Review: Pocky Panda Cookies & Cream


Review: Pocky Panda Cookie & Cream
Purchased: August 2013
Best Before: January 2014
Review: September 2013

Seriously, how can you not just want to buy that immediately? That Panda is amazing! It’s just an adorable panda!

Oh, and I guess there’s Pocky inside?

Packaging: As mentioned, PANDAS! The packaging is fantastic! It’s covered in cute pandas, including a really bold, simple design on the front. It’s got a great hand-drawn aesthetic, and the panda is actually Hugging a photographic image of the candy contained inside! While “Cookies & Cream” doesn’t appear anywhere on the packaging in English, it is fairly prominently written in Kana, and the photograph does look delicious.

Scent and Taste: It’s a pretty weak scent, just a little sweet with no ‘cream’ or ‘chocolate’. Mostly it just smells like Pocky, if you’ve ever had Pocky before.

The taste… doesn’t live up to how cute the panda is. I mean, it’s not bad, but I feel like my expectations were pretty high. The cookie/cracker that makes up the stick of the Pocky is pretty good, not too-sweet with a little bit of a cocoa touch, but only very little. The cookie and cream coating is sweeter, without much in the way of cream flavour or even really cookies. It’s just sort of… sweet coating. The coating and biscuit together balance out to a very edible snack, which is maybe the very definition of damning with faint praise?

My husband Andrew rather liked it though, for what it’s worth.


Verdict: Well, I ate the whole package, so points there, but I’ve got a sort of an oily aftertaste in my mouth, which isn’t very pleasant. It’s too bad, because I really want to buy these, they’re awesomely packaged and I generally enjoy Pocky, but the flavour on this one is just a total miss.

Sorry, Panda-kun.

But, hey, at least there’s a free cute wallpapers on their website!

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Review: Annin Dofu Kit Kat


Review: Annin Dofu Fumi Kit Kat
Best Before: September 2012
Review: September 2013

I first had Annin Dofu at my favourite downtown Toronto Chinese restaurant, it’s a favourite of some of my friends but I had never had the dessert before. It’s a sweetened soft tofu, served in liquid, and flavoured with almond. It tastes a little like marzipan, and it has a lovely texture. The Kit Kat version of this dessert is a Yokohama Edition, owing to Japan’s most famous Chinatown being in Yokohama, a port city about 30-45 minutes south of Tokyo.

Of course, I grabbed my package at the airport, where they generally have all number of Kit Kat’s from across Japan. J

Packaging: While this is available in a couple of different formats, I got the “Omiyage” pack which has 12 individually wrapped packs of two bars in a beautifully decorated box. The box features lots of English and Japanese, though sadly the extended story of these chocolate bars is Japanese only. I wish I felt like bothering my Japanese-reading friends enough to figure out if there’s anything special or profound about this text… Ah well. The individual bars feature a picture of the dessert, but no English.


Scent and taste: It’s got a lovely scent, very like marzipan, maybe a ‘sweet’ marzipan. Since this is one of the white chocolate bars, there’s no scent of chocolate, and not really even the tell-tale white chocolate Kit Kat smell. It’s actually really nice!

As for the taste, they absolutely NAILED the flavour of Annin Dofu, in both taste and intensity. Usually Kit Kats are a little weaker, flavour-wise, than the original foods that they’re homaging. In this case, the flavour is all right there, bright, and strong. There’s a hint of… maraschino cherry as well? I’m not sure.

Verdict: If you’re a fan of either marzipan or the original dish, Annin Dofu, then you’re going to love these. Buy the big pack and bring them back for your friends, so they can get as much of a kick out of them as I did.

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Review: Spiral Grape (Asahi)


Review: Spiral Grape (Asahi)
Purchased August 2013
Reviewed October 2013

While I was experiencing the blistering Tokyo heat this summer, I also got to experience the product launch for SPIRAL GRAPE. At first, because of it’s very similar logo, I thought it said SPRITE GRAPE and as befitting a snack food reviewer, I was greatly looking forward to a new take on an existing and familiar product. It was only when I looked closer that it said SPIRAL not SPRITE, and while I was admittedly a little disappointed the advertising for Spiral Grape was everywhere and featured all kinds of skulls and weird angry teddy bears and I figured it was worth a shot, since the Asahi corporation had gone through so much effort.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try it while in Japan, and I packed it and brought it home and it went into the fridge until today when I was looking for a drink to have with lunch. Since I couldn’t bear the thought of having a snack food brought back from Japan without telling you about it, here I am coming off of hiatus to share my impressions of Spiral Grape.

Packaging: Really attractive, but they’re playing with fire with that SPIRAL logo. It looks a lot like Sprite, shares half of the letters, and is emblazoned on a vaguely Coke-shaped pop bottle. In a different country I feel like there’d be legal papers served.


