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Tofu

Frankly this is getting silly now.

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No sooner do I finish putting up my last Kit-Kat related post than my girlfriend Fran gets whisked away to Japan for family related business.

And she, of course, brought me back some Kit-Kats.

I don’t think I will ever escape Nestle’s evil clutches.

In fact looking at two of the entries this week I think Nestle has finally cottoned onto the existence of this blog and is making Kit-Kats just for me.

But lets start with the really weird stuff.

Anin Dofu

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Anin Dofu is something you’ve probably eaten if you’ve ever had dessert at a Dim Sum restaurant. But if you’re anything like me you had no idea what it was or what it was called. I’m talking about the white chunk of tofu like jelly, garnished with red berries and floating in sweet syrup. Turns out it is made from apricot kernels in a similar process to how actual tofu is made.

I don’t have strong feelings about anin dofu one way or the other. It’s the kind of thing I would eat if presented with but would never ever order for myself, I associate it with enkais i.e. work parties which were inevitably held in a posh Chinese restaurant and contained many dishes I had never seen in any Chinese restaurant in the U.K.

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The packet is one of the big souvenir boxes like the chilli, shinshu ringo, wasabi and strawberry cheesecake that usually ties it to a specific location in Japan. Since I wasn’t there to buy it I unfortunately have no idea what part of Japan its from. Maybe its from China?

It’s also the first Kit-Kat packet in Japan I can remember seeing that has the “have a break, have a kit-kat” slogan written on it. In English no less. Maybe its from Hong Kong?

The packet design is pretty good actually, we’ve got some nice individual elements all unified together and refreshingly uncluttered. The colouring ( red and gold) and the gold leaf pattern all tie this into China. The picture of the Anin Dofu is placed in the centre and tied into the rest of the design by the circular gold leaf pattern. This is a well balanced aesthetically pleasing design.

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The individual Kats, however, are kind of cluttered. We’ve got all the same elements, 2 colours, a picture of the dessert, gold leaf, Kit-Kat logo, calorie information and blurbs but on a much smaller surface area and laid out all in a line rather than in a balanced circle. Its not the worst mini Kit-Kat I’ve seen but it is a jumbled mess.

One thing the packet does do up front is warn me that its going to be coloured chocolate and thus not very nice. I appreciate that kind of honesty. What I don’t want in my Kit-Kat is an emotional roller coaster, the anticipatory high of wondering what it will be like followed by the crushing low of realising it will inevitably be awful and the slowing down dreary confirmation that it is. Mostly I just want a biscuit.

The Kit-Kat smells very almondy. I approve of this, I don’t really like almonds but I love the smell of almonds. Its how I got into glue sniffing in the first place.

It tastes, as expected, soapy milkshake-esque and just not very nice. It is pretty creamy, in fact much creamier than the coloured chocolate usually is. The almond notes are there but they’re subtle and the peachy/apricot notes are also subtly in the mix. The overall taste is just, creamy. Not even a strong milky cream but a bland one. Like the “cream” you get in a processed snack food such as a twinkie.

In fact it’s so bland it doesn’t really have an aftertaste. It kind of cleanses the palate for you. This would be perfect to eat with a curry, less so with a cup of tea.

Adult Sweetness Chocolate and Macha

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For years on this blog I have been moaning that Kit-Kats are far too sweet and the sugar they add kills off some of the flavour they’re supposedly advertising. Also that eating all this sugar is really sickly after a while and likely to make me ill but I don’t think other people routinely eat 6 or 7 different flavours in one sitting to review them. That might be a problem I have to re-examine my life to solve rather than get Nestle to fix it for me.

Anyway either I’m not the only person that finds Kit-Kats to be too sweet or Nestle are actually reading this blog and making Kit-Kats just for me because they have now produced adult sweetness flavour Kit-Kats, Kit-Kats that are less sweet to suit an adult palate. They also replace the wafer with proper crunchy biscuit so what we’ve got here is some kind of premium Kit-Kat. Frankly I’m excited,

But first, as ever, the packaging.

