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    Bear Curry

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It would probably surprise most people to find out that bears live in Japan. It certainly surprised me. I was prepared for the earthquakes, typhoons and volcanoes but nobody warned me about the deadly hornets, wild boar or bears.

You’ve got understand, I come from the U.K. The only dangerous animal one might encounter here is an angry bull and the only dangerous weather condition is the possibility it might rain so much you get trench foot. Or possibly kill yourself because you’ve forgotten what the sun looks like. Moving to a country where the ground might shake uncontrollably was something I had to mentally prepare myself for, the possibility of being eaten by a bear completely side swiped me.

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Of course I’m exaggerating. Brown Bears only live on Hokkaido, the most northern of the main islands and whilst there are some smaller black bears on Honshu they are incredibly rare and usually confined to mountainous areas. Also they’re not man eaters, they’re not really even meat eaters and have a primarily vegetarian diet only eating meat when opportunity arises or their regular food sources become scarce.

But yep, bears live in Japan. And more to the point the Japanese eat them. And being a person that likes to try unusual foods I had to seek out some bear meat to try for myself.

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The eating of bear comes from the Ainu. Who the Ainu are takes a little unpacking. Briefly, they’re an ethnic group in Japan almost totally confined to Hokkaido and smaller northern islands. More complicatedly they’re probably the last link to the indigenous population of Japan. The indigenous people of Japan are known as the Jomon (pressed cord referring to their practice of patterning pottery by pressing ropes into) and shockingly little is known about them. They were supplanted almost entirely by the Wajin or Yamato, what we would now consider to be Japanese people, who came originally from China. Though obviously there was some strife and warfare there was a long period of intermingling between the Wajin and the Jomon until eventually the Wajin emerged as the dominant cultural force in Japan and remained that way until modern times.

The Wajin though were mostly based on the main islands and in the far south and the far north the Jomon culture evolved and developed in a different fashion. In Hokkaido the Jomon became the Satsumon and the Satsumon merged with an ethnic group leaving what we now call Russia known as the Okhotsk. This merging became the Ainu.

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If you see an Ainu now they look pretty much like any Wajin Japanese* but that’s due to inter breeding. Look at a photo from around a hundred years ago and you’ll see more European eyes and big thick beards Japanese men struggle to grow. The clothes are also more reminiscent of Mongolians, or arctic cultures like the Inuit or even some Native American cultures, especially those in Canada. In fact there is some archeological evidence and even genetic evidence to suggest that  the Jomon people were amongst the first to settle North America.

The Ainu were animists meaning they ascribed souls and divinity to natural features like mountains and to animals. Bears were of particular importance to them. To the Ainu the bear is a messenger from the mountain god himself, his gift to mankind in the form of flesh that they can eat and skins that they can wear. Bears feature in a lot of Ainu myths and are usually benevolent figures and they feature in one of the Ainu’s more notorious religious practices, that of “Iomante” or “sending off” the bear.

I’ll let Wikipedia explain it.

Trappers set out to the bear caves at the end of winter, while the bears are still hibernating. If they find a newborn cub, they kill the mother and take the cub back to the village, where they raise it indoors, as if it were one of their own children. It is said that they even provide the cub with their own breast milk. When the cub grows larger, they take it outdoors, and put it into a small pen made of logs. Throughout their lives, the bears are provided with high-quality food. The cubs are treated as, and traditionally believed to be, gods.

After the cub reaches one or two years of age, they release it from the cell and place it in the center of the village, where it is tied to a post with a rope. The males in the village then take shots at the cub with bows and arrows. Even at the age of two years, the brown bears are quite large, and it usually takes numerous shots before they fall. After the bear has been weakened from numerous arrow strikes and is too weak to defend itself, one villager will approach the bear and shoot it in the neck point-blank, to ensure that it is dead. The villagers then slit the bear’s throat and drink the blood. The bear is skinned, and the meat is distributed amongst the villagers. Its bare skull is placed on a spear, which is then rewrapped with the bear’s own fur. This “doll” is an object of worship for the villagers. The bear has now been “sent off” to the world of the gods.

