Monday, October 29, 2018

Acecook Curry Cup Noodle Review

Acecook is a Japanese instant noodle brand that has been around for years.  I bought their Acecook Curry Cup Noodle in Vancouver when I was visiting during the summer and I finally ate it on the weekend.  The cup of noodle did not disappoint with its curry goodness.  Curry cup noodles seem to be be good in general due to the various roux mixes that seems to lend themselves to being rehydrated.
The packaging on the cup is fairly attractive, using most of the side of the cup to show the picture of the noodles and the name of the cup.  This particular cup noodle uses a double walled paper cup which is nice as there is no Styrofoam.
A closer look at the side of the cup shows a pretty tasty looking picture of noodles in curry broth with a sprinkle of ground meat and green onions.
Product text says special curry with solid roux.
Another side shot.
The lid showing the manufacturing information, ingredients, and other info.  This is a practical use for the lid, but not quite as attractive as some other cup of noodles which show a picture of the product instead.  Still, on a shelf, you are going to see the side of the cup, not the top.
Nutritional information.  All curry roux has more fat as there are oils in them.
I opened the lid of the cup and this is where this curry gets really interesting. There is really a solid block of roux mix like you would find in curry blocks you would use to make a real curry dinner at home.
Toppings for the noodles inside the cup.  You can see dehydrated carrots, green onion, ground meat, cabbage, onions, and fried tofu.  The curry roux block is fairly big, but not too thick. Looks like a nice amount of toppings.
I added boiling water and waited 3 minutes for the noodles to rehydrate.  I popped open the top to see that the curry block had melted and that everything was nicely rehydrated.  Unlike some other noodles where the curry roux is powdered, this definitely needed stirring, something you must do for all curry ramen so you don't get a clump of roux at the bottom of the cup.  A nice strong scent of curry wafted up from the cup and got my taste buds going.  The smell of curry is always so nice.
Rehydrated noodles and toppings.

The noodles and soup all ready after stirring.
After stirring and enjoying the smell of curry, I could tell this was going to be good.  You can tell these are thicker, udon style instant noodles in the cup.  The noodles had a nice firm chew and carried the curry flavour to your mouth nicely.  The curry soup itself was slightly on the thick side, but not too thick, and had a classic curry taste with a bit of heat.  Not spicy at all, but very pleasant.  I always find it funny with the toppings in a curry cup as they seem to dissolve into the soup.  They're there, but they do take second place to the curry broth.  A very nice cup of noodle.  I kind of wish I had a second one in the cupboard now.
Closeup of the udon noodles, and toppings.

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More cup noodle / instant ramen reviews and Japanese pop culture.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Nissin RAOH Koujuku Koku Miso Ramen

When I was in Vancouver I picked up an armful of instant ramen bowls and snacks.  A little while ago I made a meal of this slightly spicy Nissin Miso Ramen from that haul.  The RAOH brand is a premium brand for Nissin and it pioneered their use of the non-fried instant noodle.  You can even buy various types of RAOH noodles now in the USA, but they are still imports in Canada at writing.
The signature octogonal bowl with its deep red colour and gold print.  Looks very deluxe.  The photo on the lid shows the bowl slightly open to reveal some tasty looking ramen with ground meat, cabbage, corn, and green onions in a thick spicy looking soup.
3/4 view.  Kind of reminds you of Japanese black and red laquerware. 
Directions for 400 ml of water.
Nutritional information.  11.9 grams of fat.  Healthier than some noodles.
Ingredients and manufacturing info.
The opened bowl revealing 4 satchets of toppings and soup base.  Quite a lot of stuff.  There was a packet of liqued soup base, a packet powdered soup base, a packet of dried meat nuggets, a packet of dehydrated veggies.
Non-fried noodles up close.

