Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Finger food


One of the odder things that’s happened to me since I became a part-time ethnic minority is that I have turned into a food writer of sorts. Not, it must immediately be said, a food critic – a combination of cultural sensitivities and media economics mean that I’m rarely able to unleash the full-strength AA Gill-style vitriol that some establishments deserve. If the pasta’s overcooked, I find that biting my tongue offers the full al dente experience.

I have thought of setting up a food blog to vent my frustrations, but that would eventually put me in the potentially awkward position of slagging off an eatery with which I’ve previously had to play nice. And I’d have to take photos of all the dishes and, as Small Boo can attest, I’m the world’s worst photographer. Many people meeting her in person for the first time have expressed surprise that she possesses feet, or a whole head.

So any honest attempt at food writing has to be a bit of a guerrilla operation, ideally dealing with food from somewhere I’ve never worked. On this basis, and inspired by the magnificent Jen Ken’s Kit Kat Blog, Small Boo and I carried out a taste test on five Japanese Kit Kat varieties.

The first thing to be said about these particular bars is that they’re sweet. I mean, ordinary Kit Kats are sweet, but these are ostentatiously, painfully, pancreas-assaultingly sweet. It soon becomes clear that the success of each variety depends on the extent to which the additional flavouring is able to stand up to the sugar overdose. So, clockwise from top left:

Tamarayua-honten Wasabi: Well, it looks right, or at least appropriate. The chocolate has the pale green hue of the legendary Japanese horseradish that perks up sushi across the planet. But then, as you taste, there’s a disconnect; your tongue is assailed by an intense white chocolate flavour, as if you’re being snogged against your will by the Milky Bar Kid. Only after the shock of the assault clears do you get the pleasing hotness of the wasabi, but even then it’s just a passing hint, like the vermouth in a super-dry Martini. Frustrating. 6

Uji Maccha (green tea): I love Japanese green tea itself, but I’ve never been fond of green-tea flavoured things. Again, this gets the colour right, but again the milk/sugar overload leaves the bitterness of the tea fighting a losing battle. Imagine dropping a tablespoon of double cream into a cup of weak, sweet Typhoo. Not great. 3

Satsumaimo-Aji (sweet potato): A yellowish bar this time, and a pretty accurate aroma of baked sweet potato; it makes you think of Violet Beauregarde chowing down on a three-course meal in chewing-gum form. Unfortunately, the deception isn’t maintained once it passes the lips, as an oddly floral note begins to dominate; it’s as if someone’s dosed your spuds with Febreze. Disconcerting. 4

Sakura Maccha (cherry blossom and green tea): Cherry blossom has deep and resonant cultural implications for the Japanese people, so one wonders how they feel about the weird, cough-medicine taste on offer here. It stages a mini-sumo bout with the bitterness of the tea and the vaguely coconut tones of the biscuit, and nobody really wins. Icky. 1

Syoyu-tumi (soy sauce): The only variety that I’d actually choose to eat for pleasure. For once, the novelty flavouring is powerful enough to withstand the sweetness, creating something not a million miles from a salty caramel. Not bad at all. 8

Overall: I’m sure all chocolate manufacturers come up with wacky ideas like this on a regular basis, but Nestlé Japan seems to be the only one that takes them all to market. As it stands, they’re like the purest form of conceptual art, with the ideas far more successful than the execution. Still, at least I’m allowed to slag them off...

5 comments:

Annie said...

Fab. It reminded me of Charlie Brooker & the crisps...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/05/charlie-brooker-world-cup-crisps

patroclus said...

Excellent. Have you reported these findings to Snackspot?

Geoff said...

Cherry blossom? Well, if you will eat shoe polish...

Billy said...

Potato and chocolate - together at last!

Tim Footman said...

I am not worthy of comparison with the Quiff Of Bile, Annie, but thank you anyway :-)

Patroclus: Since they have a banner ad for Paul A Young chocs, who does wacky flavoured chocolate very well (Marmite truffles, Venezuelan 72% with green peppercorns, etc) and they also have a link to the Ban Nestlé site, I’m not sure this would be welcome...

Think I’d have preferred shoe polish, Geoff.

I do have a vague memory of chocolate-dipped Pringles, Billy, but I’m not sure if they were sold as such, or someone’s DIY experiment.