I’m going to let that description stand for itself and let you make up your own mind.

So, Hokkaido has a history of eating bear and you can still do so today. In high end restaurants you can find bear paw as a delicacy and for those with more normal budgets there is bear curry.

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Yup, bear curry.

You might be asking me why I’m eating this now? Well I actually bought this when I visited Hokkaido back in 2010 and it made the trip home with me to the U.K. but it has sat in a cupboard looking accusingly at me ever since. It’s not so much the bear part that puts me off but the tinned curry part. Have you ever eaten tinned curry before? It’s not the best food guys. Too salty and too sweet and composed of mostly sauce with few meat or vegetables. It’s pretty much is a desecration of a beautiful thing. So I’ve been in no rush to eat it. So much so that this is waaaaaay past it’s eat by date. But it’s a tin, those can last for decades. The eat by date just stops the manufacturer from getting sued.

Anyway, enough stalling; how does it taste?

Well as a curry it isn’t fantastic but it isn’t the worst. Those that have had Japanese curry before know it has a milder taste and is much thicker in consistency than any Indian curry. It’s basically a spiced brown roux with vegetables and meat added. But it is delicious in its own special way. Remind me to talk about Co-Co Ichibanya on this blog one day, that place is fantastic and serves only Japanese curry. This is a so so Japanese curry but it’s adequate.

The bear meat isn’t something you get a lot of. I counted 2 chunks in my entire tin so clearly one bear is being stretched out pretty thin. The meat was nice although nothing particularly original. It most closely resembles beef in appearance and texture but is surprisingly sweet, noticeably so even with the curry spices, and slightly gamier than beef. It also has a really dark brown colour bordering on black. I expected it to be chewy as most carnivorous animals are reputed to be but it is actually very tender. It’s chewier than beef, sure, but much tenderer than I’d have thought. I guess it’s because the bear rarely eats meat and mostly lives on vegetation.

One final thing, I have no idea how the bear gets into the tin. I’ve tried to research this but can find nothing on the internet explaining how we go from wild bears to bear meat curry. There certainly aren’t any bear farms as far as I know so I assume this is from wild bear being hunted but I wouldn’t have thought that you could sustain a processed food like this with those practices. If anybody does know please enlighten me.

*(which is a slightly racist way of putting it I’m afraid, Japanese people would probably say Ainu-Japanese and Japanese-Japanese but that to me seems no better. It’s hard when you’re talking about ethnic groups in Japan to avoid racially charged language since it is still such a racist country)

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Nestle have evidently cottoned onto the fact that there is somebody out there trying to eat and review every kind of Kit-Kat they make and have decided to try and kill me because just recently they have swamped the aisles with a huge variety of different flavours. To that end in today’s post I’m going to attempt to eat and review no less than 9 different Kit-Kats!!

Umeshu Soda

First up is actually a variety I forgot to review during the last Kit-Kat update; umeshu and soda. It has been sitting in my cupboard since late summer and apparently goes off this month so it may not be a fair trial.

Umeshu is a kind of very sweet and sticky liqueur made from Japanese apricots. The apricots themselves are very bitter but when mixed with alcohol and sugar they make a very strong and very sweet drink. When mixed again with soda you get a delightfully refreshing summer cocktail.

The packaging is pretty good. You get a nice and inviting looking umeshu soda glass, some dots which tie in with the floating ume design and suggest fizziness and a colour scheme which both matches the colours of the drink and looks suitably fresh and refreshing.

The packaging on the individual Kat is less impressive but is fine. Again the colours match the desired flavour well and the bubble design suggests fizziness.

However the problems begin when we get to the Kat itself. Bright green chocolate and a smell that is more strongly reminiscent of a McDonald’s milkshake than any other previous Kit-Kat. Both of these factors bode poorly for this Kat’s taste.

Disappointingly the first taste doesn’t. It is completely and totally bland. I may as well be eating thin air. The texture is grim and soapy with none of the fizz promised by the packaging and the first notes that hit aren’t of anything.

