In the interest of providing a glimpse of everyday life here in Japan, I will be occasionally serving up some delicious reviews of uniquely Japanese foods. The inspiration for this came to me at the 100 yen ($1) store earlier tonight, when I was suddenly stricken by the variety and quantity of strange snack foods here. Actually, I guess it began when I found Pepsi White (that's right) at 7-11. I'm not blogging about that particular drink, though, as the Blogosphere is already inundated with buzz around this Pepsi and yogurt (that's right) blend. You can find a good review here: http://japanesesnackreviews.blogspot.com/2008/10/pepsi-white.html.
Name: チョコ棒 (Choco-Bo)
Price: 100 yen
In a few words: tastes as good as it looks!
I picked these up at my local 100 yen store, possibly because I was bored and wanted to torture myself. I was intrigued by the picture on the packages inside depicting the product. My logic went something like this: a sweet that looks like a nutty stool couldn't possibly taste like one. Plus, it was only 100 yen for 10 of these wonderful little poos, and I am not a man to pass up cheap sweets. There was also a certain attraction in the packaging; I can't explain it, but I think the Japanese have figured out how to tap into some deeper "spend center" of my brain with bright colors and pleasing designs.
On first picking up the package, I found it to be much lighter than the heavy-looking, seemingly choco-nutty bars that the picture suggested. I was half expecting this; at 10 yen a pop I was already prepared for disappointment. The name means "choco-stick," which is vague enough; it's actually even less information than the disturbing picture gave me. At least the picture gives a vague idea that these sticks may have come out of somebody who had spent the entire previous day eating peanuts, or maybe Cap'n Crunch.
The best way to describe the taste of these little gems is, "surprising." Notice that I left out the qualifying "pleasantly," because these were surprising in the worst way possible. Everything about that first bite is memorable to such an extent that I'm afraid it will never leave my mind. The chocolate was nothing but a thin layer, a rouse intended to disguise the truly evil contents of these sticks. If the chocolate were of a high quality, this would be slightly less insulting. However, it was a cocoa mix of the lowest caliber, something you might find on those prepackaged Hostess "Donettes," which immediately melted on my fingers.
After biting through the first nanometer of the snack, the chocolate ended and the pain began. What I found inside will continue to haunt my dreams until the day when sweet senility comes in to clear the slate and hush my fears to sleep. I don't doubt, however, that a disturbing, elusive shadow of the experience will remain somewhere in my mind along with all my other strongest memories. It was at that moment when I learned why the package was so light.
The core of the stick is nothing but Funyun with slightly less salt added and slightly more burned taste. Or maybe an unflavored puffed Cheeto that had spent a good amount of time behind the radiator. The taste of cheap, puffed corn mixed with a bouquet of old foot to create a truly rancid impression. There was also just the slightest hint of fish to round out the whole thing. (You find fish flavor inappropriately added to a lot of foods here; I'm convinced that the McDonald's fries are cooked with some sort of fish oil, which is actually quite good.)
For me, it was not any single element that made these nearly inedible, but a brilliant synergy of several factors. You start with the lowest-quality ingredients and make sure to put no thought into texture. Then, you disappoint with tiny amounts of near-chocolate. Inside, you give a healthy serving of fishy coagulated powder. Finally, you put it all together for the most bizarre and unpalatable experience possible. Well done Choco-Bo, this tour de force of offensive mediocrity is not easy to pull off.