That aside though, the packaging is really nice, with a deep black and metallic purple scheme that really pops in stores and vending machines. It successfully hides the fact that the grape pop inside isn’t really purple, but a sort of maroonish-black, the strangest colour for grape soda I’ve ever seen. It’s not out-and-out unappealing, but you kind of expect grape soda or grape candy or grape-flavoured anything to be purple (or at the very least pale green). Anyway, the black and metallic purple is a triumph in that regard, communicating something about the product that it can’t do on its own.

Scent and Taste: Smells nice, a very strong, candy-grape smell. Basically what you expect from grape pop. Despite the colour.

I tried the cold soda first, and I was surprised at how lightly carbonated it was! There’s barely anything. The grape taste and accompanying sweetness were similarly subdued, at least compared to Fanta or Grape Crush. The whole experience was… mellow. Particularly for a product being advertised with ‘spice’ and ‘skulls’.

Trying the warm soda, it’s definitely more carbonated, and there is a reaction on the tongue that is maybe getting at the ‘spice’ that the bottle promises. There’s more of a round, fruity taste than one-note grape sodas, but when you’re expecting that intense grape soda taste, it’s disappointing not to get it–and it definitely isn’t present here. It’s… watery? I know that sounds strange to say, but yeah, there just isn’t enough ‘there’ there, even in the warm, no-ice, slightly richer soda. When cold, the flavour disappears even more.

I decided to have this with lunch in the first place, a good ole cheeseburger, and it’s not so bad with food. Because it’s not sickly sweet and overpowering, it actually doesn’t fight against the cheeseburger or sriracha hot sauce. Little sips here and there are fine, and eating it with very salty foods does make it a little sweeter by comparison.

Verdict: Meh. The slightly fuller grape flavour of Spiral Grape doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s pretty weak, overall. Warm or cold the lack of carbonation really hurts the overall impression, and you end up with a beverage that’s a bit too vitamin water, without the fake health benefits. I mean, they couldn’t get more EXTREME with the advertising, and that just makes the disparity between expectation and reality even worse.


It isn’t exactly bad, but with Fanta seemingly taking Japan by storm, Asahi have offered up some pretty weak competition and I feel it won’t be long until these are populating the discount 100yen vending machines in back alleys across the country.

Addendum: After writing this review, I went to see what others thought of this, and this Japanese reviewer’s perspective is fascinating. Apparently this is supposed to be like a grape-crossed-with-root beer, or Dr. Pepper! Nuts! Now I’ve GOT to try it again when I go back to Japan, to see if I can pull any of those flavours out of this bland soft drink.

– Chris

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Review: McLobster


REVIEW: McLobster (McDonald’s Lobster Roll)
Reviewed: July, 2013

McDonald’s McLobster Page

It’s not everyone that can type “I’ve always really wanted to try a McLobster.”

I actually first learned of their existence on a trip to Boston in the 8th grade, where the McLobster on the menu was met with my active fear, because I hadn’t even had real lobster at that point, and wasn’t so hot on seafood. I wouldn’t encounter them again until my first visit out to the east coast of Canada, visiting friends who lived in Halifax, NS, where I had either just missed or was just a little early for McLobster season, I can’t recall now.

Don’t get me wrong, I have tried more weird McDonald’s sandwiches than literally anyone I’ve met, thanks mostly to the good folks of McDonald’s Japan and their regional and seasonal delicacies (try the Tsukehime Burger!). But yeah, that most ‘Canadian’ of burgers, from the heart of Atlantic Canada, has been beyond my reach… until today!

So, good readers, I hope you won’t mind this slight detour from exclusively Japanese snacking into the wider world of Oyatsu!


Packaging: Not just the packaging, but the entire campaign around this sandwich has been pushing the classier aspirations of the sandwich. Clean white serif text on a solid blue background, huge chunks of (surprisingly mayonnaise-free) lobster mixed with healthy green vegetables on a fresh roll. “Atlantic Canada” prominently mentioned in not just the marketing campaign, but on the box itself. They’re going out of their way to convince you of the pedigree of this $6.79 sandwich, one of the more expensive items on their menu.

The sandwich doesn’t live up to the packaging though, and while the sandwich in the box is never the same as the one in the pictures, this is particularly notable because none of the pictured sandwiches appear to have any mayonnaise/sauce at all, and the sandwich in the box is drenched in it. You can see yourself in the gallery, but I think this goes beyond the typical food-service-industry stuff and into ‘intentionally misleading’ territory.

Despite carrying my sandwich 'level' all the way home, the filling ended up scrunched to one side.

Despite carrying my sandwich ‘level’ all the way home, the filling ended up scrunched to one side.

Scent and Taste: The smell of the sandwich is very ‘fresh’… big on celery and green onion (called spring onion, in most parts of the world), with a hint of that McDonald’s aroma that permeates everything they make. The lettuce might be contributing as well, I suppose, but yeah there’s not much fresh sea scent in this lobster roll, which is a shame.