The only real presence of flavour is some generic tanginess that hits your mouth after you’ve chewed it for awhile. These aren’t especially reminiscent of ume but they are at least lively and a bit different from Kit-Kat’s standard fair.

The aftertaste though is really soapy. In fact it tastes more like soap than it does anything it is advertised to taste like.

All in all it’s like eating a bar of crunchy, tangy soap. A total failure.

Ginger Ale

Another drink flavoured Kit-Kat marketed with a picture of a fizzy and refreshingly inviting looking drink. The packaging on this one is superb. The colour choice is excellent for a ginger ale and evokes the label of a Canada dry bottle. The dark green looks classy and refined whilst the white looks fresh and inviting. Finally the actual packet has a photo print of ginger ale as the dominant colour. This is a new technique for Kit-Kat but it works very well. It looks much more stylish, classy and sophisticated than their packaging usually does. The only downside is that with the white on top and the photo print ginger ale it does look a little bit like a glass of beer.

The wrapping on the Kat isn’t a let down either. Cream and dark green are nice contrasting colours and again connote class and sophistication. They’re the colours of golf bars, of airport lounges, of cruise decks.

Sadly we’ve got colours chocolate again which always bodes poorly but we’ve also got a massive hit of ginger smell rather than the usual milkshakey odour. There’s also a faint sour or lemony element to the bouquet.

The chocolate is impressively gingery right from the first bite and what’s more has really strong tangy notes to it. I’m not really a fan of ginger ale and can’t comment on how well it emulates it but it does make for a nice biscuit. There are two strongly contrasting flavours happening in your mouth at once. Partly it feels like eating a ginger biscuit and is rich and mellow like a proper ginger nut is, but at the same time there are really strong tangy flavours like sucking a lemon. They contrast well and this is probably one of the more sophisticated and complex tasting Kit-Kat’s I’ve tried. A definite biscuit for grown ups; from the packaging, to the taste, to the smell and on.

The aftertaste is a little too tart but that just means it goes well with a cup of tea which cuts the aftertaste whilst the sweet and mellow Kit-Kat cuts the bitterness of the tea.

A hit from nestle here.

Milk Coffee

Another drink and a flavour that I’ve tried variations of before. This time the milk content is advertised quite prominently so I’m expecting it to be distinctly lactose-y.

Again, and annoyingly, I can’t really fault the packaging. The coffee looks fine (although not that milky) and the choice of colours is sound. Cream and pink contrast well together and are attractive to look at. The field of flowers is a nice touch and adds some interest to the design. The handwritten note giving the flavour is perhaps a touch to twee but it has a purpose which is revealed on the back of the packet.

Yes, this Kit-Kat isn’t intended to be bought and eaten, it is intended to be bought and given as a present. As such nestle have included a little space on the back to write a message.

Why would you give a Kit-Kat as a present? Well it is coming up to exam/graduation season in Japan now and people often give kit-Kats to students that are taking their exams. This is because Kit-Kat sounds like kitto katsu a Japanese expression meaning “you will surely win.”

In fact you can buy a special variety of Kit-Kat at the post office which can be addressed, stamped and mailed directly without an envelope to whomever you wish to give luck to.

The presence of pink and the use of sakura flowers are also symbols of good luck in Japan and the handwritten note is obviously tying in to the handwritten message on the back.

The individual Kat is more of the same but wisely tones down the flower pattern a little.

Sadly we have more coloured chocolate and our old friend the milkshake smell returns the minute you open up the wrapper. Also the chocolate is practically white with only the faintest whiff of brown to it. If someone served you a coffee this colour you would be forgiven for thinking it was simply some old cream in a bad light.

There is something of a smell that could be described, charitably, as coffee but it is more reminiscent of a room in which coffee was once stored many years ago or a chestnut. I’m not sure.

It’s also got really hard and firm chocolate for some reason.