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The first thing to note about the packaging is that the two designs are very similar and share a lot of elements so we can largely deal with them as one design. The second is that this is actually a new way of packaging Kit-Kats entirely. Usually this size box contains 4 Kit-Kats, 2 packs of 2 fingers laid horizontally in the box. Instead we have 6 mini Kit-Kat fingers, 3 packs of 2 laid vertically. The design on the packet even stresses this as there is a cutaway at the top showing exactly how many fingers you get. It’s not the nicest design touch but it is good for the consumer since if one encountered this packet in the wild sans illustration one would presume you’d be getting 4 regular Kit-Kats and that could only lead to crushing disappointment. The suicide rate in Japan is high enough without Nestle toying with people’s emotions like that.

I feel that this is also another aspect of targeting it at adults as you can more easily regulate your Kit-Kat intake. Is 2 regular fingers too much for you? Well try just two mini ones instead. Are minis too small? Well have all 6 and its like eating an old school 4 finger pack. Adults like choice and are comfortable making these kinds of decisions whereas kids with their tiny underdeveloped minds would surely struggle.

The packet also opens at the top as well instead of, as is more usual, the side. And it doesn’t open with a straight line but a curvy line highlighted in gold. Pointless but kind of cool, it’s another adult and sophisticated touch.

A lot of design elements are shared by both flavours, we get the standard Kit-Kat logo although its smaller than usual. I approve of this as it looks gaudy and out of place on such an adult bit of packaging. We get the name of the flavour written in Japanese rather than English which just seems classier. A little description of the biscuit written vertically and then a swirl showing off the biscuit pieces and, as is standard a picture of the kat itself, although broken in half in a daring and provocative way. There’s no ability to post them but there is room on the back to write a message, presumably an in depth critique of the artistic statement the tea leaf makes perched, coquettishly against the kat as if to say, “I want you…come and get me.”

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Of the two the chocolate works better. For some reason the biscuit swirl is moved up on the macha flavour creating a split between it, the title and the logo and the picture underneath. On the chocolate the swirl creates a kind of linking effect, framing the edge of the picture and drawing the eye down from the logo and across to the picture. Its just smarter design. The colour is more striking too, a deep matte black, not shiny, not patterned but just black. Its very striking and actually stands out on the shelves since it isn’t the overly busy, overly colouful design most other confectionery is. The deep dark green used on the macha is quite handsome but not as striking.

Finally the chocolate packet uses gold lettering and we all know gold equals classy. The macha could have done this too as gold and dark green complement each other very effectively but oddly chose not to.

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I’m not going to discuss the designs on the individual kat wrappers since they’re basically just a copy of the box except that again the chocolate is better. Chocolate just has the name, Kit-Kat logo and a black background, macha adds the drawing and biscuit swirl again. Thus the macha has a more busy and cluttered design whereas, again, the chocolate is more simple, more elegant and more striking.

Well that’s enough waffling on about designs, how do they taste?

The chocolate smells lovely, like rich, dark “real” chocolate and its a lovely dark colour too. But it tastes, like a less sweet version of a regular Kit-Kat complete with the same terrible Nestle chocolate we’ve come to know and tolerate. Only weirdly gritty for some reason. It tricks you with the classy design, nice smell and lovely colour into thinking you’re eating real chocolate but it is all illusion, in reality its still the same old crap wrapped up in a new bow.

Although it is nicer than a regular chocolate Kit-Kat just by dint of being eveeeer so sliiiightly richer and a lot less sweet. I’d much rather eat this than a regular one any day of the week.

The wafer is not proper biscuit, it’s still wafer. However, bizarrely, it tastes like biscuit. Specifically like a digestive biscuit. It in no way has the texture of a digestive but the flavour is much closer to a proper biscuit than the bland tasteless wafers you usually get. I’m not usually a fan of digestives but this is nice actually. You start off with a chocolatey hit and then as you chew the digestive flavours really come through mixing with the chocolate for a nice mellow flavour. The after taste is all biscuit too and so you don’t get the sweet after taste kit-kats usually have.

Macha, for those who don’t know, is a kind of green tea. Specifically it’s in powder form, is very, very bitter and is always accompanied by a very sweet cake to offset the bitterness. I’ve never understood macha kit-kats since you need something sweet to counteract the bitter macha so naturally you have a kit-kat, but then making it macha flavoured means it doesn’t work for that purpose. Do you just eat them by themselves?