On first bite, the immediately flavours are, again, the celery and green onion, and I don’t get much citrus out of the mayonnaise-like sauce. I maybe don’t get any at all? It probably could’ve used a squirt of lemon. Speaking of liquids, this is a much, much more liquid offering than I’m used to from McDonald’s, most of their liquids having a thick, ‘cauterized’ feel to them, and one presumes that the lobster and vegetables… this is behaving more like fresh seafood, which tends to release water/juices as you eat. Also on the texture note, the lettuce is  nice enough and the celery has a very good crunch, and the soft roll isn’t bad. As has been noted in other reviews, it needs salt (which is so weird to say about a McDonald’s sandwich), and I think some could’ve been added without compromising the freshness of the veggies.

Here's the sandwich after I'd adjusted the presentation a little.

Here’s the sandwich after I’d adjusted the presentation a little.

Interestingly, there are chunks of lobster in this thing, and biting into one of those without the accompanying greens/sauce does provide a real lobster taste and texture, but it’s still not at the level of most commercial lobster restaurants (red lobster, etc.,) let alone getting a real, fresh east-coast lobster roll. But unless you pick out the lobster and just eat that, the flavour is overwhelmingly of celery and onions (I got a whole chunk of onion in mine, that hadn’t been particularly well-diced).

Also (as you saw in the photos), the filling wasn’t particularly generously applied to mine, but I still think the flavour issues aren’t so much that I didn’t get enough filling as the balance of that filling.

Verdict:  It only cost 7 bucks, whereas most of the lobster rolls I’ve come across lately have started at twice that price. So it’s pretty safe to say you get what you pay for here, or slightly less.

Ultimately, this is a failure as a menu item, at least as it’s executed here, because the balance of ingredients is way off. More lobster added to the same amount of everything else and I could see this being a nice addition or special item. But as executed here, all filler, it’s a wash, which is a shame.

I guess my next question would be, if there was a McLobster that worked like I’ve described, twice as much lobster and a price to match, would people buy it? $10, $12 for a McLobster? I mean, clearly I’d try one, but I try these things for a unique experience and cost isn’t really an issue (in most circumstances anyway). I can’t help but feel like the McLobster on the ads, the one pictured on the box, and the one remembered from my youth, would actually taste pretty good, worth what I’d pay for it.

Even at $6.79 this one wasn’t.


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Review: Cheeza 53% Camembert With Almonds


Review: Cheeza 53% Camembert with Almonds
Purchased: July 2013
Review: July 2013
Best Before: April 2014

Cheeza Website

“Why the ____ do they need to put almonds in everything now?” said my friend Tod on one of my recent  trips to Japan.

The answer, so far as this site is concerned, is that it lets us review something for a second time even though there are only minute differences… and one of the only things that I’d want to review again is Cheeza Camembert!

I’ve been told that the ‘real’ reason is that almonds are still both luxurious and uncommon in Japan, and so when you’ve got a luxury item like a cheese cracker made of 53% real cheese, throwing a few almonds in the bag raises their status even further.

Can almonds really improve something as perfect as Cheeza Camembert? Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was up for the task of finding out.

Packaging: Standard Cheeza packaging in that it is big and bold and clear. As a non-Japanese-reading gaijin, browsing the racks at the convenience store, it’s always appreciated to have a big clear picture of not only what the product inside the packaging looks like, but also what the intention of the flavour is. In this case, a great big hunk of camembert, melting and getting crispy on the hot surface.  Plus an almond, floating through the air with the crackers.

One’s mouth literally begins to water…


Scent and Taste: Smells delicious. Not as strongly scented as some of the Cheeza, but still really appetizing both in the bag and poured into the bowl. Interestingly, my bag of Cheeza had exactly 4 almonds in it, enough to let you know they’re there, but sort of strange by my snacking standards… you see almonds on the bag and you expect more than 4. J

Still, I didn’t mind the lack of almonds because while they’ve picked up a little bit of salt and flavour from the crackers, they’re otherwise normal almonds, and I feel like one purchases Cheeza in order to enjoy Cheeza.  Anyway, thanks for the almonds, they are okay pallete cleansers if you don’t have a beer.

Which brings us to the meat of the review… er, the cheese of the review? Anyhow, Cheeza crackers.  They’re still literally the best salty Japanese snack I have ever tried. The camembert Cheeza are flavourful, rich, buttery, and most of all cheesy. I cannot get over it. The flavour builds with each cracker, and makes an excellent pairing with beer. Cheeza is the best snack you’ve maybe never had.

Verdict: I fill my suitcase with Cheeza every time I come back from Japan, and the worst Cheeza flavour I’ve tasted is still as good as my favourite North American cheese cracker (Cheese Nips, by Nabisco, if you’re curious. Like Cheese-its but buttery-er).

What I’m say is, Camember Cheeza are the gold standard by which all other snacks I try are measured, so unsurprisingly, this is a 10/10. Do not pass these up if you’re visiting Japan… or if you live there!

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