Well in its defence it does taste of coffee right from the off. Coffee made with seven sugars though and a pint of milk. It doesn’t taste soapy and it doesn’t taste of anything but coffee but it is really, horribly, massively sweet. Any bitterness or complexity the coffee may have imparted is totally drowned out by the sweet. In fact it doesn’t taste of sugar at all but artificial sweetener. It leaves the same horrible chemical aftertaste in your mouth and has the same problem of overwhelming every taste bud you own at once.

This is a really sweet biscuit.

In fact too sweet because I couldn’t even finish it. In stead its staring at me, unloved, unwanted and uneaten.

Meanwhile my mouth tastes like I mainlined splenda.

Blegh!

I need a drink.

Sparkling Strawberry

I’ve passed up strawberry Kit-Kat’s on this site before because a) you can get them in the U.K. and b) they aren’t a limited edition flavour here. Briefly they’re like sweeter crappy ordinary Kit-Kat’s.

Sparkling Strawberry though is a limited edition and like the milk coffee ties into the good luck aspect of Kit-Kat. The chocolate is pink, strawberries are pink and associated with this time of year and pink is lucky. So this must be a super lucky Kit-Kat.

The packaging is very obvious but mostly fine. There are strawberries, they sparkle, the packaging is pink and sparkly; everything fits the overall theme and the name. It looks like an eyesore and the strawberries look plastic but they wanted to make a pink Kit-Kat and by god did they succeed. Also the sparkles look fizzy and if this is a fizzy Kit-Kat it might be nice because I really enjoyed the last fizzy Kit-Kat they released.

However the packaging is also being brutally honest with us. It shows us a picture of the Kit-Kat and lets us know up front that we’re dealing with coloured chocolate so it will be soapy, milkshakey and crap. I applaud their honesty but it doesn’t make me want to eat it.

The packaging on the inner Kit-Kat is a big step up. The pink is a much nicer colour, the gold is a striking combo with it and there are no sparkles or plastic strawberries. Instead we get the nice subdued bubble design from the umeshu. This looks grown up and swanky and cool. Much better then the glitter mess on the packet.

Smell wise it is in every way shape and form a strawberry milkshake. Although you can kind of smell the sherbet too which takes the edge off. And again the chocolate is unusually hard.

Surprisingly I liked this. The strawberry flavour is nice and strong. It isn’t soapy and it tastes of strawberries both on the first bite and in the aftertaste. It’s appropriately tangy for a strawberry flavour and whilst it is sweet it isn’t too sweet.

The sherbet is very subdued and not very noticeable, especially compared to the ramune flavour but it is present and is quite nice. It is mostly noticeable in the aftertaste and largely serves to spoil it and make it taste a bit more of chemicals.

So the strawberry side is better than I expected but the sparkling aspect is poorly implemented and a bit disappointing.

Raspberry and Passion Fruit

This is another package with a space on the back for a message. Only this time instead of exams this Kit-Kat is for Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure if most people I know would appreciate a Kit-Kat for Valentine’s Day but it might go over well with me.

Accordingly we get loads of hearts plastered everywhere in addition to the obvious implications of “passion fruit.”

Although the hearts are a bit gaudy I quite like the packaging here. The colour schemes are classy, brown and pink/purple are good contrasting colours and, dare I say it, a little sexy. It’s certainly more sophisticated than the usual colours. The abstract passion fruits are a nice touch too and give it a sort of funky cosmopolitan feel.

The interior packaging is even stronger with predominant brown and a few hearts that make the hearts “pop” much better visually.

And there are even small hearts on the inside of the packet itself.

Hallelujah and praise the god of Kit-Kat’s this one has normal coloured chocolate. In fact it’s much darker than regular Kit-Kat chocolate. The smell is amazing too; although not too strongly reminiscent of either fruit it does smell pleasant, like a high quality chocolate selection.

Again the chocolate seems much harder than usual. I think maybe they changed formulation recently.

Oh, now that is nice.

Well for starters the chocolate is brilliant. A massive step up from Kit-Kat’s usual offering. It has a much more complex taste, is bitterer, chocolatier and just better in every way. It tastes and even feels like a proper chocolate bar. It is just the right amount of sweetness (i.e. slightly bitter) and even has the slight grittiness you get with proper dark chocolate. This is seriously good chocolate.

