listening to some of crazy, cuckoo, rock 'em sock 'em dance music and I asked him, "What's this group called?" and wouldn't you know it...their name is Watapachi! This reminded me that I had some candy in the drawer called 'watapachi'. I have a feeling it is some sort of onomatopoeia for sour taste, fizziness, and popping? Just like dance music BADUMTISH

This is one of the cheapest & most plentiful of the Japanese import candies. I don't remember where I bought mine, but it's available in the UK at sushinoms & tofucute, and shipped from Japan on Candysan, Jlist, OyatsuCafe, and NapaJapan. Phew! So basically every place I've ordered Japanese candy from stocks this stuff - it's very light, so it makes sense that it would ship easily. It's probably also quite cheap in Japan, as it is clearly meant for little kids.

Being that I have the same taste as lots of little kids, I'm a big fan of cotton candy. I even prefer the very compressed packaged stuff to the freshly made ones. It might be because the packaged stuff never has wasps embedded in it, nor is it handed to you by a  murderous carny. Not that all carnies are murderous...but let's get real, the odds are pretty good.

Also, it's just a bit more substantial - and can have a stronger flavor than just 'blue' or 'pink'. So I was pretty excited by this one, knowing that grape is done very well in Japan and that it also promises bits of hard, popping candy.

It certainly delivered on the grape - it was a very strong and pleasant smell as soon as I opened the package. Unfortunately, it was SUPER sticky - way stickier than I recollect cotton candy being in the past. Ants across the country shuttered with delight. I think this was because of the embedded hard candy reacting a bit with heat, being embedded in more spun sugar, and all sorts of chemical reasons I guess. It made handling the candy a bit unpleasant, as I took it out in one big lump and had my entire hand stickified in the process. It was also a bit weird that it flaked into sheets - who knows what compressed cotton candy does after international travel, ya know? As long as the taste was good, I would be happy.

It tasted very strongly of grape, especially the bits with the popping candy - which was very strong and sour by itself. It was of course incredibly sweet, but having the sour bits spread around made it a bit easier to handle as an uh..."adult". I really enjoyed the taste & how strong and sour it was, and it was a good size portion that definitely fulfilled my sweet tooth. The fizziness of the hard candy was pretty powerful, but I sort of crunched my way through it rather than let it fizzle. Just like life.

I'd definitely like to try the melon soda variety, so I'm sure I'd give this another go sometime. If you like sugar and kinda fun, goofy textural changes I think it's worth tacking onto an order!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Gokigen Banana Candy

I'm a hard sell when it comes to taffy, gummies, and banana flavored things. My hatred of Runts has been made abundantly clear on the blog, specifically the banana ones So, it surprised me when I ordered these banana gummy slices from Candysan oh so long ago. Surprised me so much in fact that I let them sit around in my Candy Drawer of Shame for a long time. I'm trying to whittle some of these less interesting bits down so I can make another order of Candy Drawer of Shame filler.

A gluttonous spring cleaning if you will. I know I would.

I thought I might as well get these banana taffies out of the way, and I was encouraged by my husband who is a big fan of banana flavored things. Ah, yin to my yang. The packaging is some of the dullest I've seen from Japan, but it has it's charm. The smiling banana hunk is likable enough, and there is a 100 of something in there. Other than that, it doesn't really sell itself. I wonder who this candy is meant for?

Seeing as how they're individually wrapped, I contend that perhaps they're meant for kids lunchboxes. The inner packaging is very cute, and the variation also makes me think it's meant for children to get excited about while in the lunchroom. "I got the blue pack! I'll trade you for a clear-with-view-of-taffy!"

Ha, the clear one is the best one - good luck.

They smell very strongly of the tangy variety of artificial banana, and that was just from opening the first layer of packaging. There was a time where I hated that smell, the smell of Runts...the smell of Halloween left overs...but here I am now, nearly 10 years since the last time I trick or treated (don't do the math on that if you want to have any respect for me) and I'm feeling it. It smelled like banana yogurt and I wasn't recoiling!

Still, there was the problem of the potential Laffy Taffy texture. Good taste is one thing, pulling out all my fillings is another. When I chomped and braced myself for a grim chew I was pleasantly surprised by how soft the 'taffy' actually was. I could best compare it to a less sticky Fruit Roll-Up, but in li'l sheet form. As someone who doesn't much care for chews, this was a great find.

It did taste like a tangy banana yogurt, which went quite poorly with the super crunchy and extremely sweet Runts, but goes nicely with a slightly less sweet and soft piece of candy.

Over all, the Gokigen Banana Candy was very pleasant & I'd be happy to try the other varieties which include plain yogurt and blueberry. For all I know, I have a couple more flavors in my drawer already.

Update: I do, in fact, have the yogurt flavor as well. I'm a candy hoarder.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Melt White Chocolate, Strawberry & Tarragon Bar

I'll preface this review with a few points to keep in mind: I'm one of those people who really enjoys white chocolate, especially the nicer & more buttery stuff. White chocolate & strawberry are a natural flavor combination to me, and I'm quite open to interesting & different taste sensations.

That being said, I will never again eat white chocolate with French cooking herbs. There are some things that just aren't ever meant to be combined.

This was another purchase from the Chocolate Festival, and I've had some lovely things from Melt in the past so it is no fault of the chocolate - it's just the flavors not working together.

I even understand where the idea came from, as tarragon smells a bit like anise, which is like black licorice, which is by all accounts a 'sweet' in some people's mind - and it's bitter & herbaceous taste might blend nicely with white chocolate. Yeah, on paper it makes some sense - but in execution it didn't work, at least not this time, and not in this instance.

I think the first problem was that there was bits of dried herb on top of the bar - it made for a cool look, but the tasting was overwhelmed by the actual dried herbs on top, just the same as it would be for a piece of chicken that had a layer of dried herbs just crumbled on top. If it was all blended into it you get the nice merging of the flavors. Now, there were some bits inside the chocolate as well, that came off as fresher (they looked brighter green, but I'm no tarragon expert) and maybe if it had been left like that I could've handled eating it - but as it was, I took one bite and threw the rest out. First time I can remember where I've thrown away chocolate - especially the good stuff like this!

It was really quite bad to me - the white chocolate was basically just a carrier for tarragon and strawberry, the gentle buttery taste of it was completely lost to the tangy sweetness from the strawberry and the alkaline, herbaceous & savory taste of the tarragon. Which is so not a nice combination. I mean, maybe my palette isn't refined enough, I'll admit that - but for people considering this bar, you've got to know that it isn't just a 'hint' of tarragon, and just doesn't gel that nicely. Genuinely, it tastes like the tarragon was a mistake, like someone meant to add another spice or just more strawberry, but they got mixed up. There's not no 'coming together' of the flavors, and the dried herbs on top make the texture strange & just up the flavors & smell of the already overwhelming tarragon.

This certainly doesn't discourage me from buying Melt chocolates, as I know they're very good otherwise! However, I would be surprised to hear if there were any repeat buyers on this bar. The flavor combination just straight up doesn't work and that's a shame.