Of course we have coloured chocolate and so we know what that means. That’s right, soapy blandness! And what does the macha kit-kat provide? Soapy blandness! Yay! Only again, weirdly gritty as well so we can add “horribly textured” to our soapy blandness.

As you eat it a tiny, wee, infinitesimal green tea flavour is detectable but no sooner do you think you can taste it then BOOM digestive flavour kicks in and overpowers everything else. This does not taste of macha at all. You may as well put soap on a digestive biscuit and re-create the experience at home. Green soap if you want authenticity.

In its defence it isn’t sweet and it’s also weirdly refreshing. Whereas the chocolate left a strong digestive after taste that I had to wash down with tea the macha kind of cleansed the palate all by itself so 30 seconds after eating it was like I hadn’t at all.

Overall then the chocolate is slightly better than an original Kit-Kat but fairly dull and the macha is a complete non-entity.

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Hello again tonight I aim to finish up my talk about Kyoto.

But first.

BLOODY HELL THERE WAS AN EARTHQUAKE LAST NIGHT!

Alright fair game, it was a piddly little earthquake. It was a 4 on the ricter scale. To put that in perspective the earthquake in Lincolnshire earlier this year was a 5.0 on the ricter scale. The only damage I know was that my friend Laura’s chair fell over.

I mention it mostly because I’m annoyed. You see I slept through the whole bloody thing. This means I have slept through an earthquake and a hurricane and walked through a bloody tornado without noticing any unusual conditions at all. I’m a bit like Mr Magoo, blindly stumbling through a world of disasters.

Anyway Kyoto.

Finishing up at Kiyomizu-dera me and Fran went into the main temple hall and onto the veranda to look at the views. Both Fran and myself have seen the temple hall before and it is largely unimpressive compared to some of the ones I have seen so it didn’t really draw much interest.

By far the most memorable part of the entire hall was this little chap, a picture I took on my last visit.

Isn’t he just adorable. Ah Japan, sometimes you’re so deliciously oblivious you make me smile. Actually he reminds me of Mr Popo from Dragonball.

Although apparently he isn’t even meant to be a black person. He’s modelled on one of the ancient Japanese deities, the one that’s in charge of wealth I think.

Leaving the temple we nipped into one of the tents at the approach to the temple and had some lunch. This was easily the classiest tent I have ever eaten in. For starters we had to sit on tatami in the Japanese sitting position (you know the one, on your knees with your bum on your heels). I had soba (buckwheat noodles) and Fran had udon (wheat noodles) and we both split some tofu.

Now a lot of people badmouth tofu and I’m here to defend it. Tofu is bland and flavourless, yes, I agree but that isn’t the point. It’s healthy and a good source of protein and has an interesting and delightful texture. You add flavour to it. It’s basically savoury jelly. Jelly is flavourless too until you add fruit but nobody ever complains about jelly. Well actually I do, never really did like it, or custard, or cream and I’m indifferent to sponge. In fact when it comes to desserts you could say I’m a trifle picky.

Anyway this particular tofu was great. It was served in a bucket of hot water. You sieved the tofu out of the water and put it into a bowl containing soy sauce, chilli powder and sliced welsh onions (negi). Good eating, actually it’s one of my favourite snacks.

Having gathered sustenance we had a flick through our lonely planet guide to decide where to head next and chanced upon a walking tour included in the newest edition. This promised to take us down some odd, old and interesting streets. Being a fan of winding ancient alleyways I jumped at the prospect and off we set. First stop teapot lane.

Teapot lane is so called because of the vast numbers of potters plying their wares along it. The entire street is given over to touristy shops but classy touristy shops. Cheap tat (which I am not criticising at all because Japan has the best and most interesting tat in the world) was prevalent on the parallel road but teapot lane is full of artworks, expensive but gorgeous teapots and cups, beautiful delicate fans, Yukata and all the other delicate works of art that people associate with Japan. It’s a fantastic place to wander and window shop and Fran was instantly taken with it.

