I don’t think I’ve mentioned my good friend Deb Aoki yet. She’s the Manga Guide at http://manga.about.com, a connoisseur of Japanese popular culture, a proud foodie, and quite directly responsible for turning my mild interest in Japanese Kit Kats into an
obsession extremely dedicated hobby. While I’d tried and enjoyed some of the locally available imported treats, it was Deb’s always thoughtful omiyage (gifts) and stories of Japanese snack shopping trips that really piqued my curiosity and sent me scouring the country of Japan for rare snack foods. Most recently I bumped into Deb at San Diego Comic Con in July, and she was again kind enough to put together a gift for me–comprised entirely of new snacks to try! So for the next week or two (interspersed of course with some Kit Kat reviews) we’re going to try some brand new, totally fresh, still-on-Japanese-store-shelves treats courtesy of Ms. Aoki. Thanks Deb!
First up, we have Tohato Caramel Corn, the prettiest snack food I’ve ever eaten.
Packaging: As you might remember from a few weeks back, Tohato likes to make packages of bar snacks with big faces on them, and I totally fell in love with the packaging for their MAMMOTH MEAT snacks, not to mention the snacks themselves. As you can see from the packaging, Caramel Corn is no different… well it’s a little different, because instead of a caveman chewing meat we get a starry eyed 70s shoujo manga hero/heroine drawn by Riyoko Ikeda, creator of the classic shojo manga Rose of Versailles! Love it. Love it. I showed this to a few people and they couldn’t help but smile at the packaging, it’s hilarious. The coup des grace is that the face’s mouth is open, showing a photograph of the snack that waits inside. So cute!
If you check out the website for Tohato, you can see there were four special manga creator packages for Caramel Corn, including Sakura Momoko, Fujiko Fujio, and even Osamu Tezuka! Rare packaging, what more can a guy ask for in his rare snacks?
Scent: Cracking open the package, the first thing you smell is a sort of earthy, deep scent–the roasted peanuts come to the forefront for sure. That’s quickly followed by a hit of caramel sweetness, and then the corn. It’s pleasant.
Taste: Before I get to the taste, I want to talk about the texture. While it’s clear that this is called “Caramel Corn”, the texture has nothing to do with popcorn at all. It’s actually more like cheezies/cheetos/cheese puffs, in that it’s puffed corn that’s been flavoured. Folks expecting to find caramel corn inside will be disappointed, but then there’s a picture on the outside of the bag showing you exactly what you’re going to get… You know my job here is to taste candy that’s supposed to be unique or rare or even exotic, so the idea of some random candy flavoured like caramel corn makes perfect sense–just a few days ago I had a Kit Kat flavoured like a caramel pudding. But technically this is caramel corn (corn is the first ingredient on the package), just sort of puffed and reconstituted. For what it’s worth, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen popcorn in Japan.
So, the taste! It’s… good! You don’t survive in the cutthroat world of Japanese snacks for 40 years with an inferior product. It’s sweet for sure, but even in bits without peanuts the roasted peanut scent and flavor, not to mention the taste of puffed corn, really mellows it all out into a somewhat balanced snack. It’d be surprisingly good with a bitter drink, like beer, rather than a sweet soda-pop or even something neutral like water.
The bites where you do manage to get a peanut are even better, as the peanuts are really flavourful and earthy, many of them still with the skin still on. Unfortunately those are few and far between as, for my taste, I could have used maybe twice as many peanuts in my bag of Caramel Corn.
Verdict: This one’s a winner, for sure. While I don’t know how often I’d pick up a bag of Tohato Caramel Corn at the combini as I tend to prefer to keep my salty and sweet snacks separate, I would definitely grab a handful if they were offered to me at a bar or by a friend. And if they happened to feature unique promotional packaging by a famous manga creator? Why, I wouldn’t even hesitate to grab a bag–or 4–to collect.