All of the toppings and soup ingredients added in before adding boiling water.
Once the boiling water was added I let it sit for four minutes with the lid closed.  Once I opened the lid there was a rich miso / soy smell with a hint of heat from the chili oil.  I stirred everything together to make sure the soup base was fully mixed.
Final ramen soup all ready to eat.
The soup was a nice rich broth in which you could taste the miso, pork base, sesame, and soy mixed together with a nice little hit of heat from the chili oil.  A little like dan dan noodles.  The noodles were nice, firm, and chewy.  The minced meat rehydrated nicely and spread through the soup.  All of the cabbage, corn, and onions added nicely to the bites of noodles.  This was quite a tasty soup that I would definitely have again.   On Amazon Japan you can order cases of 12 of this, but it is kind of expensive unless you live in Japan.  The suggested retail price is 220 yen for a bowl.
Closeup of minced meat, cabbage and noodles.
More cup noodle / ramen reviews and Japanese pop culture.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

UHA Sozai No Mama Croquettes, Gyoza, MRE Pizza, and Other Snacks

UHA is a company famous for their Puccho chews, gummy candy, and hard candy.  They also have Sozai line of snacks which were made of freeze-dried veggies, and other assortments of nuts and things which are obviously tasty.  These Souzai snacks come in small foil bags which weigh around 30 grams, sell for a few hundred yen, and can be found in konbini or places like Don Quijote.

In the last few years they have moved into making shelf-stable snack foods that simulate items like deep-fried croquettes, shrimp sui mai, and now gyoza.  This is a pretty amazing feat, kind of like the US military finally developing a shelf-stable pizza Meal Ready to Eat (MRE).  In October 2018, UHA released a snack food version of gyoza which I would really like to try too.  The next time I'm in Japan I'm hunting for these UHA snacks in addition to limited edition cup noodles and freeze-dried soups from Amano.  It always seems like there is a new kind of food to try every time I visit.

Here is a link to the English site of UHA for these snacks. 

Each of these little Sozai snack packs is not very big at 30 grams.  This is basically the weight of a small bag of potato chips.  I find them very interesting as these are not just a deep fried snacks.  They use a high-tech combination of deep-frying and freeze-drying to reduce the amount of moisture in the snacks to allow them to be shelf-stable for a long period of time.  This means you could take them hiking or keep a few around with your instant ramen.  The mushroom snack shown in the picture above is just freeze-dried (with almost no fat), and mushrooms are loaded with umami so they will taste really good.

For the croquette package, you get six little croquettes which are each the size of a silver dollar coin but a third of an inch thick.  The croquettes are crispy on the outside with a nice meat-like filling that has a firmer and chewier texture.  They are quite pleasant to munch on, with the deep fried croquette texture on the outside.  They do contain 13.7 grams of fat due to the combination of deep frying and the filling.  There is a review of the croquettes here.

The shrimp sui mai package contains five small sui mai dumplings that resemble deep fried sui mai.  There is a thin, crispy outside layer with a meatier filling contained within.  These are also interesting as they do have a mild shrimp flavour and have a crispy crunch and nice chew.  These ones contain
10.2 grams of fat.

Finally, the new gyoza package contains 4 smaller gyoza.  The gyoza are slightly larger than the sui mai and they look like they have been deep fried to provide a crispy outside skin with a meaty filling that is chewy with some moisture in it.  Again, they have a nice sesame and chili sauce aroma and have a nice flavour.  There is only 7.8 grams of fat in this one.  There is a review of the gyoza here.

If you hunt online, you will find all kinds of videos taste testing these snacks, and some people rehydrating them with water or even using them as toppings for other dishes such as cup noodles.  To give a better idea about what these snacks are like, here is a short Youtube video I found where you get to see what the freeze-dried mushroom, the croquette, and the shrimp sui mai are like.

I meantioned the Pizza MRE earlier, and yes, the US military taste tested it in September with some troops.  The Pizza MRE has to be shelf-stable for years and it doesn't exactly look like great pizza, but it compares favourably with day old pizza from the fridge.  It would probably be a treat when it is eaten in the field after being warmed up with a flameless ration heater.

More Japanese Pop Culture Posts.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Sights and Experiences Checklist for Tokyo Stories

Tokyo Experiences List 
Tokyo Stories - Visitors' Introduction: Supplement #2

A short list of the places with nice views of Tokyo from the Tokyo Stories book.