But the filling just puts it one step above. It doesn’t hit you at first but once you start to chew the raspberry and passion fruit notes are really strong and clear. They’re fruity, sweet, slightly tangy and delicious. They contrast with the bitter chocolate remarkably well. You whole mouth is stimulated. The combo is neither too sweet nor too bitter but just perfect.

And it leaves a wonderfully fruity aftertaste, almost like a liqueur.

Eating this isn’t like eating a Kit-Kat at all. It’s like eating a proper chocolate from a tray or selection of chocolates only with a slight crunchy texture to it too. This is seriously good stuff. In fact it is probably my new favourite Kit-Kat flavour and is easily ranked amongst the best they have ever produced.

Alright I take it back; this would be a good Valentine’s present.

Maple


A tie in to the Vancouver Winter Olympics gives us new maple flavour. I love maple flavoured things and usually the toffee/caramel/sweet potato group of kit-Kat’s are among the better ones so my hopes are high for this one.

The packaging is a bit of a disaster all told. I realise that it is mainly white to create a link to snow and that the medal and coloured edges are also tie-ins to the Olympics but the effect they create is to make it look like a supermarket’s own brand product. White isn’t the colour of maple, oranges, browns and reds are and whilst we get some orange it is drowned in white that just looks cheap. The maple jug is squeezed off to one side too much and looks small and ineffectual. Plus we get some brutal truth that yes; this is a coloured chocolate occasion. I’m not impressed.

The packet on the individual Kat is better but still bad. We’ve toned down the multicoloured edges but it’s still too white, too dull and too cheap looking.

It does smell of maple, and quite nice too, so maybe it’ll be okay.

Once again the chocolate is really hard for some reason.

This is actually pretty good. The initial taste is mostly sweet and a bit bland but once you start to chew the maple taste comes through very strongly. It is a nice clear maple with all the complex toffee, flower and bitter notes that would suggest but not too sweet. The aftertaste is, if anything, even better than the actual biscuit and is identical to eating any kind of maple cookie.

Unusually for Kit-Kat in Japan I can see this working really well with a cup of tea. Not amazing but a definite hit.

Roasted Soybean Kit Kat Bar

Yes, Kit-Kat chunky does exist in Japan but they call it Kit-Kat Bar. This is the first time I have seen a flavoured version of the Kit-Kat bar so it’s the first time it has shown up on this site.

Setsubun, however, has shown up before on this site. It is a Japanese festival where children throw roasted soybeans at their father, dressed as an Oni (ogre) and chase him out of the house to chase out bad luck. Then, everyone eats 1 roasted soybean per year they’ve been alive plus another for good luck. I’ve done this tradition a few times and can inform you that roasted soybeans are horrible. They are small, flavourless things with a hard horrible texture. Why anyone would willingly eat them escapes me.

So Nestle produced a Kit-Kat with a filling made of them. Hurray!

The packet is naff. It looks like an ordinary bar only with a cheap rubbish white patch and a picture of an Oni. The Oni is fine and I guess they need the white patch to make his face stand out against the background but it is still a boring uninspired design.

The chocolate is the standard Kit-Kat stuff (i.e. crap) but the smell is unique and frankly awful. I know it’s soybeans but there is a second, more horrible note underpinning the beans. Something akin to wet fart. It really is disgusting.

The bar itself tastes disgusting. It’s utterly revolting. The chocolate is innocuous but the bean filling tastes like soggy grass. It’s just horrible. It’s actually probably closest to eating raw dried pasta mixed in with some muesli. I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe it because it doesn’t taste like food so much as it does animal feed.

I’d describe the aftertaste but I had to wash my mouth out immediately in order to focus on writing that paragraph so I have no idea what the aftertaste is. And I refuse to eat any more of it.

Cantaloupe Melon

The last two Kit-Kat’s I’m going to feature are special flavours only available in Hokkaido. Fran and I just came back from a trip there and I’ll be telling you all about it in the next blog post.

