Saturday, May 05, 2007

Caramels! Yum!

The other day while shopping I noticed the store was having a Hokkaido Fair. Long tables set up selling all sorts of snacks, noodles, and teeny dried crabs from the northernmost prefecture. I had left the house with the words of my son echoing in my head, "bring back something exciting...and weird!"

Oh, the luck!

I browsed the caramel table.

There was this one, Rare Chocolate Caramel. By far the best.

Ooooo, and some lovely Corn flavored caramel. Which wasn't too bad, actually.

Red Wine Caramel too! Getting weirder! Kinda tasted like grapes. Perfectly and wonderfully edible.

Then I found the kicker.

Genghis Khan Caramel!!

"Genghis Khan" is sort of a fad right now. It means mutton/lamb, usually served up as yakiniku--a fantastic dining experience wherein you sit at a table with a grill embedded in the middle, coals lit underneath, and order plates of raw meat and vegetables which you cook yourself. Mad Cow Disease rattled Japan quite a bit a few years ago and people decided mutton wasn't so bad after all.

Remember Bernie Bott's Every Flavor Bean from the Harry Potter books/movies? Well, they had a vomit flavored bean which I tried and it was a kind of sweet, indistinct flavor, not too bad. This mutton-flavored caramel, however, tastes EXACTLY like puke. Gag reflex and everything. My son thought I was over reacting. I wasn't back from the toilet when I saw him take the jump and pop one of the vile candies into his mouth. Same thing, face goes blue, retching begins, then the lightening fast reach for the tissue box.

I still have a bunch left...if you want I'll send you one.

Oh, and then I found another flavor that made me giggle...

Bambi Flavor!

No, actually, the name of the brand is Bambi. This is just normal, yummy caramel flavor, not much different than what I got in my bag at Halloween as a kid. J and I had to eat several of these just to erase the vile-ness from the sheep flavored ones.

I can't help wondering about copyright infringement though.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Turtles and Snake-Dragons

The other day we visited one of my favorite places, a little lake called Sakura Ga Ike.

Aside from the meditative atmosphere -- it's surrounded almost completely by trees -- I also like the story behind it. You see, it is believed that at the very bottom of this lake lives a giant Snake-Dragon, a Snake-Dragon, mind you. No timid plesiosaurs or long-necked seals here. No pikes or swimming elephants, nope. A Snake-Dragon!

Nessie eat your heart out.

Since I've actually got a column coming out soon in a cool e-zine where I'll write about neat local folklore and will eventually write up that story, I won't go into any more detail here. Instead I'll talk about number two on the list of cool animals for today, turtles!

Koi (carp) the size of my beagle call Sakura Ga Ike home. However, there are loads of the suckers and the kids who line the shore to feed them quickly bore of the slurpy, greedy beasts and begin to root for the underdog, the turtles.

There are only five or six of them and while turtles look cooler (or cuter depending on your gender) swimming around they almost invariably loose out in the food fight to the carp. So by the end of the day you get a dozen children all screaming, "TURTLE! You can do it!" and aiming their bread just right.

Here's a picture of a turtle and a fish vying for a piece of food. A chunk of fu that the fish has already devoured by the looks of it.

Turtles are auspicous. They are said to live 10,000 years. While cranes are lucky too, they only own enough good luck to last a mere 1,000 years. Humph. There is a saying in Japanese Sen nen man nen (one thousand years, ten thousand years), it basically means a long, long time and refers also to both cranes and turtles.

Another reason to visit the lake is to purchase a special sweet meat called kame manju. The town is right on the ocean and sea turtles come every year to lay their eggs. The snack is a way to remember the turtles and a kind of wish for the babies to (when they grow up) return back to the same shore and lay their own eggs.

Here it is in the box.

An idea of how big it is. This is actually the smallest size. I'm cheap.

And here after cutting it into pieces with a sharp knife you can see it is a kind of cakey exterior with a mushy, sweetened red-bean paste interior.

Mmm, mmm good!