  • Tokyo Skytree and Solamachi Mall
  • Tokyo Tower
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
  • Tokyo City View in the Mori Tower
  • Shibuya Hikarie Sky Lobby
  • Caretta Shiodome Views
  • Kotsu Kaikan’s Garden Terrace
  • Kitte Building Rooftop Garden
  • Ginza Six Rooftop Garden
A checklist of the experiences from Tokyo Stories book you can print off.
  1. 100 Yen Store
  2. Akihabara
  3. Ameyoko Market Streets
  4. Anime & Manga
  5. Arcades
  6. Conveyor Belt Sushi
  7. Don Quijote
  8. Festivals
  9. Food Floors
  10. Gardens
  11. Gashapon Machines
  12. Ghibli Museum
  13. Ghibli Steampunk Clock
  14. Giant Gundam in Odaiba
  15. Giant Godzilla Head
  16. Harajuku / Omotesando
  17. High-tech Toilets
  18. Hot Springs
  19. Imperial Palace
  20. Kappabashi Street
  21. Kit Kats
  22. Konbini
  23. Meiji Jingu
  24. Muji Flagship Store
  25. Museums
  26. Odaiba High Tech
  27. Pedestrian Paradise
  28. Pokemon Centers
  29. Pop-Up and Antenna Stores
  30. Ramen Museums
  31. Robotics
  32. Rush Hour
  33. Shibuya Crossing
  34. Shinjuku Station
  35. Shinjuku Yasukuni Dori
  36. Shinkansen
  37. Sensoji Temple
  38. Torii Gates at Hei Jinja Shrine
  39. Suginami Animation Museum
  40. Sumida River Boat Tour
  41. Supermarket
  42. Theme Cafes
  43. Tokyo Disney
  44. Tokyo Skytree
  45. Tokyo Station
  46. Tokyo Tower
  47. Tokyu Hands
  48. Tokyu Plaza in Omotesando
  49. Toy Stores
  50. Train System
  51. Tsukiji Market
  52. Tsutsaya Books
  53. Underground Tokyo
  54. UNIQLO Flagship
  55. Vending Machines
Supplements to the Tokyo Stories book
Supplement #1 - Simplified Tokyo Train Map for Tokyo Stories
Supplement #2 - Sights and Experiences Checklist for Tokyo Stories
Get the Tokyo Stories ebook here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Convenience Store Woman Book Review

I like Japanese konbini (convenience stores).  They are a ubiquitous fixture in urban Japanese life.  I've blogged about them in the past and admire their business model from their employee training, products they carry, the logistics behind everything, to their marketing and more.  When I found out there was a novel set in a konbini, I had to read it.  It was funny how I had an incorrect mental image that it was a big fat book, kind of like Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being, which is also a good book.  Convenience Store Woman is a much thinner and compact book that is full of konbini goodness.  This book is a novella that is listed in print at 176 pages because it uses larger print in a small format book, but that does make it easier to read.  It is a quick read which means you can easily go back and have a second read of parts you didn't quite get or enjoy the parts you did like again.  A shorter work like many Japanese short novels that has sold over 650,000 copies in Japan.
Convenience Store Woman is about Keiko Furukura, a 36 year old Tokyoite, who works as a clerk in a convenience store.  She has worked at the same konbini for 18 years in fact and is quite content with her job and her perceived role in society.  Fellow workers and even managers have come and gone over the years, but she is the constant who knows the rhythms and patterns around the business of operating the store.

Keiko has problems with empathy and emotion, and really doesn't understand societal norms, other than as rules to be obeyed.  She isn't a bad person in any way though, and I suspect she is somewhere on the spectrum.  Reviewers have described her as being "strange brained" or "struggling to behave appropriately" but her issues are far deeper than that.  The konbini with its manuals, processes, rules for behavior and dress allow her to feel as if she belongs.  That is about all I'll say about the book as I don't want to spoiler anything.  Let me just say that is was an interesting read and that it even has a pretty good plot and ending.

My takeaways from the story were related to konbini and Japanese society.
  1. The book shows the important role that konbini have taken in the lives of many Japanese due to the convenience they offer.
  2. I found the descriptions about the convenience store vibrant and realistic.  You actually learn about the daily business of running a konbini with its flow and ebb.  There is a morning rush, a lunch rush, you need to have rice balls and drinks stocked up and ready to go, everything has be to neat and tidy, etc.  The book has a very authentic feel to it, and demonstrates the author's knowledge about convenience store operations.  The author, Sayaka Murata, worked in a konbini for over 20 years even as she wrote many books and stories.
  3. I like that fact that a foreign worker was shown as working in the store, as there are increasing numbers of foreign workers being employed by the konbini chains who are facing a labor shortage.
  4. Finally, I thought about how people who don't fit into Japanese society are treated.  There is a saying that goes "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down."  If you don't conform then you are an outsider.  We have issues like that here, but we are also more individualistic.  I thought about how hikikimori or shut-ins can exist over there, how families hide problems as they are ashamed, how co-workers and friends can treat you not as you, and how the education system doesn't supply the supports that children need to thrive.  All of this is related with how Keiko has had to live her life.
After reading the book, I was glad that Keiko had the konbini in her life.  I would recommend that anyone who likes konbini or is interested in Japan to read this book.

