Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I spend a lot of time talking about the food I make, but like a lot of people in Japan, there are many days when I don't have the time to manage something homemade. However, the Japanese have addressed this situation with all the efficiency they're known for, creating a range and variety of snacks that is unrivalled across Asia.
The home of all snack foods in Japan is the combini, or convenience store. Every station, no matter how small, has at least one - my station has four 7-11s within walking distance. They're the perfect place to stop and get a cold beer for the walk home; an onigiri and instant miso soup for a quick lunch; or a melonpan and coffee milk for breakfast. Or all three, if you need to do your grocery shopping there. Which is fine, because they also have ATMs for getting out money, and the cheerful attendant is also happy to let you pay for your monthly bills at the counter. They are truly convenient. They lack the character and utility of Korean convenience stores - I still fondly remember the Ministop in Gyesan, where they let us sit at the stools all night; drink cheap beer and eat gimbap from the Chinese restaurant next door; and listen to the counter clerks's custom made CD mix of club music. But a Japanese combini has such a variety of interesting foods available that there's even a blog devoted to combini products. Did I mention the offerings are seasonal? So every few weeks or so, there's always a new little surprise waiting for you at the combini.
What's addictive about wandering through the aisles of a combini is the excellent, old-school graphics on a lot of the packaging. Glico products especially seem to offer bold packages that jump off the shelf and into my hand. Pretz is a great example. They're thin breadsticks with a light dusting of flavour powder - enough to give you the impression of the flavour, without coating your fingers. Like all snack products, there is a wide range of varieties available- tomato; basil; pumpkin; beer; green pea; salt - and pictured, cheese. It's Pocky's older brother, meant for a more refined (beer-drinking) palate. I like it because you can have a quick snack between classes, but still have plenty in the pack to offer around to random students and staff milling in the front office.
Another great Glico product is Bisco. Who could resist that face, that cheery red pack? Inside are mini biscuits, faintly lemon-flavoured cream sandwiches, that go perfectly with an afternoon cup of tea. The three-pack size ensures that you'll have plenty of biscuits to offer to co-workers who have been too busy to get out to the combini themselves.