Hokkaido is famous for farming and the wide variety of delicious fresh foods available there. In particular because it has a more temperate climate it produces a lot of food not grown elsewhere in Japan.

One of these famous foods is cantaloupe, but when melons aren’t in season Nestle has you covered for souvenirs with melon flavoured Kit-Kat.

The packaging is quite well done with 2 slices of really delicious looking melon and a picture of the fields of Hokkaido. Oh and this is one of those Kit-Kat packages that can be posted. In effect it is a postcard and souvenir in one.

The package on the Kat is completely naff. It’s green, has a picture of a melon and a picture of Hokkaido. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with it but it is dull and uninspired. Could do better.

Hooray, proper chocolate colours and the smell is promising too. It is distinctly identifiable as melon, an even as cantaloupe.

Oh and the chocolate is the usual texture.

This is a great Kit-Kat. The melon flavour is distinct and immediate and complements the chocolate very well. The chocolate is rich and the melon is sweet and a little bit tart. The sweetness is just right. It’s surprisingly fruity and surprisingly accurate for a fruit flavoured Kit-Kat which usually tend to be a bit sweet and soapy. This is probably the freshest tasting Kit-Kat I’ve enjoyed, for want of a better word.

The aftertaste isn’t really. It kind of fades from your taste buds almost immediately which makes it surprisingly moreish.

A well balanced and very good Kit-Kat.

Corn

Yes, corn.

Hokkaido, amongst many foods, is also famous for corn.

So, obviously Nestle decided to make a corn Kit-Kat. I eagerly await the potato, crab, lamb, beer and butter flavoured Kit-Kats.

Actually I would quite like the beer one.

So corn. Well, I guess it is sweet. And I did eat a carrot Kit-Kat once. But carrots are used in cakes and corn, in so far as I know, is not.

The package is in the same format as the cantaloupe, picture of Hokkaido farms, picture of corn and space to post it on the back. However they swapped the delicious looking photo print of a melon for a kind of children’s book illustration style drawing of some ears of corn. I suspect that some real corn would look off putting whereas the picture seems more abstract and possibly sweeter? Frankly it doesn’t really make me want to eat it except out of immense curiosity.

Accursed curiosity, if only I could shake it and my crippling OCD I could stop wasting hours of my life describing Kit-Kat’s.

Oh well, write what you know. And I know all about OCD and incurable curiosity.

The packet of the individual Kat has all the same problems as the cantaloupe, it’s dull and unimaginative. I’ll grant them that it’s a nice colour though.

The colour of the kit-Kat is yellow. Bright, bright yellow. Corn yellow in fact. I haven’t seen a Kit-Kat emulate the colour of its flavour so effectively since, well, chocolate really.

And the smell is strongly, clearly, unmistakeably corn. It is the corniest smelling thing since corn. Cornflakes don’t smell this strongly of corn. Cheap sweet corn doesn’t smell this strongly of corn.

I wasn’t sure before I opened it but after 8 Kit-Kats that corn smell is actually starting to make me feel a bit sick. For the first time doing this I held it up to my mouth and snatched it away. I really don’t want to eat this.

But you bastards want me to don’t you.

Fine.

It’s kind of horrible.

I mean, its sweet and actually not too sweet, I much prefer it to the milk coffee for example. And it has some nice complex caramel notes which are usually really good in a Kit-Kat. Having eaten corn you’d expect both of those things. At least half my mouth was really happy.

But then, the rest of it just tastes really strongly of corn. And even butter a little bit. It’s not bad at all but it seems to clash horribly with every other flavour going on. A disconnect happens in your brain between the parts that taste nice and the parts that really, really don’t.

And it gets worse the more you eat of it. At first it’s sweet and delicious but as you chew it gets cornier and cornier and cornier. And the aftertaste is disgusting, like soap and chemicals and corn.

I mean, I like corn just fine but for some reason I really can’t get into this. It’s foul!

No, nice try nestle and I like your vision but corn and chocolate are two things that should never go together.

Now get to work on that Sapporo beer flavour.

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