We followed the advice of the guidebook and turned off teapot lane heading towards Maruyama-koen, a park which is famous in the whole of Japan for it’s sakura. The street we were headed down was amazing my dream Japanese street. Thin, crowded, twisty with ornate slated roofs overhanging into the street and everywhere dotted with sakura. Furthermore the shops continued in the same vein as teapot lane, quirky and very, very Japanese. It was bliss to stroll down it and it was very nearly perfect.

Then it got perfect.

As we started to reach Gion we spotted two geisha wandering down the street and after seeing a young Japanese couple get their photo taken with tme Fran plucked up the courage to do the same.

Geisha, sakura, slate roofs, twisty alleys, beautiful pots and a lovely sunny spring day. Perfect.

We paused in our advance to nip into a tearoom and partake of a parfait. A complex Japanese sundae-esque desert. Mine consisted of green tea ice-cream, milk ice-cream, anko (sort of a sweet kidney bean), brown sugar ice-cream, cinnamon biscuits, pudding and warabimochi. I removed the pudding (crème caramel, see “a trifle picky”) and dug in.

Mochi is a very, very sticky dumpling like confection made with pounded rice. Warabimochi was advertised as being “bracken mochi” which intrigued me. What it actually was, was bland jelly. I ate it but I wasn’t happy. The rest of the pudding was delicious though. Green tea ice cream is slightly bitter but fantastically refreshing, milk and anko are a nigh on perfect combination and I would kill for those biscuits again, particularly covered in brown sugar ice-cream.

Japanese people love their sweets, I love certain sweets but it seems that may tastes do not match up with those of the Japanese people. So until then I had never happily eaten a dessert in a Japanese restaurant. But, MY SWEET GOD was that pudding nice.

We ate happily, drank tea, people watched the young girls wandewring by in yukata and spotted more Geisha than I have ever before seen in my life.

Further sated we continued to amble through glorious scenery and eventually made our way to Maruyama-koen.

Hanami can be done in two fashions, we were trying to accomplish both in one day. The first is to amble along lanes underneath sakura looking at the trees. The second and more popular is to find a park and picnic in it sat underneath a sakura tree. And by picnic I mean drink copiously.

Maruyama-koen was packed by the time we got there, absolutely full to bursting with Japanese people of all ages partying wildly. Sitting, dancing, singing, running, playing games. Seldom have I ever seen a Japanese crowd so relaxed and free. Some students had set-up a mixing desk and some speakers and were running an impromptu disco. Well they were, until the police shut them down. Their fun and infectious tracks were then replaced with the same students singing (well, making a sort of noise anyway, an animalistic one) loudly to inaudible songs and inentionally badly, and off key. Nice one mister policeman, this is so much preferable than the music.

We made a circuit of the park to take a photo of the famous “weeping” sakura tree in the centre of the park and then headed off to go get food, drink and join in. Having procured some beers, chu-hi and tako-yaki we started looking for somewhere to sit. There were tarps everywhere but there were also people sitting on tatami and piles of tatami everywhere. I went to grab some tatami and was shouted at by a man.

“hey, hey you have to rent that.”

“oh, never mind.”

Sadly we were on a time-limit to get home and I wasn’t going to rent a tatami for an hour so I put it back.

He then started speaking in Japanese which Fran tried to translate. The gist of it seemed to be that he was inviting us over. We went over to see him and he explained that he rents the tatami and he was inviting us to use some of his for free.

So we sat and chatted (alas awkwardly) and generally had a pretty nice time. He and his friends gave us some free umeshu (a sort of plum wine/liqueur which you drink diluted in summer. It is delicious and Fran is mildly addicted). He also gave us free peanuts despite me explaining repeatedly that I a) had some takoyaki and b) didn’t really like peanuts. I ate some anyway to make him happy.

They were really, really nice people and I wish I could have stayed all night drinking and chatting. The whole thing reminded me of being a student, going to the green festival and just spending a day in a park getting hammered without a care in the world. But we were on a time limit, I had work the next day (in fact I needed to try and get back home before the dry cleaners closed so that I could retrieve my suit) and we needed to get a train back from Kyoto.

Before we left we were treated to one final absolutely magical sight.

I can honestly say that bar some of the stress of trying to get a train home in time (we didn’t manage it in the end and had to get a friend to pick up my laundry) this was one of the best days of my entire life. I will remember it fondly.

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