There is a really long book excerpt you can read at Longreads here.

More posts on Japanese Pop Culture.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Simplified Tokyo Train Map for Tokyo Stories

Tokyo Stories - Visitors' Introduction: Supplement #1 

In my guide book, Tokyo Stories, I have characters taking the train and cover the major districts to visit.  I didn't include a train map, as there are free and official apps such as the Tokyo Metro App that show you how to navigate, or even Google Maps.  This post shows the relative positions of the districts and key train stations to get a general understanding of the layout of Tokyo.
Getting around Tokyo is pretty easy once you have a SUICA or PASMO IC Card (you can obtain these at the airport when you arrive from the train offices or bilingual vending machines).  While the entire subway and train system in Tokyo is quite a maze, a few main lines can get you most places.  In the much simplified train map below, you can see that most major areas are connected by direct trains.  Do remember there are many ways to get to places and that 90% of the stations  or lines are not shown on this map.
The simplified train and subway map above has the major train stations in orange, other stations in light blue, with key attractions shown in the purple stars.  The iconic Yamanote Line is an important train line that links all of the main train stations in a loop and it is represented in green.  The Marunouchi Line is an important train line for going east to west, and connects Shinjuku, Ginza, Tokyo Station, and Ikebukuro Station. The subway lines are generally faster than the Yamanote Line for moving long distances, but the Yamanote Line is simpler to access.

Fortunately, most of the major train stations in Tokyo have the same name as their district, so the map above is also a good representation of relative location of the districts to each other.  On the map, you will see that the time it takes to get between stations is show, so the greater the distance, the farther the districts are apart.  Ikebukuro is in the NE corner of Tokyo, just as Shinagawa is in the SW, with Tokyo Station being centrally located in eastern Tokyo.

Districts on the West Side of Central Tokyo are:
  • Ikebukuro - far NW, and you get here by train - don't walk it.
  • Shinjuku and Shibuya - West, and they are close enough to be walkable together, but on the long side - take the train if you can (unless you want to explore).
  • Harajuku and Omotesando are walkable together, with a longer walk to them from Shibuya (take the train to Shibuya in most cases).
Districts on the East Side of Central Tokyo:
  • Ueno - NE - take the train here.
  • Akihabara - North east-ish and north of Tokyo Station.  Take the train here.
  • Tokyo Station (Marunouchi) - East, and pretty much central to many train lines, especially the bullet trains. Imperial Palace East Gardens Access is from here.
  • Ginza - East, and it is a important hub to go to the Skytree and to the other side of town for Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro).  You can walk between Shimbashi, Ginza, and Tokyo Stations.  Odaiba access is via Shimbashi.
  • Skytree is walkable from Asakusa, but take the train from anywhere else.
  • Shinagawa is in the SE corner.

Roppongi is pretty much in the middle by itself.

In the book, the CORE DISTRICTS TO VISIT were:
  • Shinjuku - easily reached by main train lines like Marunouchi, Chuo, Yamanote.
  • Harajuku - Yamanote line, but also walkable from Shinjuku or Shibuya.
  • Omotesando - The Ginza Line.
  • Shibuya - Yamanote Line, Ginza Line.
  • Ginza - Marunouchi, Ginza Line.  Ginza is a major station for heading up towards the Skytree.
When visiting, you should try not to criss-cross the city every day as it burns both money and time.
If you visited Shinjuku twice in one day from Ginza, that is a total of 4 trips on the train, eating up almost 1.5 hours of transit time.  Also, some train connections take much longer than other ones.  For example, taking the Yamanote Line between Shinjuku and Ikebukuro takes 12 minutes, while taking the Marunouchi Line takes 38 minutes as it takes you all the way east to Ginza before it turns and heads NW to Ikebukuro.  Many places can be reached by one train without a transfer, but some places like Roppongi usually require a transfer.

Happy Visits.

Supplements to the Tokyo Stories book
Supplement #1 - Simplified Tokyo Train Map for Tokyo Stories
Supplement #2 - Sights and Experiences Checklist for Tokyo Stories
Get the Tokyo Stories ebook here.